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ASU Football: Todd Graham reflects on constructive spring practices

Success may not hinge upon how productive spring football was, however this ASU team is feeling more confident than ever.

Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

The door has closed on spring football, and with it the speculation of spring success being directly proportional to fall success.

The most common statement heard about spring football is that one cannot truly predict what is going to happen in the fall based off what happened in the spring.

This is true.

However, spring football is necessary in many ways. It serves as a trial and error period to see what the coach has to work at this stage of preparation. It's a chance to manipulate the backfield and see which combinations work best. It's a chance to tryout players like D.J. Foster in the slot and Kalen Ballage at pass rusher.

People will continue to be shuffled around. New talent will graduate high school and give fresh legs on the turf come fall. But if this spring was most effective in doing anything, it was the level of confidence coaches instilled in rookies and veterans alike, which in turn, elicited the camaraderie of a team that was self-assured in its ability with the football going into the fall.

"We've had a really, really productive spring," Head coach Todd Graham said Tuesday. "From a maturity standpoint, a depth standpoint, the level of games that we're having and the level of games we're able to handle schematically and how these guys get it. We've spent less time on minimal stuff and been able to introduced about three or four of the first game plans."

Graham took more of a back-seat approach this spring, having defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, rather than Graham, initiate the defensive calls. Graham said while he will still be majorly involved defensively, taking a step back has allowed him to see the smaller things that may denote which positions and plays still need work.

"It has helped me to have a different perspective," Graham said. "I'm watching and looking. The tight end position is going to be a critical deal and you might see an offensive tackle playing some of that, maybe (freshman offensive lineman) Steve Miller or something like that. But we really need an end line, some girth there, just walking around and being able to see that is great."

One of the things that Graham said he almost always inevitably feels going into summer is a curiosity about how certain players that were quiet during spring would fare in the fall. This year, Graham said he was stunned with how many players, and early-enrollees in particular, showed their stuff on the spring field.

"I'll tell you what's amazing the guys that showed up like (defensive tackle) George Lea, (running back) Nick Ralston, (offensive lineman) Steve Miller and (quarterback) Brady White," Graham said. "I mean wow. That's exciting."

Many of the new transfers and recruits bring the numbers to the larger equation that Graham is always trying to solve: which player fits where and moreover, which player fits best.

"Now we're excited about adding guys like JoJo Wicker to the defensive line, (Deonte) Reynolds to the inside part, (Kareem) Orr and (Scrappy) Norman in the back end, (Khaylan) Thomas there at linebacker, Malik Lawal, Jalen Bates, up front as well and that's one of the main reasons we're bigger, faster and stronger," Graham said.

There have been vast improvements this spring in all facets of the team, however in terms of the single most improved player this spring, Graham did not hesitate for a second.

"Kalen Ballage"

"I hate pointing out just one person but Kalen Ballage right now is probably going to be our best third-down pass rusher, an explosive talent in the backfield and he improved his hands out of the back field," Graham said. "He'll play on every special team. He's gotta be on the field offensively, obviously his primary position, but there's no doubt in my mind he will rush the passer on third down. He's absolutely just off the chain in the spring."

ASU may be armed with the Sun Devil artillery needed in order to put up a good fight in the fall, however there is still work to be done and it starts with a swift kick to the tempo.

"We only averaged 78 plays last year," Graham said. "That's down from where it should be. It should be 85 plays and just things like that that can really just help us have one personality. A lot of people would love to have the problem of winning ten games a year, but we can't be satisfied about winning ten games because our program's about winning championships and we've got to get to that level."

Until then, people will continue to speculate about this ASU team. It will be the individual voluntary work that goes into the vigorous summer program in the weight room ahead that will translate on the field and give true evidence to assumption come Sept. 5.