Of course the three-way quarterback competition is the headline grabber. Obviously the huge voids at both wide receiver and linebacker are going to get a lot of attention. The new schemes and practice intensity are major changes that have been a primary focus of many around the program.
While those stories are rightfully filling up numerous columns, they are far from painting the complete picture of Arizona State football as the Sun Devils prepare to return to spring practice on Tuesday.
Here are five Sun Devil storylines that are not yet garnering a lot of attention this spring, but nevertheless are worth keeping an eye on over the next 12 practices.
Jarrid Bryant Moves to Cornerback
Over his three seasons in Tempe, Bryant has managed to make just a single catch for 11 yards. That lack of production has been more of a factor of circumstance than talent, as Bryant boasts impressive athleticism into a good frame (6'5", 175 pounds).
With the path to playing time at wide receiver seemingly clear, Bryant does not seem likely to get a chance to build upon his single reception. During the first week of spring practice, Bryant has been playing cornerback, a key area of need for the team.
The early returns included some nice moments, including an interception of Michael Eubank. Bryant played cornerback in high school, so he has some experience on the defensive side of the ball. The idea of a 6'5" corner may seem like a novelty, but his athleticism merits attention over the next few works as ASU looks to rebuild a beleaguered secondary.
Tight End Relevancy
After years of being a forgotten position under former offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, the new offense of Mike Norvell figures to bring tight end back into a productive role. The Sun Devils have a few intriguing players at the position that could make a statement during the next twelve practices.
Juco transfer Darwin Rogers has seen time with the first team offense thus far in spring, and drawn some positive reviews with his receiving skills. Coming out of the juco ranks more noted for his blocking acumen, a continued strong spring showing from the 6'5", 240-pound Rogers will land him a lot of playing time come fall. Junior Max Smith has shown some good hands this spring, although he figures to be more of a factor with his blocking.
Chris Coyle has moved from wide receiver, and seems to be a likely candidate for a H-back role, as his agility and sure-handedness could pay dividend between the seams. Marcus Washington has also seen time at H-back, having moved over from running back.
Whether these players--along with recruit Kody Kohl coming this fall--do the position justice remains to be seen, but the mere fact that tight end is once again back in the gameplan is a welcome development.
Carl Bradford on the Attack
One of the shortcomings of ASU's defense in 2011 was a lack of playmaking in the opponent's backfield. The Sun Devils ranked a pedestrian 59th in the nation in sacks and 57th in tackles for loss, and their bend-but-don't-break style was the cause of many fan's anguish.
One exception to that, albeit in limited action, was Carl Bradford. Last season, Bradford saw action in all 13 games, including one start, at linebacker and defensive end and made 12 tackles, but including in that was 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He may not have made many tackles, but he made the most of them.
With the new defensive philosophy focusing on attacking offenses, Bradford could play a major role. At 6'0" and 240 pounds, he has the size to play either defensive end in a base scheme, or move to outside linebacker in pass rushing situations.
Improving the Coverage...The Other Kind
The Sun Devil secondary's inability to cover down the stretch was well noted, but ASU also struggled in the other kind of coverage--on kickoffs and punts.
ASU ranked 90th in the nation among the 120 FBS teams in kickoff coverage, allowing 23.1 yards per return. They were a little better on punts, ranking near the middle-of-the-pack at 59th with 7.7 yards per return allowed.
Outside linebackers coach Joe Lorig also carries with him the title of "Defensive Special Teams Coordinator", so the job will be his to put together the units and instill the gameplan to help the Devils do much better in 2012.
Jamal Still Does It All?
Senior Jamal Miles is the team's leading returning receiver, having hauled in 60 receptions last season. However, many of those were swing passes out of the backfield, as evidenced by his paltry 6.0 yards per reception (ranking 419th among qualifying receivers).
Miles came to ASU as a running back before moving to wide receiver, and while he has incredible speed and agility, his size (5'10" and 180 pounds) and skills have yet to fully find him a home at his new position. Thus far in spring, he's run with the second-team offense and had some struggles with drops.
A new coaching staff means a clean slate for all players, and there is a chance that Miles moves from a full-time wide receiver to a versatile do-it-all player than sees time at running back and wide receiver. Miles is a playmaker and while it may be difficult to pin one position on him, it's in the team's best interest to find creative ways to get him the ball in space.
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