It's going to be an interesting spring for Brock Osweiler.
On Feb. 23, last year's starting quarterback for Arizona State, Steven Threet, retired from football with one season of eligibility left because of post-concussion symptoms.
With three freshmen filling out the quarterback position, it was a no-brainer for coach Dennis Erickson to name Osweiler his No. 1 guy for next season. The 6-foot-8 junior filled in for Threet in the final two games of last year, leading the Sun Devils to wins over UCLA and Arizona.
But with nine starters returning on offense, including Cameron Marshall, Deantre Lewis, Gerell Robinson and others, Erickson did so with the understanding that Osweiler would be a game manager, not a game breaker.
It's kind of like getting handed the keys to a new Ferrari, and being told not to drive it faster than 30 miles per hour.
"The biggest thing with him is to play within himself," Erickson said. "Does he have to win games? No. He just has to do the right things to give us a chance."
Last season, the Arizona State offense moved the ball, but was continually bitten by costly turnovers.
In his first day of spring practice on Tuesday, Osweiler seemed to understand what the coaches wanted from him, as he threw the ball away multiple times.
"That's hard to get a guy to do in a game, much less a practice," Erickson said.
Osweiler said he feels much more comfortable now in Arizona State's offense, which was overhauled last spring when new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone arrived.
"Last year, we were all shaky," Osweiler said. "We didn't exactly know the offense and we were trying to go 100 miles per hour. This year, we can go 100 miles per hour. We know what's going on."
Osweiler finished last season completing 62 of 109 passes for 797 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. His crowning achievement came against UCLA, when he replaced an injured Threet and rallied the Sun Devils from a 17-0 deficit for a 55-34 victory. He threw for 380 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for another.
But his lasting impression came the next week. Osweiler struggled badly against Arizona, but near the end of a close game gathered his teammates together and made an impassioned speech. The Sun Devils eventually rallied for a memorable 30-29 overtime victory.
"He's always been a leader," said Russell McCarvel, Osweiler's coach at Flathead High School in Kalispell, Mont. "I thought his leadership was instrumental in that game. As a quarterback sometimes stats are fun to have, but leadership and wins are the most important thing."
Osweiler's enthusiastic and encouraging, and it seems to resonate with his teammates.
"I hope so," he said. "I hope I'm not just yelling for no reason. I think for the most part, the team responds pretty well to what I say."
Osweiler can relax now. Instead of battling Threet for the starting spot, he has the luxury of settling in as the unquestioned starter.
"Whenever there's competition, you're not only evaluating your own play, but you can't help but look over and see what that guy did, how did he do?" McCarvel said. "He definitely has a different level of confidence."
Despite last season's 6-6 record and three consecutive bowl-less seasons, there is optimism not just within the team, but from outside observers. With nine starters returning on each side of the ball, the Sun Devils could be ranked in the preseason top-25 next year and are one of the favorites in the newly formed Pac-12 South division.
Osweiler may be the most important piece. If he plays well, the team's ceiling is high.
Osweiler surely understands this, and with no immediate competition to take his job, he has some leeway.
He's also OK with the idea of getting the ball out quickly and letting the other guys make plays.
After all, when someone gives you a new Ferrari, sometimes it's good to drive slowly and just enjoy the view.
"My job right now is to not steer the ship in the wrong direction," Osweiler said. "It's on course, and my job is simple this year: limit turnovers and just get the ball out to those guys and let them do their thing. As long as I take my job and make it as simple as possible - don't turn it over, get it to our playmakers, move the offense - things should be OK."