The Sun Devil football team is closing in on its annual spring game which means that Arizona State's spring practice slate is finally coming to an end.
The Sun Devils held their final full spring practice on Tuesday and it was the longest on-field workout the team has had in more than a month. Todd Graham kept his team on the field for about three hours, but the players responded with crisp plays and the energy and enthusiasm the coaching staff wants to see at this point in the spring.
After practice, Graham acknowledged that the team is eagerly awaiting the arrival of its 2014 recruiting class to provide depth, but he says the players who have earned more repetitions this spring have pleased him with their progress.
"I told them after practice we have enough. We don't have a lot, but we have enough," Graham said. "I love the character, I love the attitude, we're so much further along when it comes to discipline and the things that we're doing."
The competition and intensity has picked up over the last few practices after Graham challenged the Sun Devils to make the most of the time they have on the field. During Tuesday's practice, Arizona State performed a physical W-drill in the first hour of practice and ran extended team periods during the last hour.
A number of different players stepped into the spotlight on Tuesday, but it was a play that quarterback Taylor Kelly made that drew the highest praise from his head coach.
"On fourth down, we got them all covered, Taylor (Kelly) scrambles out and he dives to the corner of the end zone to score," Graham said. "Everybody's going, ‘Oh be smart, be smart.' No. Win. I like people that are competitive."
Kelly hasn't had the most impressive spring, but it's difficult to judge a quarterback and his instincts when pass rushers aren't allowed to bring him down. Tuesday's scramble showed Graham that his signal-caller still has the capabilities to make something happen when his offense is in a tough spot.
The Sun Devils have struggled at times this spring with assignments and responsibilities and much of that has to do with the inexperience on the defensive side of the ball. Still, Graham says the coaches are pleased with what Arizona State has been able to accomplish and he believes that the incoming recruiting class will make a big difference in the way the first and second-team players are pushed this fall.
"We got a lot of work to do, there's no doubt about that," Graham said. "Excited for those newcomers to come in here, challenge them to get ready, that's what we pride ourselves on is transitioning them quickly."
- Ronald Lewis worked with the second-team defense at cornerback. Lewis has had trouble finding reps at wide receiver and the Sun Devils are hoping to bolster their secondary. Sometimes, a position change is a bad sign for a player who is buried on the depth chart, so it will be interesting to see how Lewis reacts if the switch is permanent.
- Graham on Lewis: "Ronald Lewis, we looked a little at him at corner and I liked what I saw today. We know what he can do at receiver, I like what I saw today even though he got beat two or three times. He's big, he's physical, he's fast and I think he can help us there so we're going to look at him a little bit more there."
- Stephon McCray was rewarded for his strong work this spring when the coaches gave him an extended run with the first-team offense on Tuesday. McCray played right guard in place of Vi Teofilo during the last few team sessions and Mike Norvell cited McCray as a standout after practice.
- Mo Latu continued his dominance in the W-drill on Tuesday as he is becoming increasingly difficult to stop in one-on-one situations.
- Antonio Longino registered one of the biggest hits of the spring when he took down a scout-team ballcarrier during an inside run period. Longino's hit drew cheers from his defensive teammates and a big yell of encouragement from Keith Patterson.
- The Sun Devils will devote much of Thursday's practice time to prepare for Saturday's spring game. The maroon team will practice indoors and the gold team outdoors to keep strategies secret.
- Chris Thomsen and Keith Patterson will call the offense and defense, respectively, for the maroon team and they will be assisted by Bo Graham, Jackie Shipp and DelVaughn Alexander.
- Mike Norvell will call the offense for the gold team with Chris Ball calling the defense for the gold team.
- Todd Graham joked that after Saturday's game, he'll join the winning team and claim he was a coach of that side.
- Graham and Norvell said that they will take precautionary measures and limit D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong in Saturday's game.
- Graham said he hopes to get students involved in the atmosphere on Saturday and mentioned pass-rushing Jamil Douglas and catching punts from Matt Haack as possibilities.