PAYSON, Ariz. — They’ve got a veteran quarterback, a dual-threat running back plus one of the top receivers in the game. Sure, the Arizona State Sun Devils are loaded offensively, but those skilled weapons will be rendered useless if the five men up front don’t do their job.
Consider, how much time will be given to Taylor Kelly to read the defense? Can he be protected long enough to get the ball to playmakers D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong? And if it’s a hand off to Foster, will there will openings for him to run through?
They are all questions that can only be answered by the offensive line.
“It starts with the line. It’s winning up front. Linemen win games. If you don’t got an O-line, you can’t start the play; you don’t got a center, you can’t start the play. It starts with us up front and I firmly believe that,” said junior Nick Kelly, who takes over the center position in 2014. “I love the pressure. I love knowing that the game is relied on the linemen.”`
The Sun Devils return three starters from last season’s offensive line, including the entire right side. Redshirt junior Vi Teofilo remains at guard, while Tyler Sulka, going into his final year at ASU, is at tackle. On the left side, redshirt senior Jamil Douglas moves outside to tackle, opening up the inside guard spot for former Chandler Hamilton High and Auburn transfer Christian Westerman, who at 6-foot-4 and 304 pounds “is a physical presence, tough guy,” according to line coach Chris Thomsen.
“They’re doing a great job,” Taylor Kelly said of the unit charged to keep him upright. “They’re starting to gain that communication. It’s the best I’ve ever seen an (offensive line) play together; just the way that they’re so athletic, physical, the protection. I’m excited where we’re at with the offensive line.”
So too, is Thomsen.
“I think those guys are competing hard,” he said. “We didn’t have a very good first scrimmage, to be honest; and I think they’ve responded well the last couple of days, coming out (and) seeing the things they’ve got to work on and get better at.”
It all starts with building that chemistry, not only on the field but off, according to Kelly, the line’s anchor following the graduation of Kody Koebensky.
“We hang out in the dorms, play some cards; just hang out,” he said. “We just talk. We just generally talk; try to get as much of a bond and a connection as we can while we’re up here in camp.”
The Sun Devils are three days into their four-day stay at Camp Tontozona.
The regular season opens Aug. 28 vs. Weber State.
“Everybody pretty much knows what to do. Let’s get better at how do to it,” Thomsen said. “Where are my hands at? What’s my footwork? Where do my eyes go? All of the details, the fundamental technique; that’s the main thing we’ve got to get better—and that usually evolves as the season goes, but we need a big jump here the next two weeks before we play.”