Each week from now until the first game of the 2013 Sun Devil football season, the ASU media relations department will release a position group summary for every spot on the Sun Devil roster. These will provide in-depth detail on the top returners, promising newcomers and all you could need to know about each position as we head into what should be another exciting season under Todd Graham.
The first batch of summaries will focus on the offensive side of the ball, and this week we review the 2013 Sun Devil Running Backs
By Jeremy Hawkes
TEMPE – Of the many improvements exhibited by the Sun Devil football program during the 2012 season, it was perhaps the great offensive achievement of head coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to take a roster abundant with talent at the running back position and spread the ball around in a way that kept all involved in a back-by-committee offense that was just about as good as any in the conference.
Cameron Marshall (135 carries), Marion Grice (103 carries) and D.J. Foster (102 carries) each saw significant reps last season as they combined for 1,805 rushing yards on 340 attempts (5.3 yards per carry) and 22 touchdowns on the ground.
The three-headed monster approach took advantage of the trio’s ability to make plays in the receiving game as well and as a whole on the year, the three accounted for 31.4 percent of all the team’s receiving yards this season. Of the 3,369 total receiving yards, running backs collected 1,057. As a whole, the trio accounted for nearly half of ASU total offense on the season (2,812 yards out of 6,039).
Grice, Marshall and Foster also accounted for 35 of the team’s 60 total offensive touchdowns. Grice had 19 (11 rushing, eight receiving), Marshall with 10 (nine rushing, one receiving) and Foster posted six (two rushing, four receiving).
ASU finished the season averaging 205.5 yards per game on the ground, which was the second-best mark in the past 25 seasons (since 1988). Only the 234.1 yards per game put up by the 1996 Sun Devils are better. ASU moved ahead of the 200.0 yards per game in 1997 following a dominating effort at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. ASU’s 380 rushing yards against Navy were the most since posting 405 against Oregon in 1997.
Grice, Marshall and Foster finished the season averaging 216.3 yards of total offense per game as a unit. The team is averaging 464.5 total yards per game.
Gone this year is Camerson Marshall, who finished his career in sole possession of seventh place on ASU’s all-time rushing list with 2,700 yards and fourth place on the school’s all-time rushing attempts list with 580. His 38 career touchdowns are the second-most in program history, but Grice and Foster both return as perhaps the most prolific returning running back tandem in the conference.
The two bring back 2,130 combined yards from last season (1,172 rushing, 958 receiving) and 25 touchdowns. Among Pac-12 programs returning dual backs where one back didn’t take over 75 percent of the touches between the two, only the Oregon squads return numbers that come close to stacking up. Oregon State returns Storm Woods and Terron Ward, who combined for 1,747 yards (1,355 rushing, 392 receiving) and 19 touchdowns. Oregon, who lost Kenjon Barner to graduation, returns a tandem of De’Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall who put up a combined 1,607 yards (1,148 rushing, 459 receiving) and 20 touchdowns.
Grice and Foster are two of only five running backs in the nation this season that return with over 400 yards rushing and receiving last season.
Grice’s 19 total touchdowns last season (11 rushing, 8 receiving) were 14th in the country in total touchdowns on the year while his eight receiving scores led all FBS running backs. The 19 touchdowns were the third-highest single season tally in ASU history. He averaged a touchdown every 7.58 times he touched the ball (19 TDs on 144 touches), which was the best average of any FBS player that had over 100 carries and 25 receptions.
In victories over Arizona and Navy in the final two games of the season, Grice put up 315 rushing yards and five touchdowns, earning MVP honors in both games for the effort. He finished as the team’s leader in all-purpose yardage on the season with 1,104 yards and with Marshall’s graduation, Grice now steps into the role as the team’s top back. This fact was noted when he was named to the Maxwell Award Watch List this past week, given annually to America’s College Player of the Year.
A quiet and reserved player during his first season, Grice’s biggest gains may be off the field where he has opened up among teammates, coaches and media members over the offseason, making him an ideal candidate to be one of the team’s leaders this season.
Running back coach Bo Graham also believes the fact that Grice – who came to Arizona State through the JC ranks after playing prep ball in inner-city Houston - is enjoying his first “true” offseason of training will help pay dividends in the coming season as he is in much better shape and has seen great improvements in the weight room.
Foster was hot on Grice’s heels as the all-purpose leader, finishing with 1,026 all-purpose yards. His 533 receiving yards were the most of any Pac-12 running back and the third-most of all returning FBS backs this season. He finished his first season as ASU's all-time freshman leader among running backs in receptions and receiving yards and finished only behind former All-American Zach Miller for the top tallies in school history in those categories.
Foster tallied six touchdowns, including four receiving, and his 4.8 yards per rush were second on the team and his 14.0 yards per catch were third. He also led the team with 31 total (18 receiving and 13 rushing) "explosive plays," which the ASU coaching staff deems as rushes of 12 or more yards and receptions of 16 or more yards.
He played in all 13 games in 2012 and became one of just six true freshmen in school history to start in their first opportunity.
Foster was recently named to the Paul Hornung Award watch list, given annually to the nation’s most versatile player. Foster was also named a Fox Sports NEXT freshman All-American following his season last year.
Foster has also gotten into better shape, adding weight but still finding himself moving better than he was before the weight gain, according to Bo Graham. His release and getting off the ball has also improved through the Spring and he will see a lot of reps in the passing game as a result.
One of ASU’s most explosive players as a freshman back in 2010 was redshirt junior Deantre Lewis. After an offseason injury following his freshman year, Lewis spent the majority of his redshirt sophomore campaign this last season just getting back into football shape. He saw reps as a defensive back but will return to the offensive side of the ball this season and look to pick up where he left off as a freshman.
As a frosh, Lewis accumulated nearly 1,000 all-purpose yards and scored six total touchdowns. Lewis is another versatile player that can line up in the backfield or as a receiver and the key to his success, Graham notes, is becoming more consistent and continue getting back into shape following his injury.
Terrell Davis is a big, solid back at 6-0, 232 and is someone that could play a role in short-yardage situations as a redshirt freshman. A raw talent, Graham has challenged Davis to make his way onto the field in a special teams role while he works on developing his fundamentals this season.
Marcus Washington adds great depth to the line-up as a power-runner who brings a lot of energy to his game. A physical back, Washington is noted for always giving max-effort on the field and is someone the coaches have to tell to slow down more often than telling him to pick it up. Washington could also seem some time in short-yardage role duty as the season progresses.