This is the sixth in a series reviewing Pac-12 spring football camps. Today, Arizona State.
Starters returning – 9 (4 on offense, 5 on defense), plus both kickers.
Refresher on 2011 – What was expected to be a possible breakout year for the Sun Devils instead devolved into a 6-7 season that cost veteran coach Dennis Erickson his job. The Sun Devils knocked off Missouri in an overtime game the second week of the season for what looked like a set-the-tone victory, and eventually burst to a 5-1 record – including a three-touchdown demolition of USC. Soon after that, it all went south in a sorry November for the Sun Devils. First, they lost a cliffhanger at UCLA, and then were upset in the snow at Washington State (Connor Halliday’s coming-out party). By the end of the month, they had completed a four-game losing streak, then topped it off by getting pummeled, 56-24, by Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Brock Osweiler threw 13 interceptions but declared early for the NFL draft, while his favorite target, Gerell Robinson (1,397 yards) exhausted his eligibility. RB Cameron Marshall rushed for 1,050 yards and returns in 2012.
Coaching changes – After a winding search, the Sun Devils settled on Todd Graham, who arrived after one year at Pitt. Among Graham’s hires are two assistants with Washington State on their resumes, Chris Ball (DBs) and Bob Connelly (OL), plus Joe Lorig (OLBs), who was defensive coordinator the past four years at Central Washington.
Major spring concerns – Finding a quarterback to replace Osweiler . . . developing playmakers: Sun Devils had nobody on the first-team All-Pac-12 squad, either way . . . shoring up a pass defense that allowed 273 yards a game, 10th in the league . . . establishing Graham’s way of running the program.
Developments – In response to some lax discipline he inherited, Graham cracked down immediately. He requires units to sprint onto the field from sideline huddles, wants everyone wearing the same kind of socks, shirts and shorts in the weight room, and has curbed trash talk between the two units. In one scrimmage, he made the defense sprint from sideline huddle to the field two extra times when it wasn’t running fast enough . . . Graham runs a high-tempo, spread system heavy on the ground game . . . QBs Michael Bercovici, Taylor Kelly (both sophomores) and RS freshman Michael Eubank are battling, and it will continue through fall camp. Eubank, despite his 6-5, 242-pound size, is the best runner of the three but shows limitations as a passer, while Bercovici is probably the best passer, and Kelly gives ASU a little of both. Eubank, from the ASU pipeline of Corona, Calif., is the most dynamic player and whenever he wins the job, he figures to get a long look . . . ASU may be more bereft of experience than any other Pac-12 team at QB, as Kelly and Bercovici combined to throw seven passes last year . . . receivers aside from Jamal Miles were mediocre, either struggling with dropped balls or inconsistency . . . RB Deantre Lewis, coming off a redshirt year after suffering a gunshot wound in the winter a year ago, is back, while Marshall missed drills recovering from ankle surgery but is due back in the fall . . . James Morrison, 5-11, 214-pound senior, had a strong spring that Graham termed “incredible,” adding more depth to one of ASU’s most fertile positions . . . DE Junior Onyeali, a primo pass-rusher suspended last season after a practice argument with Erickson, still is suspended although Graham has set conditions for his return . . .Sun Devils appear to be following a Pac-12 trend of using considerable 3-4 defense . . . DTs Corey Adams and Will Sutton earned high marks . . . Mo Latu, a Phoenix-area product, switched from DL to OL . . . OLB Brandon Magee, who suffered a torn achilles a year ago, had limited work but should be a major player in the fall . . . Sun Devils are mounting a campaign to raise $150,000 to return to Camp Tontozona, their fall-practice mountain retreat famous under former coach Frank Kush.
Spring game – Some 5,142 attended the April 21 event, all three quarterbacks had relatively good days, and Graham said he expects that competition to be slimmed down to two by the time fall camp starts because practice reps will be limited.
2012 schedule – After an opener against Northern Arizona, Sun Devils have a testy September, with Illinois, Missouri, Utah and Cal in order. ASU misses Washington and Stanford.