ASU deputy head coach Mike Norvell believes Sun Devils’ running game could be better in ’14

Aug 12, 2014, 4:18 PM | Updated: 4:18 pm
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The Arizona State Sun Devils used a diverse offense in winning the Pac-12 South in 2013.

ASU ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in passing (265.9 yards per game) and sixth in the conference in rushing (191.4 ypg).

While leading rusher Marion Grice is gone — he’s now trying to make the roster of the San Diego Chargers of the NFL — there is plenty of talent coming back to be excited about on the offensive side of the football.

So much so, that deputy head coach/offensive coordinator Mike Norvell thinks the Sun Devils can improve in the running game in 2014.

“I’m excited about the guys up front,” Norvell told Doug and Wolf Tuesday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “The job they’ve done training in the offseason — getting bigger, stronger and faster — just their mentality of who we are up there, I like the mindset.”

Three-fifths of ASU’s offensive line return in 2014, led by senior Jamil Douglas, a Second Team All-Pac-12 selection a year ago who is making the shift over to left tackle. Also back are junior right guard Vi Teofilo and junior right tackle Tyler Sulka. That duo anchored the right side of ASU’s line in all 14 games last season.

Auburn transfer Christian Westerman steps in at left guard and Nick Kelly takes over the center duties from Kody Koebensky.

But Norvell is also jazzed about the group of running backs returning to Tempe, including D.J. Foster, who is primed to be the Sun Devils’ feature back in his junior season.

“I think we’ve got a good group of backs, that are explosive runners, are guys that can hit the gap and have big-play capability,” he said. “I think it all starts there. If we can establish that run, it can only help us open up the passing game on the perimeter.”

Sun Devil fans got to see Foster carry the load for the offense in the final three games of 2013 following Marion Grice’s season-ending ankle injury suffered in a win at UCLA. In that span, Foster carried 51 times for 318 yards (6.2 yards per attempt) and scored four touchdowns. He also remained a big threat in the passing game, catching 11 passes for 129 yards and another score.

“I’m planning on him being a focal point of this offense,” Norvell said about Foster. “I’m extremely excited about D.J. He’s one of the most versatile athletes in the country. The thing that everybody talks about is him running routes and catching balls and obviously the speed and explosiveness that he has, but one of my favorite qualities about D.J. is his toughness.

“He’s one of the toughest guys we have on this football team. He’s got a true respect and understanding of protections and understands how important that is playing the running back position. I think he can be a complete back. That’s what I’m excited about. Seeing him and how he continues to grow and develop and just all the different things we’re going to be able to do with him.”

Behind Foster on the depth chart are senior Deantre Lewis and true freshman Kalen Ballage.

The Sun Devils make their annual trip to Camp Tontozona Tuesday and will hold practices there until Saturday, when they close with the Maroon and Gold scrimmage.

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ASU deputy head coach Mike Norvell believes Sun Devils’ running game could be better in ’14