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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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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Todd Graham on opening of ASU 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 opened spring practice Tuesday at Kajikawa practice fields.
Coach Todd Graham opening statement: “Lots of teaching and learning obviously. I really like the attitude, I like my guys, like their work ethic. Good energy out there.”
Media viewing period: 53 minutes.
Limited: QB Bryce Perkins, S Marcus Ball, CB Kareem Orr, DL D.J Davidson, OL Cade Cote, DB Deion Guignard.
Out: S Armand Perry (surgery), QB Brady White, DE Jalen Bates, RB Eno Benjamin, DB Desmond Tautalatasi, DT Jordan Hoyt. TE Grant Martinez has retired due to injuries and is a student assistant coach.
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Much was new at Arizona State’s first spring practice in coach Todd Graham’s sixth season particularly on the coaching staff with five new full-time assistants including both coordinators.
Though some changes were noticeable, especially fewer but longer periods to get in more plays per period, the practice ran smoothly, leaving Graham satisfied with the early cohesion.
“We’ve basically always done five-minute blocks,” Graham said. “Some of that is blending with myself and coach (Phil) Bennett and coach (Billy) Napier. Coach (Shawn) Slocum helps me a lot with practice plans. It’s one of those things we changed up to have a little bit of a change. We try to be as efficient as we can. If you up at the board and you have 22 periods (previously) as opposed to 11, it sounds shorter. Same amount of time though.”
Napier and Bennett are the new offensive and defensive coordinators. Also new are offensive line coach Rob Sale, defensive line coach Michael Slater and wide receivers coach Rob Likens. Keith Patterson (linebackers, former defensive coordinator), Slocum (special teams), John Simon (running backs) and TJ Rushing (defensive backs) are returning assistants. Simon missed Tuesday due to a family matter.
“We pay them to get along with me,” Graham joked. “It’s amazing how well that works. It’s not like I’m surprised about anything. One of the most important things I do is select players. I like the players we’ve selected. We do have speed and explosiveness. Everybody is a year older and a lot of people with a lot of experience. A lot more of a veteran team. I was was very specific about what I wanted to improve about each particular unit and how we did that. I was very pleased with the staff and how they’re working.”
Brandon Blackmon is a new graduate assistant working with tight ends. He was a cornerback at Purdue and Tennessee State and previously coached at Orange Coast College among other stops.
“Guys had a very workman attitude,” Graham said. “We got a lot done for just having helmets on. We compete in everything we do, but we don’t give an award when we’re not in pads. You can’t win if you don’t have pads on.”
Napier, former wide receivers coach at Alabama and before that offensive coordinator at Clemson, had each offensive player write down what he needs to do to become a complete player.
“Evaluate yourself,” Napier said. “What are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, what do you need to attack and work on to make improvement as a player. If we can get each individual player doing that, the cumulative effect of that will be positive.”
ASU’s starting quarterback job is up for grabs for a second straight season with Manny Wilkins, who started 10 games in a 5-7 season, returning as a junior to face competition from Alabama transfer Blake Barnett, White, Perkins and Dillon Sterling-Cole, all of whom are sophomores.
“I’ve been through that the last couple of years at Alabama so we’ve got a blueprint that’s similar,” Napier said. “Any time you’ve got a number of guys that are capable, it’s a good problem to have. As we get through training camp and closer to the first game, we’ll have to start narrowing down those reps. Right now, it’s open market. We’re getting a lot of reps for each guy and letting them prove themselves. Somebody has got to take ownership, win the job, win the team. But we’re a long ways from that decision being made.”
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Linebacker Christian Sam missed almost all of last season with a foot injury, leaving a major hole in the second level of the defense. Sam played as a true freshman in 2014 and was second in tackles as a starter in 2015.
He was low key about his return to practice but is an important player in ASU improving from a season in which it ranked No. 127 nationally in total defense, giving up 520.5 yards per game.
“It just felt good to be back on the field,” Sam said. “At first you kind of wonder why you? I could have done some stuff to avoid it (injury), but God has a plan for everybody. I really just can’t look back on it. I’ve got to go forward and focus on this season.
“I didn’t think too much about oh I’m back. It was more like I’ve been here before, don’t think about it.”
Because he had not redshirted and played in only the first game last season, Sam was able to redshirt and retain two years of eligibility. “I did my treatment week to week, and at one point I had a wall,” he said. “I wasn’t able to physically get out there and play. Right now, it’s good. I’m easing my way back in. I’ll make a cut and feel it, but that’s normal. It doesn’t slow me down.”
Sam said he thinks the new defensive scheme under Bennett “is good for everybody as a group. I think it’s a real good defense for us to run.” Bennett, said Sam, is “aggressive, love the game, that’s good for us.”
OL Zach Robertson did not practice for disciplinary reasons, Graham said, but was on the field watching.
WR Cam Smith was not at practice due to a class commitment.
Wide receivers Frank Darby and Jeremy Smith, both redshirt freshmen, are getting a look on defense. “We’re looking at Darby at our nickel position and Smith at safety,” Graham said. “We’ll make quick decisions on that and see where they’re at. I’ve been pleased with their athleticism.”
Incoming K Brandon Ruiz was among those in attendance.
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The Sun Devils practice at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at Kajikawa practice fields with practice closed to the public. ASU’s Pro Day for NFL scouts also is Thursday.
ASU spring football
Week 1: Thursday, Saturday.
Week 2: March 20, March 22, March 24.
Week 3: March 27, March 29, March 31.
Week 4: April 3, April 5, April 7.
Week 5: April 11, April 13, April 15 (spring game, 2 p.m., Sun Devil Stadium).
Note: Other than spring game, practices at Kajikawa fields are closed to the public.
Contact Jeff Metcalfe at 602-444-8053 or at [email protected].