ASU football completed preseason practice No. 9 Tuesday night, the first with media viewing since Saturday’s scrimmage. Head coach Herm Edwards took a day off from interviews after the many he was required to do during media day on Monday.
Because of approaching lightning, the Sun Devils practiced indoors in the Dickey Dome for the first time in the Edwards coaching era. Edwards has said he wants to be outdoors training in the heat as much as possible to gain an advantage in conditioning and over opponents during home games.
The practice was mostly smooth even given the switch into tighter quarters and inexperience that Edwards and several of his assistant coaches have with the bubble.
“If this was our first as a staff, it might have been a little bit of a clown show and nobody knew where to go on the field,” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “But I was here last year and Dave Christensen was here so we just got in here and it was just like second nature, no problem.”
Running backs coach John Simon and tight ends coach Donnie Yantis also are back and have experience in the dome, although Yantis was not previously an on-field assistant. The entire defensive staff and wide receivers coach Charlie Fisher are new.
Starting temperature: 100.
Ending temperature: 86.
Media viewing: Entire practice.
No. 2 QB job up for grabs
Likens had plenty of good things to say about first-team quarterback Manny Wilkins but also made some news by saying the second-team job is up for grabs between redshirt sophomore Dillon Sterling-Cole and redshirt sophomore walk-on Kurt Walding.
“They’re battling it out,” Likens said. “We’re not prepared to say which one is second or third team right now, but they’re in a great battle and they know it. That’s about really all I’ve got to say about that right now.”
Because of transfers and injury to Ryan Kelley, Wilkins and Sterling-Cole are ASU’s only healthy scholarship quarterbacks. Sterling-Cole played in 11 games in 2016, starting one, then redshirted last season when Blake Barnett backed up Wilkins.
Walding is from Des Moines, Iowa, and played in 2017 at Iowa Western Community College, throwing for 624 yards and six touchdowns while sharing time with Kai Locksley, NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year who now is at UTEP.
Likens said of Walding: “What’s impressed me the most about the kid is his demeanor in the pocket. I remember the first time we put him in a team setting after he first got here. He was completely calm, he wasn’t trying to snap the ball fast, he was looking around and making sure the receivers were set, which is something young quarterbacks do not do. That’s kind of special.”
Wilkins had to fight to be the starter in 2016 and 2017 and though he’s locked into the job as a senior, Likens welcomes competition for the backup job.
“Manny knows what it’s like to go through that grind, and that’s made him the player he is today. Nothing is given to the second or third team. That can switch back and forth week-by-week through the season just by how well they practice.”
On the first play during the first-team period Tuesday, Wilkins completed a bomb to wide open Kyle Williams, a call that appeared to catch the defense off guard. He made other nice throws including a long completion to N’Keal Harry, working against CB Chase Lucas in their ongoing duel.
“I don’t want to minimize anybody else’s position because everybody is important, but you’d better walk off the field and your quarterback has gotten better or it’s really not worth it,” Likens said. “He’s got to get better every day on where he’s looking, where his eyes are. Also is he getting you out of bad plays, and over the last two days Manny’s done a really good job of that.
“We have a great relationship. When I drive home at night, we talk on the phone. ‘What do you like, what do you not like, I’ll take it out.’ I don’t want to do anything where Manny’s feeling a little uncomfortable. We’re not going to force it on him. He’s working the pocket more, he’s not just taking off at the first flash of color. That’s where he’s improved the most since last year.”
– Center Cohl Cabral watched much of practice because of a minor knee injury he suffered on Saturday. Cade Cote worked with the first team when Cabral was out.
– Safety Jalen Harvey is healthier and seeing more time with the second-team defense, where he moved in the spring after previously contributing at wide receiver. Harvey is getting a look at the Tillman position, weakened by Tyler Whiley suffering a season-ending broken foot Saturday.
– Brandon Aiyuk, Isaiah Floyd, Ryan Newsome, Trelon Smith and Paul Lucas are among those getting looks on kickoffs and/or punt returns.
Aiyuk, transfer from Sierra College, is contending to be one of the starting wide receivers along with Harry and Williams.
– Another day, more national watch list recognition for ASU. QB Manny Wilkins is on the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award list and RB Eno Benjamin on the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award list.
Candidates for the Unitas Award must be a senior or fourth-year junior on schedule to graduate with his class. Criteria includes character, citizenship, scholastic achievement, leadership qualities and athletic accomplishments.
The Campbell Award recognizes the top offensive player in Division I who also exhibits qualities like those of Earl Campbell: integrity, performance, teamwork, sportsmanship, drive, community and tenacity. Nominees must be born in Texas or from a Texas high school, college or junior college. Benjamin is a sophomore from Wylie, Texas.
ASU’s final preseason night practice is Wednesday at Kajikawa fields with no media or public viewing. The Sun Devils switch to morning practices when classes start on Thursday.
ASU preseason practice schedule
Wednesday, Aug. 15 (closed) – 4:50-7 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 16 – 9:35-11:45 a.m.
Friday, Aug. 17 – 9:35-11:45 a.m.
Saturday, Aug. 18 – 7:20-9:30 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 19 – Off.
Monday, Aug. 20 – Off.
Tuesday, Aug. 21 – 9:15-11:30 a.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 22 – 9:15-11:30 a.m.
Thursday, Aug. 23 – 9:15-11 a.m.
Friday, Aug. 24 – Mock game walk-thru (closed), 7:30 p.m., Sun Devil Stadium
ASU’s season opener is Saturday, Sept. 1 against Texas-San Antonio.