LOS ANGELES– The Arizona State Sun Devils took center stage at the beginning of day two of Pac-12 media days at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California. Head coach Todd Graham, quarterback Taylor Kelly and left tackle Jamil Douglas were on hand to discuss the 2014 season, one which is ripe with both optimism and concern.
Graham was the focal point of the 40-minute session, spending time talking about everything from his defense to the house he recently purchased that was formerly owned by rock star Bret Michaels. Kelly and Douglas spent a majority of the time discussing the revamped offensive line. Here are some highlights from the day.
Losing Dalvon Stucky and Darrius Caldwell hurt, but life goes on:
The Sun Devils expected both Stucky and Caldwell, a pair of highly recruited JUCO stars, to come in and compete for starting reps right away. Instead, neither made it to Tempe, and with Arizona State already in need of nine new starters on defense, one has to wonder if the loss of the two best pass rushing prospects on the team didn't play into the Sun Devils being picked to finish third in the Pac-12 South by the media. Still, Graham tried to be optimistic.
"Obviously we're disappointed, but we knew there was a lot of risk involved there," Graham said. "You can't be dependent upon that for the success of your program. Obviously we're disappointed with the way it turned out, but we're going to be just fine with the guys that we have."
Graham didn't mince words when discussing JUCO recruiting; the coach said his success with transfer players speaks for itself, and while the foundation of the team has to be four-year players, there's nothing wrong with giving good football players a chance to shine.
"Our plan is unique to Arizona State University. I'll take all of the Jaelen Strong's, and Marion Grice's and Chris Young's you can give me," Graham said. "We recruit the best and the brightest with the best character junior college recruits in the country.
"We've been able to transition those junior college players to a high level in a very short amount of time...we don't see a junior college player as a negative condemnation at all."
Graham pointed out that players like Strong and starting center Nick Kelly still had three years of eligibility upon arrival at Arizona State, and that helps the process. He also feels the Sun Devils success with JUCO transfers gives them an advantage in the recruiting game.
The offensive line has the weight of the Sun Devil community on its shoulders, and they like it:
Evan Finkenberg and Kody Koebensky were both extremely smart players, but both lacked the size and athleticism that Arizona State needed to compete with the Stanford's and Notre Dame's of the college universe. That should change this year, with captain Jamil Douglas moving out to left tackle, Auburn transfer Christian Westerman taking over at left guard and transfer Nick Kelly at the center position.
Douglas and Westerman are both weight room freaks, and Kelly is going to turn heads according to his head coach.
"I'm real excited about Nick Kelly. He's explosive, smart, physical. Kody's experience there last year was real valuable, but Nick is physically got the capabilities to make us much better there this year," Graham said.
Westerman, a local product who considered Arizona State out of high school before heading to the SEC, completes the group.
"Christian is a road grader now. He's a physical, dominating presence in there," Graham said. "Our offensive line is bigger, it's stronger, it's a lot better. We've just got to get them playing together."
Taylor Kelly said he's already noticed a difference up front.
"Nick is so athletic that he can punch a guy, come off and switch his hips and get on a twist," Kelly said. "He's so smart, he's really going to help out...Once we get everyone together as far as play calls and leadership goes, this is going to be the best offensive line I've ever played behind. I'd be scared to go up against those guys."
Keith Patterson is taking a giant load off of Graham's shoulders:
Patterson was supposed to follow Graham to Arizona State, but West Virginia offered him more money and Graham couldn't blame his friend for taking the cash. But now that Graham has his defensive maestro back, the coach can devote more attention to the entire team.
"Obviously I'll still always be involved, but Keith will call the front end and he'll also run the defensive staff meetings, which I used to run," Graham said. "We've worked together for 30 years. He and I will basically run two-thirds of our football team."
Patterson has a different approach than Graham, and the Sun Devils should benefit from that.
"His skills are the opposite of mine. That really helps our staff in there, the time management aspect, I'm kinda a grinder," Graham said. "It's just going to give us more balance, as I'm able to spend more time with special teams and with the offense. It just provides a balance for us. I've got all the things in place that I want."
Todd Graham is committed to Arizona State, and his wife apparently loves houses:
Graham recently purchased a house that was formerly owned by Poison front man Bret Michaels. But if you read between the lines, Graham's wife may have duped him.
"When I moved to Arizona State, my wife said ‘Look, we've moved all over everywhere, I want to pay off a house,'" Graham said. "So we took our saving and we paid off the house. We paid it off in May, and then she bought another house in June. So I've actually got two houses in the valley now, if somebody else wants to buy one I'd love to sell one."
Graham said he didn't realize his house was already famous, but that it was a house they had originally looked into buying in 2012. The move, needless to say, wasn't very big.
"I didn't get consulted on that very much. We moved 600 yards, up the hill," Graham said.
The coach did reiterate his commitment to the community and charity work in the area, and stated his desire to stay with the Sun Devils and build upon what he started.
"I want our fans to know how committed we are to Arizona State. I think that's something that's so important is stability. We were able to keep coach Norvell, and that's important to keep this staff together and build upon what we've started."