Head coaches and offensive coordinators can scheme and gameplan until they are blue in the face, but the success on gameday normally boils down to quarterback play. After all, only two players touch the ball on each offensive play—the quarterback and the center.
Before the play even starts, the Arizona State Sun Devils should feel confident. The first person to touch the ball on ASU’s first offensive play in the fall is a preseason 1st team All-Pac-12 center, Garth Gerhart.
As the anchor and elder statesman of the offensive line, Sun Devil fans finally feel at ease with the five-man group affectionately known as “hog mollies.” Perhaps returning all five starters from last fall, as well as four other game-tested reserves, lays a comfort blanket across the fan base, but chemistry is key in an offense, and the line is one unit with abundance.
With solid protection in front of Sun Devil quarterback, Brock Osweiler, time should not be a problem in 2011. Finding a target could be.
In 2010, 279-passes were completed by Steven Threet and Osweiler, including one to Garth Gerhart. However, 54 of those completions went to graduated receiver, Kerry Taylor. No longer will Taylor be in the repertoire of Osweiler's receiving corps.
Even further, the Sun Devils' second leading receiver from a season ago is recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in spring drills. Simpson could return by November, but nothing is certain.
Although it is not June gloom in Arizona, only a select few are worried about the losses on the receiving end of pass patterns.
When key catches in clutch situations were needed, Mike Willie (6’4” 220 pounds) seemed to be there.
Other than Sun Devil running back Cameron Marshall, no other ASU player scored more touchdowns in 2010 than Willie’s eight touchdown grabs.
Erickson’s staff is not mulling other options at receiver to fill the voids of Taylor and Simpson, simply because of Willie’s potential to be a No. 1 receiver, and the Sun Devils already feel like they have an All-Pac-12 receiver on their roster.
Gerrell Robinson, a highly-touted recruit from Chandler, Arizona’s Hamilton High School, was initially projected as a program changing player in 2008, eerily similar to Vontaze Burfict’s future on the defensive side of the ball.
Needless to say, Robinson’s hype was short lived. As a freshman, Robinson totaled just three catches for 26 yards. During G-Rob’s sophomore season, the former play-making quarterback became a stranger to the end zone, catching a pedestrian 26 passes for 261 yards.
After battling numerous leg and ankle injuries for much of his early career, 2010 was poised to be breakout season for Robinson. For the first time in his Sun Devil career, Robinson found the end zone in Corvallis, OR, against the Beavers. His health was back, and a map to the end zone was no longer needed.
After getting that monkey off his back, Robinson exuded himself as a go-to target for Threet and Osweiler down the stretch. Robinson even scored twice on USC’s All-Conference cornerback, Nikell Robey at the Coliseum.
Many analysts say, "speed kills," but size can be the deciding factor between a touchdown and an interception. Amazingly enough, ASU found the ultimate combination of size and speed at receiver.
With Robinson and Willie on the outside, ASU’s offense has two potent 6’4” 220-pound receivers that like to play physical. Not many cornerbacks in the conference are even 6’1”, so Osweiler will be looking early and often for the mismatches on his receivers.
Can anyone say, "Go-to receivers"?
But the Sun Devils don't just have tall, sure-handed receivers on the inside. ASU boasts precise route runners and possession driven receivers Aaron Pflugrad and Jamal Miles in the slot.
Combined, both Miles and Pflugrad hauled in 54 passes for 532 yards and six touchdowns. Those totals are sure to rise in the second season under Noel Mazzone’s offensive system.
And perhaps the “X-Factor” for ASU’s offense is wide receiver George Bell. Entering last fall camp, Bell was thought to be a sure bet to start for the Sun Devils at wide receiver. Bell contributed early in the season, but was removed from the line-up after a case of the “dropsies” broke out. A trip to the sideline was the treatment Bell's illness, instead of warm soup, and lots of fluids.
Maybe Bell had an issue translating his production from the junior college level to Rose Bowl competition each and every week. No longer will Bell be excused for his shortcomings at receiver; that time has passed.
Now, all the receivers play through the routes, not think about the routes, then perform. There is fluidity in the ASU offense. A new chemistry and understanding is evident, not just on the offensive line, but the entire offensive unit.
Defenses might win championships, but without a solid and consistently productive offense, the opportunity to take home a championship will be out of reach.
It will be up to the offense to take the Sun Devils to new heights in 2011.