Sun Devils’ revamped O-line searching for right mix

Apr 9, 2016, 8:00 AM
FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2015 file photo, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, right, runs off the...
FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2015 file photo, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, right, runs off the field with Evan Goodman (57), William McGehee (75) and Kweishi Brown (10) after an NCAA college football game against Southern California in Tempe, Ariz. Southern California defeated Arizona State 42-14. When Arizona lost 56-30 to UCLA and Arizona State later lost to USC 42-14 on Saturday night, it marked one of the worst weekends in the state's major college football history. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Chris Thomsen would make a lousy salesman.

“Football is the most repetitive, mundane thing you can imagine,” Arizona State’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach said, “and I always tell recruits, whether they come to ASU or not, that college football is going to be the hardest thing they’ve ever done.”

Despite that sobering sales pitch, Thomsen has a wealth of players competing for starting jobs on his offensive line. Thanks to the graduation of four 2015 starters, there is opportunity aplenty.

“There’s a lot of new all over the offense when you look at the coaching changes and the QB and the receivers, so it’s not like we’re the only positions,” redshirt sophomore Sam Jones said. “There are a lot of people to replace on the O-line but some of us have played together and have that cohesion. I’m pretty happy with the way the line is coming along.”

Through much of spring practice, the first-string unit has looked like this: redshirt senior Evan Goodman — the lone returning starter — is repping at left tackle, Jones is repping at left guard, redshirt junior Tyler McClure is repping at center, redshirt senior Stephon McCray is repping at right guard and redshirt sophomore Quinn Bailey is at right tackle.

McCray has also taken reps at center, while redshirt freshmen Steven Miller and Zack Robertson have subbed in.

“You hope to come out of spring with a top-five and you’d like to have eight guys going into the season that you know can win with in the Pac-12; seven minimum,” Thomsen said. “We’re sorting all that out right out.

“The good thing is three of the four new guys have been in the fire of a real Pac-12 game. Stefan started some games, Sam started some games and Quinn’s been in some so they’re new full-time starters but they’ve had some experience and that has helped the transition.”

In a perfect world, Thomsen will have even more options as he looks to replace guard Christian Westerman, center Nick Kelly, guard Vi Teofilo and tackle William McGehee.

Junior college (Ventura) signee Tyson Rising is already in camp and A.J. McCollum (City College of San Francisco) should be in camp in the fall.

“It’s a big transition from JUCO,” said Rising, who has been working at left tackle. “The best guys in JUCO are like every guy I’m going against here. There are a lot of new techniques to pick up but a lot of it is my mind. I’m thinking too much right now.”

Thomsen said Rising played in a two-point stance at Ventura and his team didn’t do a lot of inside running like the Devils do, so there has been a steep learning curve.

“It would have been almost impossible for him to make this transition without having this time, but he should be a different guy in fall camp,” Thomsen said.

Thomsen understands the challenge ahead for young players like Bailey and Jones, especially if they go up against more experienced players on defense, but their size and athleticism also make him believe they are part of the most talented recruiting class of lineman he has seen in his three seasons in Tempe.

“Sam is ahead of the normal offensive lineman because he started some games as a redshirt freshman,” Thomsen said. “When you get a guy that’s a three-year starter in college he’s got a chance to be a cornerstone player; a glue guy that can hold it all together.

“Overall, this is the most excited I’ve been about a spring training since I’ve been here. I think they’re a hungry and talented group that wants to be good and has the chance to be really good.”

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