Of the group, the player with the least team and game experience is sophomore Jamil Douglas, who played in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2011 but predominately on special teams. However, with the departure of five offensive linemen that started at some point last year—including the two primary left guards, Mike Marcisz and Adam Tello—Douglas has a fortuitous opportunity this year but also a distinct sense of urgency.
Determined not to be the weak link of the Sun Devil offensive line, Douglas has used the coaching regime change to his advantage in his mission into the starting lineup. Though ASU’s reserve offensive linemen are largely devoid of game experience, Douglas knows his personal lack of field time gives him no slack when it comes to everyday work ethic.
“I worked very hard over the offseason,” recalled Douglas. “Chances with new coaches mean new opportunities. They have ways that they want to try things out and I was blessed enough to be in their plans. I’ve been working hard this summer and trying to force myself into reps so I can be known that I want to play. I’ve got to work just as hard as the guys behind me because I can’t let them catch up to me.”
At 6-foot-4 and 284-pounds, Douglas is the lightest of the projected starting five linemen. Though on a traditional scale that might warrant concern, in Todd Graham’s “high octane” offense the need for well-conditioned and versatile linemen have now become the preference.
Despite his inexperience, Douglas brings tremendous versatility as he played on both lines as well as tight end during his high school career at Cypress (Calif.) High School and can use his well-rounded skill set to thrive as a starting guard.
“I bring some explosiveness, a different type of athleticism,” said Douglas. “I can get out and run, I’m strong enough to block the inside guys. I just have to continue to work. I can’t be content; if I do one good thing, don’t take the next play off. So I just have to keep working hard.”
Douglas reiterated the thoughts of virtually everyone affiliated with Sun Devil football that the culture of the program under Todd Graham is a “night and day” difference from the previous coaching regime, however the impact he’s felt is not limited to the head coach as offensive line coach Bob Connelly has been a tremendous influence since his arrival.
“Coach Connelly, he’s a great motivator,” said Douglas. “He’s going to get on you and tell you what you’re doing wrong, but at the same time he’s going to motivate you to be better. I’m learning a lot from Coach Connelly, I couldn’t ask for anyone better. [He wants me to] be explosive off the ball. He always harps on that; I have a lot of great athleticism and he wants me to be explosive and use it to my advantage.”
In speaking with Douglas, a sense of pride and unity among the offensive line is noticeable; though two new starters and one over a season removed from his last duty will be among the first-team, Douglas is emphatic that the unit is as cohesive and focused as even the most tenured line could be.
According to Douglas, each player on the line brings different qualities that help create a five-man front that will overachieve and nullify concerns about the multitude of new components. Many have speculated that the losses of Garth Gerhart, Dan Knapp, Mike Marcisz, Aderious Simmons and Adam Tello may not be as catastrophic as initially presumed and Douglas of course supports that notion.
“Evan [Finkenberg] his technique, it’s some of the best you’ll see on the offensive line; he’s a smart player, too,” said Douglas. “Kody [Koebensky] knows everything that goes on in the offense. He calls out the different fronts; who’s the MIKE ‘backer, who’s the WILL ‘backer, everything. Andrew Sampson is our veteran, he gets us going, he’s the one we turn to when things are going rough and the one we turn to when things are going good.
“Brice [Schwab] sets the tempo for everyone. Every day he’s just lights out, he has his hair on fire. He sets the tempo for all of us. That’s about as hard as you’ll ever see somebody work to get where he’s at. I can learn a lot from Brice, just as far as how he handled the adversity and where he’s at now.”
Later this month, for the first time in the career of the vast majority of the Sun Devil roster, ASU will head up to Payson for Camp Tontozona. The opportunity to enhance team togetherness and strength is one that cannot be duplicated as far as the impact felt through the entire squad and the offensive line is among the position groups that can benefit the most from unity that can be created from the few days of isolation.
For a group such as ASU’s offensive line that includes first year starters such as Douglas and Koebensky, the opportunity to bond with the rest of their position mates is one with a clear reward.
“I’m excited,” Douglas exclaimed with a smile. “I’ve never been. I’ve heard from a couple guys that have been up there that it’s crazy but I’m excited to get away for a minute and get out of the hot weather, see what it’s like and see if our team can bond together.”
With the first collegiate opportunity for first-string playing time at offensive line on the horizon, Douglas can’t help but be reminded of and motivated by the thought that his career as a student-athlete could have been cut short near its very beginning.
As a true freshman in 2010, Douglas was suspended for the bulk of the season by then-head coach Dennis Erickson due to Douglas’ alleged involvement in a campus theft incident that also allegedly included former teammate Lee Adams. Though Adams left ASU, Douglas returned the following spring in good standing and after a full season on the field he believes his maturity and focus levels have improved drastically compared to two years ago.
“It’s completely different,” Douglas said in evaluation of his maturity. “Coming in, I was young, I made some mistakes and I owned up to it and took responsibility for what happened. I’m just ready to get on the field and play some ball.”
In many ways, Douglas as an individual player epitomizes the 2012 Sun Devil offensive line. Though expectations have been mild and he’s been somewhat of an “under the radar” player, he brings talent and potential to the field and is a candidate to surprise the naysayers. Douglas knows, however, that no improvement or achievement—personally or as collective unit—will come without complete persistence and focus.
“We’re only going to go as far as our offensive line takes us,” admitted Douglas. “Every day we’ve got to come in to work. Nobody knows the type of work we put in this offseason, they just have to wait and see. We’re ready to surprise some people and shock the nation with what we can do.”