While offensive lineman go to war in the trenches and don't get much credit for their work, Arizona State's O-line will be the key to their offensive success.
Arizona State runs an uptempo offense that relies heavily on timing and efficiency. The main goal is to protect the ball and keep the defense on its heels.
Last year, the Sun Devils averaged 38.4 PPG and ran for an average of 205.4 yards per game. It was a pretty successful year for ASU's offense, especially considering it was their first in a new system.
Now it's ASU's second year in offensive coordinator Mike Norvell's system and it's time to put the pedal to the metal and see how fast this baby can go.
The Sun Devils will only be as fast as their offensive lineman though.
The offensive line will be responsible for making sure running backs D.J. Foster and Marion Grice can find running room and, more importantly, that quarterback Taylor Kelly remains on his feet.
Adam Jude of The Seattle Times writes that ASU had two main areas they wanted to improve upon this offseason, and protecting Kelly was one of them:
Developing depth at wide receiver and toughness on the offensive line have been two priorities for Arizona State, which allowed 38 sacks last season (tied with Washington for seventh in the Pac-12).
38 sacks will be unacceptable in 2013.
That number will be lower this season thanks to Evan Finkenberg, Kody Koebensky and Jamil Douglas.
As a senior, Finkenberg comes into this season having started 34 games in his Sun Devil career protecting the blind side. He will be the leader of the group and his success will have a major impact on the success of the group as a whole.
In the middle of the line will be Koebensky.
Koebensky is also a senior and started all 13 games for ASU last season when he replaced former All-Conference center Garth Gerhart. The senior center was also recognized by being put on the Rimington Award Preseason Watch List.
The glue that will hold this all together and the wild card in this equation will be Tyler Sulka.
Sulka hasn't seen a lot of playing time during his time as a Sun Devil, but he has bulked up this offseason and is looking to replace Bryce Schwab as the starting right tackle.
I’ve been gaining weight ever since I got here. I actually eat all the time, and I eat a lot. It’s about putting on good weight. It’s very difficult to do unless you’re working in the weight room a lot and eating a lot of the right stuff. It’s a very hard commitment but something I had to do if I wanted to start.
If Sulka can put on the necessary weight to be a full-time starter, he will be the X-factor on the offensive line.
For ASU to be able to spread the field and run-and-gun the ball all over, they will need the offensive line to build on their success from last year.
It will be crucial that Kelly has enough time to hit his receivers and that Grice and Foster have enough room to run.
Both Foster and Grice are elusive and can make guys miss, but the Sun Devils would much rather they make defenders miss in the open field on their way to the house instead of making lineman miss at the line of scrimmage fighting for just one yard.
ASU surprised many with their offensive success in 2012. If they want to build on that success in 2013, it will be up to the offensive line to provide protection, time and space.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from thesundevils.com.