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Spring football is over. The regular season starts Aug. 31.

Until then, azcentral sports Jeff Metcalfe offers up some analysis of the Arizona State football program.

This is Part 1 of a series.

The starting QB will be …

Until the spring game, the media did not see the quarterbacks in team periods, throwing against a defense. That makes it hard to accurately forecast whether junior Manny Wilkins will hold off a challenge from sophomore transfer Blake Barnett. My guess is that a healthy Wilkins, something he wasn’t for the final seven games last season, will prevail even though Barnett has the stronger arm. Wilkins was confident and poised all spring and seems unfazed by a second year of competing for the job. Taylor Kelly came on in 2012 fall camp to become the starting QB ahead of Mike Bercovici. Barnett will challenge to do the same, and both QBs appear capable of doing a satisfactory or better job.

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Offensive highlights from ASU’s spring game on Saturday.

The defense will improve 

It has to, right, from No. 127 nationally, next to last ahead of only Texas Tech. New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett‘s defenses at Baylor ranked from No. 28 (2013) to No. 81 (2016). ASU was No. 81 as recently as 2014 and No. 42 in 2013. Realistic goals would be to reduce yards allowed per game from 520 by at least 100 and points allowed from almost 40 to 30. The front seven starters appear set – depending who starts at Spur – but depth, especially at linebacker, remains a problem. An enormous amount of resources are being invested in the secondary, last nationally in passing yards allowed for two consecutive years. If it pays off and injuries are not catastrophic overall, expect the defense to be noticeably better.

How good are the wide receivers? 

N’Keal Harry did enough as a freshman (58 catches, 659 yards, 5 touchdowns) to believe he will only improve. After that, no matter how much potential they’ve shown, John Humphrey, Jalen Harvey, Ryan Newsome, Terrell Chatman, Kyle Williams, Ryan Jenkins (only senior) and Frank Darby have a combined 25 catches for ASU. Humphrey redshirted at Oklahoma in 2015 when Newsome had four catches at Texas, but the prospect of those two in combination with Harry along with the maturing of Harvey and Chatman makes the group tantalizing. If even three of them produce like Devin Lucien, Tim White and D.J. Foster did in 2015 (combined 182 catches, 2,294 yards, 19 touchdowns), the spring hype will be justified.

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Wide receivers, including John Humphrey and Ryan Newsome, were the headliners Saturday at the Arizona State football spring game.



Credit: Jeff Metcalfe, David Kadlubowski/Arizona Republic
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Offensive line gains from 2016 pains

Next to the secondary, the position group most under scrutiny is the offensive line, which other than Evan Goodman at left tackle did not start the same player throughout at any position. But Sam Jones, Cohl Cabral, Steve Miller, Zach Robertson and Quinn Bailey received valuable playing time that should pay off this year and beyond since none are seniors. New offensive line coach Rob Sale seems to be connecting with the group, which includes seniors centers A.J. McCollum and Tyler McClure. Jones is drawing praise from teammates for his leadership. It’s possible the O-line, blocking for three quality backs, can do things it couldn’t last year due to lack of seasoning and injuries.

Specialists still will be special

Michael Sleep-Dalton punts every which way and with both feet and still has three years to play after redshirting last season following one year of junior college. He could follow the pattern of other Australians to become one of the nation’s best punters and fill a void left by the departure of three-year starter Matt Haack. But what about replacing Groza Award-winning kicker Zane Gonzalez? Junior John O’Brien was improved in the spring but will be hard pressed to hold on in the fall given the heralded arrival of Brandon Ruiz, one of the nation’s top high-school kickers who de-committed from Alabama to remain at home and kick for the Sun Devils. Elite long snapper Mitchell Fraboni returns for one more season.

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Hyperlapse of ASU’s spring football game.

The full series

• Top 5 impressions after spring practice

• Top 5 concerns to be addressed this fall

• Top 10 players to watch in 2017

• 5 players who may surprise in 2017

• Top 5 newcomers for 2017

• A breakdown of the 2017 schedule