Arizona State football began the second week of spring practice Monday. The Sun Devils also will practice Wednesday and have a closed scrimmage Friday this week.
Credit: Jeff Metcalfe/Arizona Republic
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Wide receivers Ryan Newsome and John Humphrey – transfers to Arizona State from Texas and Oklahoma – discuss playing as sophomores in 2017 after sitting out last season. Credit: Jeff Metcalfe, David Wallace/Arizona Republic
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Quarterback Blake Barnett, a transfer from Alabama, is in his first year at Arizona State. He is competing with four returners to be the starting QB.
Credit: Jeff Metcalfe, Rob Schumacher, Nick Oza, Thomas Hawthorne/Arizona Republic
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Arizona State head coach Todd Graham discusses the first day of football spring practice on March 14, 2017 at the Kajikawa Practice Facility in Tempe, Ariz. By Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports
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ASU football begins sixth season under coach Todd Graham with five new assistant coaches. (Jeff Metcalfe/azcentral sports)
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Transfer quarterback Blake Barnett talks about coming to ASU to compete for the starting job on Wednesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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Arizona State offensive coordinator Billy Napier discusses the first day of football spring practice on March 14, 2017 at the Kajikawa Practice Facility in Tempe, Ariz. By Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports
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ASU football coach Todd Graham talks about the challenge of hiring “good people” and losing them to other schools entering ASU’s 2017 season on Wednesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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New ASU offensive coordinator Billy Napier talks about the culture at ASU and working for Todd Graham on Wednesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins talks about how his injuries frustrated him last season on Wednesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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New ASU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett talks about his friendship with head coach Todd Graham and his thoughts going into the 2017 season. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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ASU head football coach Todd Graham talks about the two quarterback recruits, Blake Barnett and Ryan Kelley, on Signing Day on Wednesday. David Wallace/azcentral sports
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ASU head football coach Todd Graham talks about top running back recruit Eno Benjamin on Signing Day on Wednesday. David Wallace/azcentral sports
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ASU head football coach Todd Graham talks about ASU’s signees on National Signing Day on Wednesday. David Wallace/azcentral sports
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Here’s a look at some of the top underclassmen planning on entering the 2017 NFL Draft.
USA TODAY Sports
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Head coaches in the college football playoff won’t be the only coaches reaping the benefits.
USA TODAY Sports
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The early front-runner became the first Louisville Cardinal to hoist the prestigious award.
USA TODAY Sports
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Dan Bickley: Let’s not forget, this was never a season of high expectations. But clearly, Todd Graham needs to change some things. Video: azcentral sports
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Todd Graham talks about ASU’s 56-35 loss to Arizona in the Territorial Cup. (Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports)
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azcentral sports’ Doug Haller and Paola Boivin discuss Arizona’s 56-35 beatdown on ASU in the Territorial Cup. (Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports)
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At its annual Legends Luncheon during Homecoming week Friday, ASU honored its 1986 football team, which won the school’s first Pac-10 title and beat Michigan in the 1987 Rose Bowl. John Cooper, ASU coach from 1985-87, is being inducted into the ASU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Video: Jeff Metcalfe/Arizona Republic
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ASU football begins second week of spring practice
ASU WRs Ryan Newsome and John Humphrey discuss eligibility
ASU QB Blake Barnett on starting spring
Todd Graham on opening of ASU spring practice
ASU football opens spring practice
Transfer QB Blake Barnett on coming to ASU to compete
Billy Napier discusses first day of ASU practice
Todd Graham talks staffing challenges, 2017 season
ASU offensive coordinator Billy Napier talks working for Graham
ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins on last season’s injuries
ASU DC Phil Bennett on friendship with Graham, 2017 season
ASU coach Todd Graham on QBs Barnett, Kelley
ASU coach Todd Graham on top RB recruit Eno Benjamin
ASU coach Todd Graham on National Signing Day
Top underclassmen entering the NFL draft early
College Football Playoff is lucrative for assistant coaches
Lamar Jackson wins 2016 Heisman Trophy
Strictly Bickley: It’s the right call for ASU to stick with Todd Graham
Todd Graham talks about ASU’s loss to Arizona
Doug Haller, Paola Boivin discuss the Territorial Cup aftermath
ASU honors 1987 Rose Bowl football team
Arizona State held its fifth spring practice Wednesday at Kajikawa practice fields.
Coach Todd Graham opening statement: Did not make one.
Media viewing period: 39 minutes.
Limited: QB Bryce Perkins, S Marcus Ball, CB Kareem Orr, OL Cade Cote, RB Eno Benjamin, DB Dasmond Tautalatasi.
Out: S Armand Perry, QB Brady White, DB Chase Lucas, TE Jay Jay Wilson, WR Cam Smith, LB Drew McIntyre.
MONDAY REPORT: Offensive line seeks cohesion
A third of the way through 15 spring practices, the quarterback competition remains wide open although it’s apparent that incumbent starter Manny Wilkins is more than holding his own against Alabama transfer Blake Barnett and three others. Bryce Perkins, coming back from a neck injury, is not cleared for contact and Brady White, recovering from a broken foot, is throwing but not running.
Keep in mind the media is not allowed to watch team periods at practice.
“I’ve been very impressed,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “All three of the guys that are repping (Wilkins, Barnett, Dillon Sterling-Cole) are working extremely well. In particular with Manny. You can tell he has raised his game. Blake coming in, you can tell he’s learning. They bring a lot to the table. We’ll know more about that evaluation in our first scrimmage (Friday).”
Wilkins played well as a redshirt freshman in the first third of last year then suffered multiple injuries, missing two games, the rest of the way in a 5-7 season. Still his completion percentage was 63.3 (No. 22 nationally) and he averaged 257.5 yards total offense.
First-year offensive coordinator Billy Napier is in no rush to select a starting quarterback.
“We told them it was going to be a clean slate,” Napier said. “We started the depth chart at a fair place. We’re working our way through that, and there is competition each and every day. One day one guy looks the best, the next day another guy may look the best. It will be about the entire body of work and about which guy can put our team in position to play winning football.
“Spring practice is a very small percentage (of overall evaluation time). We’re a long way from that decision. Right now, we’re just going to wake up and hit that tree and that thing is going to fall over and we’ll have a starter.”
Another day, more props for a wide receiver group that clearly is expected to be an offensive strength.
When asked about sophomore Kyle Williams, Graham said, “We talk about the Sun Devil way, he embodies every bit of the values of our program. Last year, we even moved him over to defense because he was so talented. He’s a guy that’s excelling, and I know Coach Napier has been high on him every day and so have I.
“The one guy that’s really stood out with big-time improvement is Terrell Chatman. He’s really matured. So our receiving corps has been impressive.”
Sophomore N’Keal Harry is the top returner (58 catches, 659 yards, five touchdowns). Sophomore transfers John Humphrey and Ryan Newsome, junior Jalen Harvey and senior Ryan Jenkins are others who will contribute in the fall to varying degrees.
“We’ve got a lot of competition (at receiver),” Napier said. “We’ve got some quality depth. They are all competing. I think we’re going to be able to play a lot of guys. The more depth we have, the better.”
Jenkins played at Tennessee in 2014 (one catch) then walked on at ASU in 2015. He only played in four games last year with two catches.
“He’s a guy that’s got himself in position to earn him a spot in the lineup as well as be a guy that could earn a scholarship,” Graham said.
Napier said, “Ryan Jenkins has really impressed me just in terms of his approach. He’s very focused, a great team player, his attitude has been tremendous, he’s a great example for everyone on the team. If he continues to prove himself, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he’s able to win a scholarship at some point. He gives us a lot of flexibility. He can play inside, he can play outside and certainly will be core special teams guy.”
Senior center Tyler McClure and junior safety Owen Rogers are others in contention to earn a scholarship, something Graham has regularly awarded to walk-ons in his first five seasons.
Depth at wide receiver allowed for redshirt freshmen Jeremy Smith and Frank Darby to be moved to defense, at least for the spring. Graham believes Smith will stick at safety and a decision still is to be made on Darby at Spur linebacker/nickel back.
“I’m liking it and getting used to it more and more,” said Smith, 6-foot-1, 184 pounds. He was a quarterback at Marshall High School in Missouri City, Texas, where he never played on defense, then redshirted last season while practicing as a receiver.
“It’s really not an adjustment because being a quarterback and also a receiver and you flip it around to the defensive perspective, you get to see everything you used to do and you understand it more, the break of the routes, the way the quarterback throws the ball. It’s basically really the same but in a different perspective. The way the quarterback throws the ball and puts it in the right place for the receiver, I know how he’s going to throw it so I break on it when he’s releasing it.”
Smith said learning defensive technique is “not hard at all,” and he already has made a number of interceptions.
“When people ask what position I play, I say receiver then I think about it, no I play safety now,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t say I’m making plays every day, but I’m starting to learn it and be in the right places at the right time.”
Darby, 6-0, 203, played some at strong safety as a senior at Lincoln High in Jersey City, N.J.
“I did really well, but now this is college. Everybody is grown men,” he said. “Right now, I don’t think about going back to offense. I just think about getting better at playing Spur,” where he has been with the first team.
Darby said he was told by Graham “if I’m not starting, they’re going to move me back to offense. I’m just ready for whatever comes my way.”
He at first thought he would be playing cornerback instead of Spur, a hybrid position where now departed Laiu Moeakiola played last season.
“Now, I’ve got to take on linemen, all these other blocks,” Darby said. “It’s difficult, but I’ve got the heart for it. I’m not going to back down from any challenge that comes my way.”
Darby said he talked to his high school coach Robert Hampton when the proposed move to defense first came up.
“Everything he ever told me was right,” Darby said. “He told me do it, try it out. I told coach (Phil) Bennett right away, ‘I’m down, I’m ready, let’s do this.’ It just took off from there.”
Robbie Robinson, a defensive back from Hampton, Va., who played in 10 games as a true freshman, is not practicing but remains in school at least through this semester.
Napier on the offensive line: “We’re kind of looking for that swing tackle. We’d like for those guys to be able to play other positions, as well. I’m pleased with where our front is at. Coach (Rob) Sale has done an outstanding job with that unit. I can see the improvement. A lot of the concepts we’re running are new to them. We’re going to give them an opportunity to go dictate to the defense, control the line of scrimmage and be aggressive in our approach. We want to play with an edge up front.”
The Sun Devils will have a closed scrimmage at 8:30 a.m. Friday at Kajikawa practice field. All practices are closed to the public other than the spring game April 15.
Contact Jeff Metcalfe at 602-444-8053 or at [email protected].