Todd Graham, Mike Bercovici and Jordan Simone represented the Sun Devils on the podium at Pac-12 Football Media Days in Burbank, CA this year. Take a look at some of the key quotes from the three representatives and what they could mean for the upcoming football season.
Todd Graham, Head Coach
"Our program is about winning championships. Our goal and our mission is to be Pac-12 champions, and then national champions."
In case you didn't believe this was a legitimate belief, Graham was up on the podium to reiterate it Thursday. Following back-to-back 10-win seasons, Graham doesn't see this team slowing down. The Sun Devils are aspiring for championships, both within the conference and nationally.
Michael Bercovici, Quarterback
"We have guys that can take one-yard passes and turn them into yards."
Jaelen Strong is gone. Cameron Smith is out for the season. Regardless, receiver remains one of ASU's most undervalued positions, (supposably) lacking a true No. 1 option. D.J. Foster figures to be the team's No. 1 receiver, and he makes a case to suffice and possibly be more, as Pro Football Focus' Kevin Connaghan points out, particularly because of his ability after the catch.
Foster was Bercovici's second-favorite target last season, hauling in nearly 20 percent of Bercovici's completions. This year, that number will certainly increase. Big plays are in store out of the passing game, which opens up the running game and an unlimited amount of options offensively for ASU.
"(Demario Richard) is a smart player, that's what I love about him...and he can also squat around 600 pounds."
As a true freshman last season, Richard exploded onto the scene showing skill out of the backfield as a complete back who served a role both in the running and passing game. His growth is key to ASU's offense becoming one of the top groups in the nation, and he'll have the opportunity to display his ability now that D.J. Foster will primarily serve as a receiver.
Along with Richard, running backs Kalen Ballage and De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes give the Sun Devils one of the most talented stables of rushers in the country. A consistent running game should complement Mike Bercovici and the passing game very well, making his job easier.
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell has been known for being an aggressive-minded coach, and with Richard on the verge of emerging as one of the best tailbacks in the country—with Ballage and Hayes contributing—it opens the playbook ten-fold when taking into account the other playmakers he has on the roster.
"(Ellis Jefferson is) a mismatch in the slot."
Yes, on the preliminary depth chart, D.J. Foster is listed as the starting slot receiver or 'Z.' However, Foster will not solely work from the inside. He'll be utilized all over the field in multiple positions. Furthermore, last season Jaelen Strong -- at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds -- ran 101 routes from the slot, and averaged the most yards per route ran from the slot in the entire country.
Bercovici's optimism for Jefferson to succeed in a similar situation should be reason to view Jefferson as a potential breakout star within ASU's passing game. At 6-foot-4, 211 pounds, Jefferson's frame and downfield speed will make him an imposing force, and one that poses to be a strong aerial threat for the Sun Devils in 2015 following in the steps of Strong.
Jordan Simone, Safety
"'We play defense at Arizona State.' That's what (Todd Graham) would say. I truly believe that. We've changed the culture of ASU to be a defensive school."
The Sun Devils are known for being aggressive on both sides of the ball, but have been particularly assertive on the defensive end since Todd Graham arrived. Last season, the team struggled to find continuity early on but managed to find some chemistry towards the latter stages of the year.
This year, ASU returns nine starters on defense, with the task of replacing two NFL-caliber talents. Even without two of their star players, Simone has a point -- the Sun Devils' strength is its defense.
Forcing turnovers and getting opposing offenses on their heels has been a speciality of Graham's defenses for years. Since his arrival in Tempe, the Sun Devils have forced 90 turnovers which is tied for third-most in that period. During the same span, they've outscored opponents 417-158 in points off of turnovers.
With the unit he has assembled this season, Graham feels he has the perfect blend in place to continue to wreak havoc and make the job easier for what should be a dynamic offense.
"Summer workouts have been the best they've ever been."
This echoes what Todd Graham has preached throughout the entire offseason. Graham believes that this is the most talented unit he's had assembled since arriving in Tempe, and this should come as no surprise considering the school has nearly completely overturned its roster of any remaining pieces from the Dennis Erickson era. These are, essentially, all Graham's players.
What's also notable about this is the fact that there's an evident confidence from the leaders of the team about what this team is capable of accomplishing. There's a unified
belief expectation for ASU to be competitors to vie for not only the Pac-12 Conference title, but for the national title.