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August 18, 2013

Offensive line passes scrimmage with flying colors



Defensive coordinator Paul Randolph said the scrimmage Saturday would be a test for the coaches to grade the players' progress so far this fall.

If Saturday was an exam the offense passed with flying colors and the defense definitely had some red marks.

Arizona State's offensive front set the curve.

"I thought that the offensive line was the shining group of the scrimmage," Graham said of the 100-plus play one-sided affair in front of an estimated 5,300 fans. "They flat got after it and dominated the line of scrimmage. I thought today was dominated by the offense."

Both the first and second lines did a phenomenal job protecting the quarterback.

In pass plays three-year starter senior tackle Evan Finkenberg showed why he is the anchor of the blind side. He was very consistent blocking rushing defense ends like junior linebacker Carl Bradford.

Finkenberg said his group was inspired by offensive line coach Chris Thomsen before the scrimmage.

"Coach Thomsen was firing us up in meetings this morning," Finkenberg said. "We all just wanted to bring it. We wanted to show off to the fans. Show off the offense a little bit. Show off some of the new weapons that we got and I think we did that."

In the run game, senior center Kody Koebensky had his best session so far this fall.

Running backs senior Marion Grice and sophomore D.J. Foster had some large holes to run through mostly because of Koebensky. On multiple plays Koebensky was able to gain some leverage against sophomore defensive lineman Jaxon Hood and drive Hood several yards backward.

It was a reversal of fortunes after Hood got the best of Koebensky in the team's first scrimmage Monday.

Behind the offensive line's blocks Foster ran for 36 yards on two carries and Grice gained 53 yards on 11 carries.

Finkenberg said having weapons like Grice and Foster is of course extra motivation for the big men up front to seal blocks.

"It's great because if you give that little extra effort, that little extra push, get that little bit of hole for those running backs and make sure they have time for the quarterback to throw it deep to those receivers it's exciting," Finkenberg said. "Any given play you can have a big explosion play that can be a touchdown for us."

Besides the offensive line the rest of the offensive players were also clicking. Having starting quarterback junior Taylor Kelly running the plays helped with the consistency.

But Finkenberg, Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said having most of the offensive playbook installed was a key reason for their success Saturday.

"We've got a majority of our offense in," Kelly said. "Guys know it. They're getting lined up fast. The only thing that stopped us today was [missed assignments] for the first group and you know penalties. If we don't do that it's really hard to stop our offense with the weapons we have."

The other player spectators could not miss on the field was Foster. He show his athleticism taking hand-offs up the middle and hitting running lanes hard.

Foster said in his time at ASU he has not seen a group of offensive linemen block better than they did Saturday. Another difference Foster has seen is the blocking on the perimeter.

"The receivers that we recruited, they're not only playmakers but they're also great blockers," Foster said. "That just helps us spread out the offense and open holes for me and Marion and (junior running back) Deantre (Lewis). The offense is starting to gel and come to its full ability."

Saturday again showcased what Foster can do as a receiver. He finished the day with two catches for 41 yards.

A scary moment happened halfway through the scrimmage when senior defensive lineman Gannon Conway landed on Foster's leg. Foster came up limping his left ankle but was doing running drills on the offensive sideline a couple minutes later.

Obviously Foster did not take any more reps in the scrimmage. He said he should be practicing on Monday no problem.

Secondary struggles

The defensive woes could be at least in part contributed to another injury which is more serious than Foster's.

Very early in the scrimmage freshman safety Marcus Ball came off the field having appeared to have injured his right shoulder on an attempted tackle. He had some ice on it during the scrimmage and had his arm in a sling afterwards.

Redshirt freshman safety Laiu Moeakiola and freshman safety James Johnson took the reps at free safety after Ball went down. Sophomore Ezekiel Bishop was in a lot at bandit safety.

Senior cornerback Osahon Irabor sat out of the scrimmage as a precautionary move due to a tender hamstring. Senior cornerback Robert Nelson played the field spot with sophomore Lloyd Carrington shifting over to the boundary corner position.

With Ball and Irabor out, the offense had some big plays because of poor coverage at the free safety position.

Senior safety Alden Darby said the defense will have to play better and they need to figure out who is going to be the guy at free safety.

"We rotated about three different free safeties today with the ones and all of them kind of messed up a little bit," Darby said. "I'm kind of nervous to see when the lights are on what's going to happen. Imagine in front of 50,000 fans at Notre Dame how they are going to react. We're going to get to work though."

On one play in particular showed the mistakes the secondary was making when senior wide receiver Alonzo Agwuenu was able to get behind both Johnson and Bishop to take a post route all the way for a 78-yard touchdown.

Average linebackers

Despite the struggles behind them the linebackers had a decent scrimmage.

The mantra for the ASU defense this fall has been stopping the run. The starting linebackers corps did a solid job filling holes and form tackling.

Bradford will always be known as a good pass rusher first and foremost. He said at the start of fall camp he wanted to work on his run stopping abilities.

In the scrimmage he had many plays were he kept contain on the edge from the devil linebacker position.

Bradford said he improved his run stopping skills during Camp Tontozona. He is attacking the line of scrimmage more and tackling better out in space.

But he was not satisfied by his performance in the scrimmage.

"I think I did average honestly," Bradford said. "I'm capable of performing better than that. We had a slow start. I think that's on me in a sense. I think I did alright, I still got to pick it up a tremendous amount."

Another linebacker had something to prove during the scrimmage. Besides the battle going on at free safety, senior linebacker Anthony Jones is being tested at the spur.

Jones took all the first team reps at spur Saturday, backed up by redshirt freshman Carlos Mendoza. Randolph challenged Jones to be more physical playing the position. He stepped up to that challenge Saturday and did a much better job getting off blocks on the edge.

Jones ranges broadly between being overzealous and hesitant, occasionally making poor reads at the spur. He knows he has to improve because his position is not set in stone.

"I need to work on a lot of things to keep that position locked in," Jones said. "Mainly keep focused and keep pushing. Just watch more film so I know what's coming, not a lot of guessing so it is more of a reaction [and] instincts."

Notes

  • With Ball injured, the timely debut of junior college transfer junior safety Damarious Randall becomes even more paramount. Now there is less depth at the free safety spot and ASU would be buoyed if Randall is able to eventually offer some stability there.

  • Despite the struggles in the secondary, Darby performed well during the scrimmage. His best plays came when he would run downhill to help on a run play. He only had one glaring mental mistake, though it was significant. He voided his zone and senior tight end Chris Coyle transition passed him unguarded for a wide open touchdown of 18 yards.

  • Junior offensive lineman Sil Ajawara seems to have recovered from his broken toe injury a little bit. He took second and third reps at the guard spot. Except for a false start, he had a strong scrimmage.

  • With Irabor out, junior college transfer sophomore cornerback Solomon Means got an increase in reps during the scrimmage. He has had a strong camp so far showing his physical skills and has kept up with all the receivers. He could get more of an opportunity to win the fourth cornerback spot over redshirt sophomore Rashad Wadood who has struggled in camp to this point.

  • Freshman linebacker Chans Cox continues to adjust to the college level. Several times during the scrimmage he lost contain at the devil position. Cox had never played with his hand in the ground before last week.

  • Freshman punter Matt Haack saved his best day for last at Camp T. Friday he punted better than junior college transfer junior punter Dom Vizzare and arguably out punted him again Saturday.

  • Immediately after Foster injured his ankle there was another scary play. Grice took a sweep to the left and senior linebacker Chris Young pulled him down by the collar. It was a very dangerous play and of course a penalty. Grice fortunately came up fine.


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