Dohnovan West looking to show versatility as offensive line leader
Dohnovan West is self-aware enough to admit the beginning of his Sun Devil career didn’t exactly go according to plan. The Mission Hills, Calif. native enrolled early at Arizona State in the spring of 2019 but was slid into the starting lineup prior to the Devils opener against Kent State after center Cade Cote suffered a broken left foot injury less than a week before the contest that was going to kickoff ASU's campaign that year.
“Honestly, for me, I would say my first two games at center were kind of rough,” West told Devils Digest of his first playing experience in Tempe. “I had never played center before in high school or anything like that.”
There were unavoidable early struggles in West’s adjustment to a new role. Despite demonstrating himself as an intelligent football player, West confessed that his lack of experience at center restricted him from making calls at the line of scrimmage. With he and then-freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels just starting to acclimate themselves to the collegiate football level, the growing pains could have only exacerbated and adversely impacting the Arizona State offense.
When head coach Herm Edwards and the Sun Devils traveled to East Lansing, Mich. for a date with a ranked Michigan State squad in Week 3; West had been moved over to right guard. There, he thrived.
“I had one of my best games that I’ve had at ASU,” said West of that contest the Sun Devils ultimately won in dramatic fashion by a score of 10-7. “That was where I felt like I got my confidence. I just went out there and played football again.”
The self-awareness West possesses is on display as he evaluates the reasoning why he and the Sun Devil coaching staff believe he could be best suited to start at center once again this fall. West naturally wants to play on Sundays, and both he and the ASU staff believe showcasing some positional versatility along the interior offensive line will aid in that endeavor.
“Because I’m under-sized for the typical offensive lineman; my future is more than likely going to be at center,” said West, who’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds. “As far as the versatility, I feel like it shows that I can be plugged in and play anywhere within the interior offensive line, and that’s good because if somebody goes down, I can step up and fill in that position wherever I’m needed. It just really helps show (NFL) teams that I’m more than one-dimensional.”
At guard, West was one of the best young linemen in the Pac-12 in 2019. Of the eight true freshman offensive linemen to play at least 200 snaps in the conference, West was the highest graded by Pro Football Focus. That body of work helped him be named a Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention as part of an offensive line which paved the way for running back Eno Benjamin to rush for 1,000 yards for a second consecutive year.
Before the 2020 season, West was named to the Watch List of the Outland Trophy, which recognizes the best interior lineman in college football. During it, he was the main cog in the nation’s run-heaviest offense.
During this spring, Arizona State’s new offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh said he and the coaching staff still want to get a long hard look at freshman center Ezra Dotson-Oyetade. A four-star prospect, Oyetade was labeled as the third-ranked center in the Class of 2021 according to Rivals.
“We’re really excited about Ezra,” said Cavanaugh during a meeting with the media this spring. “I’m going to force-feed Ezra. He’s a physical guy. He’s smart. He has passion. We just got to get him ready right there, and hopefully, he’ll push.”
Regardless of what Dotson-Oyetade can bring to the table, moving West to center in spring practice excites both the ASU veteran and his position coach.
“I think it’s a great move for him,” said Cavanaugh, who arrived in Tempe after a long stint coaching the offensive line at Syracuse. “He’s a smart guy. We’re working to really work on the technique part of it with him, but he’s a good football player that’s got a chance to be very good. I think he’s moved into the center role well.”
With the departure of Cade Cote – who West learned a great deal from working next to him at guard during ASU’s COVID-shortened 2020 season – West explained that his position change was something that he fully anticipated.
“Hearing what he was saying and communicating with him as well; it just really allowed me to see the field more, look at different things, read the defenses and stuff like that,” said West, who has started every game of his Sun Devil career. “I just feel like it was something that I kind of expected to transition into my junior year.”
Looking back, West admits that he could have stood to gain from some additional physical development prior to his first start against Power 5 opponents. With a deeper offensive line unit now, it seems unlikely that younger Sun Devil linemen will be pressed into duty, in the same way, West was as a newcomer.
“It gives them an advantage to have the ability to redshirt because the biggest change for a lineman, I would say from high school to the college level is just the size, the mass, and strength,” West said of ASU’s depth in Cavanaugh’s position group. “It could be very helpful to a lot of the players to get a redshirt year in, bulk up a little bit, learn the whole scheme of the offense – regardless of who it is, an extra year of development couldn’t hurt anybody.”
Assisted by West's dominance at guard – the third-year starter was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team for his performance in 2020 – Arizona State’s offensive line was one of the most successful run-blocking units in the country. Rushers for ASU averaged 6.41 yards per carry, a mark that was second-best in the country.
In year two of offensive coordinator Zak Hill’s offense, the Sun Devils are expected to feature Jayden Daniels’s talent more as the core of young receivers matures. Still, West said he’ll be most excited when opportunities present themselves for the offensive line to exert their will in the run game.
“I always like running the ball more just because I get to tee off on the defense all day, get to show that physicality,” West said after a season in which Arizona State ball carriers scored 16 rushing touchdowns in four games. “You all saw last year that it was working, so our mindset was ‘if it’s working, why change it?’ Just keep attacking the run game, keep putting the defense on their heels, and if you’re consistently running the rock, I feel like it wears the defensive players down a lot more.”
With explosive players in the backfield like junior Rachaad White, freshman Chip Trayanum and even Daniels West said the job is easier for him and his peers.
“Blocking for those guys is really fun because even if the blocking isn’t perfect or anything like that, they can always make something happen,” he said.
Pairing great ball carriers with a stout offensive line help West set his expectations. He has none of the statistical categories heading into the fall. They’re all team-oriented.
“I would say the goal for the offensive line – our team goal is to make it to the Pac-12 Championship,” West declares. “At the end of the day, whatever we’ve gotta do to get there is what we’ve gotta do. I don’t really have any statistical goals for the o-line…We’re just focused on winning as many games as possible.”
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