This is the fourth in a series of position analyses for the 2015 Arizona State football team. Coming Wednesday, a look at the receivers and tight ends.
TEMPE, Ariz. — If you were to identify the top three questions for the Arizona State offense this season, they would be:
1. Can the Sun Devils keep quarterback Mike Bercovici healthy since there is no proven backup?
2. Can they find a big-play receiver to replace early departure Jaelen Strong (Houston Texans) and injured junior Cameron Smith?
3. Can the two new offensive tackles hold up?
The first and third questions are clearly related. Highly-touted redshirt junior Evan Goodman will try to replace All-Pac-12 first-team selection Jamil Douglas at left tackle while redshirt senior William McGehee will step in for graduated right tackle Tyler Sulka.
“I think they’re progressing well,” assistant head coach and offensive line coach Chris Thomsen said. “They both worked really hard in spring; they both worked really hard in camp — that two-week period of training camp where we really push them hard and they take a lot of reps. Now it’s about learning the game plan for (Texas) A&M.”
Both players have been key reserves to this point in their careers, but Thomsen said there is little more progress they can achieve in practice as they prepare for a Week 1 matchup with the Aggies at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
“It’s to that point with experience level where you’ve just go to go do it,” Thomsen said. “Once you go do it, you get more comfortable.
“It won’t be quiet in there like it is today,” Thomsen added, pointing around ASU’s Verde Dickey Dome where the team practices during the hot Arizona summer. “We’ll start cranking up the volume because it’s going to be loud in Houston and they’re not accustomed to that. They’ve been in a little of it but not a lot.”
LT Evan Goodman, RT William McGehee: Neither player brings a wealth of experience to the table, but they do bring size. Goodman is listed at 6-foot-4, 310 pounds and McGehee is 6-6, 315 pounds.
“With Billy, if you use Tyler Sulka as a comparison, Tyler’s a little bit better athlete, a little bit lighter on his feet,” Thomsen said. “Billy checked in at 315 today; a lot bigger, more powerful man. Not quite as a good a foot athlete but there’s some give and take there. You’re going to get more push in the run game and he’s a bigger body. Tyler would break down sometimes as the season went on just because of his size.”
As for Goodman:
“Evan is a little bit bigger than Jamil also,” Thomsen said. “Jamil would kind of struggle to get to 300 and would play there and sometimes fall to about 295. Evan is easily 310. He could be 315 tomorrow if I told him to be; eat a couple pizzas. He’s got that mass and density.
“With Billy and Evan coming down and creating more push, I think we’ll be able to run the football well.”
The issue will be protection. As Thomsen noted, neither is as light on his feet and both could stand better footwork. The Sun Devils don’t expect to change their offense that much this season despite Bercovici’s ability to throw the deep ball better than 2014 starter Taylor Kelly. Still, the Sun Devils will take their shots. If Goodman and McGehee can’t protect the edges, the less mobile Bercovici could face more pressure and take some shots.
“That’s where they’ve got to hold up and grow up fast,” Thomsen said.
They’ll get a big test quickly against Texas A&M ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, who combined for 16 quarterback sacks last season.
LT/RT Sam Jones, RT Quinn Bailey: Jones (6-5, 300) is currently ahead of the pack — so much so that Thomsen said he would feel comfortable starting the redshirt freshman despite an utter lack of college experience. Bailey (6-5, 311) has progressed but Thomsen wants to see more before he is comfortable naming him as McGehee’s backup. Thomsen would prefer to keep Jones on the left side, but he could play right tackle if needed.
IN THE MIX
Zack Robertson: Robertson (6-6, 330) is a true freshman. Thomsen said he’d prefer to redshirt Robertson, but listed him as the ninth man on the current offensive line depth chart. If the Sun Devils sustain any significant injuries on the line, he could play.