ASU football's 2014 breakout offensive players
As ASU football prepares for its third season under head coach Todd Graham, Sun Devil fans already know the impact redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly and redshirt junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong will have on the offense. But here are three of ASU’s weapons that are primed to have breakout seasons for an offense that was the second highest-scoring in the Pac-12 last season.
Junior running back D.J. Foster
Foster served backup duty behind Marion Grice last season, but even then he was ready to carry the load for the Sun Devils. There is a chance he could become an even better player than Grice, who was drafted in the 6th round of the NFL draft.
Foster rushed for 501 yards on 93 attempts and ran in for six touchdowns last season, and most of those numbers came in the final three games of the season after Grice injured his leg.
When ASU gave Foster the starting job those last three weeks, he delivered and then some. In his first start against UA, Foster rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns. The next week against Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Foster scored ASU’s only two touchdowns of the game, including a career-high 51-yard touchdown scamper.
In the Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech, Foster averaged 6.6 yards per carry as he rushed for 132 yards and another touchdown. As the de facto starter for ASU next season, Foster will have the ball in his hands all season and will get to showcase his dual threat ability as a rusher and a receiver.
Last season Foster was second on the team in catches, with 63, and in receiving yards, with 653. Foster, whose aforementioned 51 yard run against Stanford was the longest on the team last year, also had the longest reception for the Sun Devils with a 74-yard touchdown grab against USC.
Redshirt senior tight end De’Marieya Nelson
It was hard for Nelson to find reps as a tight end playing behind Chris Coyle, so coach Graham tried to use Nelson in any way he could. Nelson, a talented athlete at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, made big plays on the offense, defense and special teams.
The junior college transfer out of San Joaquin Delta College had seven catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns last season, but also had a two-touchdown rushing performance against UA as a goal line back. Nelson also had 16 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles playing as a defensive end and was a star on special teams.
With Coyle now suiting up for the Houston Texans, Nelson will now be able to focus on his skills solely as a tight end. This should end up favorably for Nelson as ASU figures to be a pass-happy offense once again this season with Taylor Kelly under center.
Sophomore wide receiver Cameron Smith
Smith is lightning in a bottle. The wideout from Coppell High School in Texas runs a 4.4 40-yard dash and looked to be a big play receiver for the Sun Devils last season. Unfortunately, he was hampered by a lingering hamstring issue that caused him to miss part of training camp and the first two games of the season.
Smith suited up for 11 games and had flashes of that big play ability, including a 30-yard grab against Stanford and a 47-yard catch against Colorado. With Smith fully healthy and participating in practice, Sun Devil fans will hopefully get to see more of those home run plays next season.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HKossodo