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ASU Football: Offensive line adjusts to Westerman injury

(Photo: Tyler Strachan/WCSN)

The return of Taylor Kelly was perceived to have been an indication that the Sun Devil football team was nearing full strength. Yet just as one critical piece of the offense returned to occupy his starting role, perhaps an equally as important piece has gone down.

Starting left guard and redshirt junior Christian Westerman suffered an apparent knee injury during the Sun Devils’ 24-10 win over Washington on Saturday. Just like Kelly, Westerman had to be removed during the fourth quarter of his respective contest, and just like Kelly, the severity of the injury is unknown.

Graham said on Tuesday that Westerman is doubtful for this weekend’s game against Utah and will have a possibility of returning for the Notre Dame showdown in two weeks.

While Kelly’s and Westerman’s injuries may be somewhat similar (again, both happened in the fourth quarters of their respective games and both were/are of unknown severity), the difference is monumental: Mike Bercovici was the obvious replacement candidate for Kelly; the replacement candidate for Westerman appears to be a work in progress.

Listed as the backup center, redshirt sophomore Stephon McCray occupied the void for the remaining minutes in last week’s affair. But Tuesday’s practiced featured redshirt sophomore Evan Goodman and freshman Sam Jones receiving looks as well.

Still, McCray was the topic of conversation afterwards.

“Stephon’s very intelligent, he’s a hard worker, knows every position up front on the offensive line,” offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. “He’s been our backup center, our backup guard. He was ready for this opportunity. You never know that one snap where you’ll jump in and help impact the team. He made some big plays and big blocks there in the fourth quarter and that was fun to see.”

Though the loss of Westerman did not appear significant at the time—predominantly because the starting offensive line struggled mightily against a potent a Washington front seven—losing a vital piece of a line that has been deemed the most talented and most athletic in Todd Graham’s stay at Arizona State could have drastic ramifications.

Graham disagreed, however, and said he was encouraged by the way McCray stepped up.

“I actually challenged him before the game. I said, ‘I hope you’re ready. And I don’t know if you are.’ He came in and answered the call. Really, really proud of him and did a tremendous job,” Graham said. “To be real honest with you, we didn’t fall off a bit. He’s a physical guy. I love that when guys answer the call like that. He’s a very smart guy too. I have a lot of confidence in him.”

Here is an updated look at the projected starting offensive line come Saturday:

Offensive Line

Left Tackle—Jamil Douglas

Left Guard—Stephon McCray

Center—Nick Kelly

Right Guard—Vi Teofilo

Right Tackle—Tyler Sulka


State of the Rushing Attack

The return of Taylor Kelly was figured to lead to the return of the running game. Specifically, D.J. Foster was presumed to thrive once again in the read-option offense that depends so heavily on a mobile quarterback.

With Foster’s measly 36 yards on 13 rushes doing little to support that argument, and now possible schematic and chemistry issues with a backup left guard receiving a starting role on Saturday, there could be cause for concern.

However, Norvell dispelled the notion and views Foster’s declining rushing totals as a product of the offense exploiting his versatility against run-stopping defenses.

“I don’t think he’s struggled out of the backfield,” Norvell said. “D.J.’s been productive in a variety of ways. No team has really taken him out of a game. How he’s getting his yards might be a little different whether it’s catching passes or whether it’s running the football. We’re going to take what the defense gives us. We obviously want to get some more explosive runs for us and for the offense, but I think he’s done a good job this year and will continue to get better.”

Norvell also praised the play of his other running backs.

“I like what the guys up front are doing. They’re working, getting some good movement. I thought we did some nice things,” Norvell said. “A guy like Demario Richard coming in this week and providing a nice spark was exciting to see. We’ve been waiting for that, to see him make the most of an opportunity. We have some dynamic running backs. I think it’s starting to come along and get back to where we need to be.”


First-Team Defense

Defensive Line: Marcus Hardison (End), Jaxon Hood (Nose Tackle), Mo Latu (Tiger), Demetrius Cherry (End)

Linebackers: Antonio Longino (WILL), Salamo Fiso (SAM), Laiu Moeakiola (SPUR)

Cornerbacks: Kweishi Brown (Boundary), Lloyd Carrington (Field)

Safeties: Jordan Simone (Bandit), Damarious Randall (Field)


Practice Notes

  • After being inactive for Saturday’s game, wide receiver Cameron Smith practiced at full capacity on Tuesday and took reps with the first team offense
  • SPUR linebacker Laiu Moeakiola was in a gold, limited contact jersey. Though he will likely be limited in some regard for the rest of the season, his 10 tackles against Washington indicate it has little bearing on his game day performance.
  • Bears defensive end and former Sun Devil great Will Sutton was in attendance at Tuesday’s practice giving pointers to the likes of Paul Crawford and Ami Latu.
  • “Really, really proud of him,” Graham said in reference to Sutton. “He’s a great Sun Devil. He came out here today, talking to the players, sharing with them, telling them to listen to coach—what he’s telling you are the right things. Just really appreciate him. If he hangs around Saturday I’d like to suit him up.”


Follow Jacob Garcia on Twitter @Jake_M_Garcia or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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