Today’s fourth installment of our Pac-12 series on spring camps features Arizona State.
Starters returning: 8 (6 offense, 2 defense), plus PK Zane Gonzalez and P Matt Haack.
Refresher on 2013: After a 3-2 start marked by (a) a highly controversial win over Wisconsin, and (b) a rout over USC that spelled the end of Lane Kiffin’s reign at Troy, the Sun Devils lit out on a seven-game win streak that carried them to the Pac-12 South title. But they were blown out at home for the crown by Stanford, and a 10-4 season ended sourly when underdog Texas Tech handled them, 37-23 in the Holiday Bowl.
Coaching changes: Head coach Todd Graham hired an old associate, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson of West Virginia.
Spring concerns: Rebuilding a defense that forced three-and-outs on 42.3 percent of enemy possessions but lost nine of 11 starters, and determining replacement for standout TE Chris Coyle.
Developments: Graham expressed satisfaction at times with the defense, and seems to think it can be better than anticipated . . . Sun Devils lost six first- or second-team all-league defenders . . . Jordan Simone, walk-on who transferred from WSU (and brother of ex-Cougar Gino Simone) drew praise for his passionate play (“He’s a blessing,” said Graham) and may lead the race at boundary safety . . . early in spring, Graham told the Arizona Republic, “We’re fat and out of shape on the defensive line.” . . . Mo Latu had a good spring at NT, and 2013 redshirts Demetrius Cherry and Corey Smith should impact the line. Cherry, a Floridian, was a Washington State signee under Paul Wulff but never made it to WSU and comes to ASU via Oak Ridge Military Academy and Contra Costa JC . . . LB D.J. Calhoun is a possible heir to the spot vacated by ex-Auburn standout Chris Young . . . Dalvon Stuckey, another JC product (Pearl River, Miss.) comes in this summer after Rivals.com ranked him best JC DT prospect in the nation . . . “Devil” backer spot manned by departing Carl Bradford could go to JC product Darrius Caldwell or freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson . . . Salamo Fiso, freshman All-American LB in 2013, should only get better . . . secondary should be anchored by S Damarious Randall . . . OC Mike Norvell wants better deep-ball production from QB Taylor Kelly, whose 271 yards per-game average career total offense is far ahead of the school-record 217 of Rudy Carpenter . . . De’Marieya Nelson figures to be the TE, though he missed some time with a knee problem. Backup Grant Martinez played well . . . Graham wants more from RB Deantre Lewis, telling reporters, “If he came out here with a passion every day, the guy would be unstoppable.” . . . RB D.J. Foster caught 63 passes last season, easily most at the position in the nation, but Graham thinks he can also be an effective punt-rusher . . . Christian Westerman, originally a five-star recruit from nearby Chandler who transferred back from Auburn, looks to be the left guard, which would allow returnee Jamil Douglas to slide out to left tackle . . . top WR returnee Jaelen Strong missed time with a sprained toe . . . Gonzalez, who won all-league honors as a freshman, was inconsistent most of spring . . . Sun Devil Stadium is undergoing the first phase of a $225-million renovation.
Spring game: Maroon (Kelly’s side) beat the Gold, 29-23, earning steak dinners while the losers dined on tuna fish sandwiches. Lewis ran for 88 yards on 12 carries, and backup QB Mike Bercovici went 11 of 24 for 149 yards and three TDs, with some drops.
Quotable: Graham (on hiring of Patterson) – “He’ll initiate the defensive calls up front. Obviously, I’ll still be heavily involved; we’re not changing anything about what we’re doing. The No. 1 improvement is allowing me not to have to totally focus on the defensive side. I can focus on managing the game, and also pay more attention to what Mike (Norvell) is doing with the offense.”
2014 schedule: Sun Devils open with Weber State, New Mexico and Colorado before muscling up with UCLA-USC-Stanford-Washington stretch starting Sept. 25. They miss Oregon and Cal.