By Kaelen Jones
There weren’t any significant surprises that occurred on National Signing Day Wednesday for head coach Todd Graham and the Arizona State Sun Devils.
In a way, there was one: Former commit Jared Poplawski — one of the three players from Scottsdale Saguaro who pledged on the same day in June of last year — joined Colorado in favor of ASU. However, Colorado had been reported of making a late push, and besides his decision, the day went relatively as anticipated.
“I’m real, real excited,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said of his 19 signees. “I’m really excited about our team, our guys.”
One of the Devils’ noticable misses was local offensive tackle Austin Jackson out of North Canyon, who elected to sign with USC. And while it was the Maroon & Gold’s lone whiff of the day, the failure to pick up many big bodies was ominous to some.
ASU landed only one true offensive lineman for its 2017 class—Saguaro’s Corey Stephens.
— Todd Graham (@CoachGrahamASU) February 1, 2017
However, Graham gave reasoning for the low incursion, saying the unit has enough returning depth entering the new season after graduating just two offensive linemen amidst retaining 15.
“We feel really, really confident in-depth on the offensive line. We were very young, but we were very confident in our depth,” Graham said.
The cause for his confidence: experience. Last season, the Sun Devils initially started three underclassmen along their offensive line in Sam Jones, Zach Robertson and Quinn Bailey. Due to injuries, other young players such as Steven Miller saw the field during the season, providing in-game reps which could prove useful this upcoming season.
Although, while several players shifted spots on ASU’s offensive front, the only unaltered position was left tackle, which was manned by now-graduated Evan Goodman, who started each of the Sun Devils’ 12 games in 2016.
Graham says he would have liked to have added a tackle in replacement of Goodman, something that can be understood via the aforementioned pursuit of Jackson.
“We would have liked to have signed a tackle, but we wanted the right tackle,” Graham said. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t reach down at all because we have too many other needs.”
Graham described those other needs as being “dynamic players” — specifically pass rushers and defensive backs. Still, Graham may also be willing to include Stephens in the conversation of dynamism, too.
The coach’s face lit up while introducing Stephens Wednesday, saying the former Sabercat “gets the Sun Devil Award,” one of two scholarships Graham designates for players he says he finds “that I think are winners … you can’t miss.”
— Corey Stephens (@CoreyStephens74) February 1, 2017
“Corey Stephens is one of those guys,” said Graham.
Stephens is being brought in to play one of the interior lineman positions (center or guard), so he won’t be a candidate to replace Goodman at left tackle.
Last season, the Sun Devils rushed for 131.8 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry behind their oft-makeshift offensive line. That total is down from 178.8 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry in 2015.