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 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 completed the first of five weeks of spring practice Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium on Junior Day, an important day on the recruiting calendar for high school underclass invitees and their families.
Coach Todd Graham opening statement: “You get excited about people in shorts then you get out here and the real men come out when you put the pads on. Even though we weren’t tackling to the ground, it was all up high and thud mode, really solid day.”
Attire: First practice in pads.
Media viewing period: Approximately 40 minutes.
Limited: QB Bryce Perkins, S Marcus Ball, CB Kareem Orr, OL Cade Cote, DB Desmond Tautalatasi.
Out: S Armand Perry, QB Brady White, DE Jalen Bates, OL Zach Robertson, DB J’Marcus Rhodes, WR Cam Smith. Smith was not at the first two practices.
THURSDAY’S REPORT: Quarterback depth at all-time high
Putting on the pads
First-year coordinators Billy Napier (offense) and Phil Bennett (defense) gave mixed reviews to the first pads practice on a warm morning with no cloud cover.
“The message to our players is that effort is choice, energy is a choice, toughness is a choice,” Napier said. “We need each individual out here to decide that they’re committed to what we’re trying to get accomplished. The first day in pads is always a challenge. It’s a little bit different level of conditioning specific to playing football. We saw that we faded a little bit today as the practice went.
“As we go forward and we put them in situations where there’s adversity, they’ve got to respond. I liked the effort and the approach. We were a little bit lackadaisical early and they responded. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but there are certainly a lot of good things going on from an intangible standpoint and we’ve got some ability. If we can pair that with the intangibles, we can have a good football team and have a good unit on offense for sure.”
Bennett said, “What happens when you put your pads on first thing, you lose all your fundamentals. It’s like when speed gets in your face defensively, you start playing street ball. Then it settles back down, a few hollars and they go back to normal. Getting lined up with what we’re doing on both sides of the ball, I thought it was good work.”
Running backs shine
For Graham, the play of running backs Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage and Nick Ralston were a highlight Saturday. All of the team periods were closed to the media.
“The things that stood out to me were our running backs finishing runs,” Graham said, “and there were some pretty good pops out there. Nick has been really impressive for three days.” He also mentioned explosive plays generally and a lack of penalties.
‘Desert Dogs’ defense
Whether it catches on or not is to be seen, but the nickname “Desert Dogs” is emerging for the defense.
“I like that, they’re going to have a dog mentality,” said Graham, who said he first learned about coaching defensive backs from Bennett, who is nine years older. Bennett was defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and TCU in the 1990s when Graham was a high school coach in Texas.
“What we believe comes from the same origin. The No. 1 thing is being adaptive to your guys. The best specials teams guy I know in the country is Shawn Slocum (in his third year on Graham’a staff) and the best defensive backs coach I know is Phil Bennett, and obviously he’s a great defensive coordinator as well.”
Bennett believes that ASU has enough talent “to be much improved” on defense (from No. 127 nationally in 2016). “I really like what Kareem Orr has done (even though he is limited in contact). I like the attitude of DJ (Calhoun) and Christian (Sam) coming back. I think our front seven is closer than our back end, but I look at Kareem, I look at (Chad) Adams and they give us something. You look at Mo (Chandler) then (Chase) Lucas. There’s been some bright. We’ve just got to tie it all together.”
Jay Norvell legacy
There probably are no players more anxious to get on the field than wide receivers John Humphrey and Ryan Newsome, who sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma and Texas. And Humphrey was a redshirt before that in his only season with the Sooners so he has not played since high school.
“It’s been two years,” Humphrey said. “I’m ready. I’ve been real patient. It’s time though. I’m just ready to get going.”
Newsome said the wait feels long for him, too, because he played as a true freshman then went to the scout team during his transfer redshirt season. Both have three years of eligibility remaining and enough speed to break big plays.
“Both those guys are dynamic with the ball in their hands,” Graham said. “You like guys that are one play, touchdown. We’ve got quite a few guys that can do that. That’s big having that kind of explosiveness.”
Newsome is 5-8 and Humphrey three inches taller, but their speed is more important than their height given that ASU has size with 6-4 N’Keal Harry and 6-3 Terrell Chatman in its receiving corps.
“Speed is something that coach Graham really wanted to put an emphasis on when he recruited us,” Newsome said. “John transferred before I did and he made it a note that he wanted us to get some guys here that could take the top off the defense. We’ve got a lot of deep concept plays that allow John to go deep. Speed is a huge asset of both of our games.”
Former wide receivers coach Jay Norvell recruited both when he was at Texas and was a factor in them transferring to ASU. Since Norvell only stayed one season before landing the head coaching job at Nevada, Humphrey and Newsome, who knew each other as Texas high schoolers, could become his Sun Devil legacy.
“He (Norvell) will leave a mark here,” Newsome said. “We’re excited just to help the team in any way we can and add a different dynamic we haven’t had here in a while.”
The Sun Devils practice at 8:30 a.m. Monday 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].