When Arizona State takes the field for their annual spring game on Saturday, fans at Sun Devil Stadium can expect to see a far more explosive offense than the one that led the Sun Devils to an 8-5(5-4) record last season.
“We’re going to open up the playbook more,” sophomore QB Taylor Kelly said following ASU’s final practice before the scrimmage. “We’re going to work on expanding my reads, moving the running backs around a little bit and giving the defense multiple looks.”
Vertical reads is the one area the Sun Devils offense struggled in 2012. While Kelly posted phenomenal numbers for a freshman, two of his three leading receivers were running backs, and the third, Chris Coyle, is ASU’s 3-back, a hybrid TE/H-back. This spring, the Sun Devils have gone to more spread formations, even getting TE Darwin Rogers, an athletic but raw receiver, involved more.
“We feel like we have some playmakers at the three-back spot, so it’s good for us to get a look at that,” offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. “That’s something we’ve wanted to do this spring, is to continue to develop that personnel, that twelve personnel, we feel like it can be really effective for us.”
Thursday’s practice certainly emphasized the two-tight sets, with Rogers usually joining Coyle, receivers Kevin Ozier and Rick Smith, and tailback Marion Grice with the first-team offense. On several occasions Rogers beat safety Ezekiel Bishop down the seam, but the ball was already delivered to the first option; look for that to change Saturday.
“We want to take some vertical shots, we’ve got to keep improving that and getting better at it,” Kelly said. “If we do that, defenses won’t be able to key in so much on where we are going, on where the running back is going and it will help us slide pressure away from those areas.”
Both Norvell and Kelly seem to realize that the one-read passing game of 2012 can only carry this team so far, and with the defense primed to be as good as any Arizona State has ever had, the time is now for the offense to open up.
If Kelly and the Sun Devils can open the offense up on Saturday, without the presence of JUCO transfer Jaelen Strong, who is expected to be the deep threat in the Fall, it could be a sign of good things to come in year two of the Taylor Kelly era at Arizona State.