TEMPE, Ariz. -- Two years ago, Adam Tello was a big reason to doubt Arizona State. When he briefly became the starting right offense tackle as redshirt freshman, his ascension revealed just how down the talent on the Sun Devils line was.
Tello didn't pass the sight test. Whatever he was listed at, he looked like he carried about 270 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. The sight test, of course, isn't always right, but it proved prescient in Tello's case as he struggled mightily in losses to UNLV and Georgia.
"I remember mentally just not being in the right spot," Tello said. "Mentally, I just fell apart. Everything I got thrown into and I just fell apart. It carried over to playing on the field."
His confidence evaporated in the desert heat. He was a non-factor in 2009 -- back problems didn't exactly help, either.
This preseason, however, Tello might be a reason for hope. While he's again ascended to the starting lineup because of roster attrition -- the retirement due to knee injuries of guards Zach Schlink and Matt Hustad and the absence of Jon Hargis due to another knee injury -- he no longer does badly with the site test.
He's a solid 290 pounds. He bench presses over 400 pounds. He looks like a Pac-10 offensive lineman.
"This year I'm ready," he said. "I'm healthy. I got stronger. I got bigger in the weight room."
It all comes down to the offensive line for the Sun Devils. Sure, the quarterback competition is grabbing the spotlight, but Brock Osweiler, Steven Threet and Samson Szakacsy each appear capable of giving the offense at least competent play at the position. Perhaps even more than that. But the line's competency will determine the ultimate trajectory of the season -- either a third-straight losing one or a run to a bowl game.
Make no mistake: There are legitimate reasons to question the line. With four career starts, Tello will be the Sun Devils second most experienced lineman behind center Garth Gerhart (10 starts). Left tackle Dan Knapp is a converted tight end. Right tackle Evan Finkenberg is a redshirt freshman. Right guard Brice Schwab is a JC transfer.
There isn't anyone on the team who hasn't heard the doubts about the line. While many players and coaches feign ignorance when asked about preseason rankings and skeptical media reports, Gerhart admits he reads just about everything. No, he doesn't like it or agree with it.
"It's real frustrating," he said. "You always see this stuff, 'Oh the offensive line is terrible! They're struggling!' It kills you because you know that you're that person they're talking about. But I think we might change people's minds about what they think of the offensive line at Arizona State."
Both Tello and Gerhart know there's an easy way to find out what their chances are this season: Block their own defense. The Sun Devils front seven should be one of the best in the Pac-10. That's been hit or miss thus far, but a new spread offense, which features a quick-hit passing attack, and better (read: faster) depth at the skill positions, should make life easier up front.
Gerhart also knows how fast teams can turn things around (in either direction). He and brother -- you may have heard of a former Stanford running back named Toby Gerhart -- used to talk on the phone in 2007. The Sun Devils were headed to a 10-win season. Stanford finished 4-8 after going 1-11 the year before.
"He used to tell me how it sucked, how he hated it and how happy he was that baseball season was coming around," the younger Gerhart recalled. "But [last year] he started telling me they were going to surprise people, and sure enough, they surprised everybody."
Will the Sun Devils surprise folks in 2010? Only if Tello, Gerhart and their linemates dramatically improve over the past two seasons.
The good news is they at least look like they could do it.