Better outside blocking big for ASU offense
Ask Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell about his team's improved perimeter blocking and his eyes get a little bigger, the pace of his raspy, rapid-fire delivery further quickens.
Norvell typically plays a good game of poker with reporters, but with this, there's no denying his excitement.
"One of the biggest things I see a great growth in is that," Norvell said Saturday. "A lot of it is personnel. We have guys in here that have that mentality. Look at (freshman receiver) Ellis Jefferson, if he gets on the edge he's going to get hands on you. (Junior college tight end transfer) De'Marieya Nelson and (senior tight end) Darwin Rogers have improved.
"All those guys at that position understand how important that is. Like today, if you can run the football, you are going to get the 1-on-1s outside. Once you get those 1-on-1s and you have that physicality there on the perimeter it's going to help a ton."
Blocking doesn't get the type of attention that athletic jukes in the open field do, or rain-provoking Hail Mary throws, or bone-jarring hits, but it's more important than any of those things. It's a prerequisite to fundamentally sound football.
Last season, a lot of attention was given to the lack of production from ASU's receivers, with diminutive Jamal Miles and Rashad Ross lining up as starters on the outside. But it was those players' lack of route-running skills or big play making capabilities that got the headlines.
There was little mention of their inability to sustain blocks an extra second in the perimeter to spring loose jackrabbit quick athletes like sophomore D.J. Foster or senior Marion Grice in wide swaths of open field.
When measured against this year's Sun Devil receiving corps, which will feature 6-foot-4 junior college tranfer Jaelen Strong, 6-foot-4 junior college transfer Joe Morris and the 6-foot-4 Jefferson, that group almost seems dainty.
In Saturday's scrimmage and the early portion of Monday's practice, ASU's perimeter weapons on offense pushed the defenders in front of them all over the field as the ball was moved unrelentingly forward one drive after the next.
"We're definitely getting better," receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander said. "That's been a focus from the start. Just having bigger guys there at the position who carry more weight and strength helps and I think some of our guys have that mentality naturally. They want to block. They want to help get a teammate room to run. We needed to take a big step forward with our blocking to unlock some of the things we can do in this offense and we're getting there. It's still a work in progress but like I said, we're getting better."
ASU coach Todd Graham said the race to back up starting junior quarterback Taylor Kelly remains close.
"From an operational standpoint I think (Mike) Bercovici is the guy but [Michael Eubank] does some really good things and he had a great scrimmage," Graham said. "I think Mike Eubank will have his package and I think they're competing there pretty closely. I think you'd have to ask Mike (Norvell) this but I think right now if we had to go No. 2 it would be Bercovici."
Nelson has good day
Senior defensive back Robert Nelson shifted to safety Monday after the injury to freshman Marcus Ball in Saturday's scrimmage. For at least a day, the move seemed to go over well with his coaches.
"He's very athletic, very smart, learned it," Graham said. "It's a lot of stuff to pick up in one day. He did a good job, I think he can do it for us."
Safeties coach Chris Ball said the move makes ASU even more athletic in the secondary but he wants to make sure Nelson is a physical enough tackler and able to get his set up in the right place pre-snap.
"Usually after the first day we get a pretty good idea if someone can do it and Robert did well," Ball said. "Half the battle will just be making sure he's getting properly aligned. But I think he's got a good chance to help us there."