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ASU Football: What we learned at Pac-12 Media Days

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What did we learn about the 2016 Sun Devils ahead of training camp?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham didn't shy away from talk of his roster being a championship-caliber team. While there weren't such fireworks this year, there was plenty of information that Sun Devil Nation will be happy or interested to hear from their head coach. Here's what we learned from Pac-12 Media Days.

Save the Date

ASU's first game is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 3 against Northern Arizona. Graham said that he doesn't plan on revealing who his starting quarterback would be until the Friday before that game, which would be September 2.

For anyone wondering, the spring depth chart lists all three main competitors—Manny Wilkins, Brady White, and Bryce Perkins—as the starters, in that order, for whatever that's worth to you. We broke down the battle ahead of the summer, here.

When asked whether or not Graham would be opposed to platooning two quarterbacks early, he said he wouldn't rule anything out.

An Idea of the Depth Chart

Here's the starters listed according to the spring depth chart:

QB: Manny Wilkins, Brady White, Bryce Perkins
RB: Demario Richard
TB: Kalen Ballage
WR: Ellis Jefferson (X), Tim White (H), Cam Smith (Z)
Y: Kody Kohl
LT: Evan Goodman
LG: Sam Jones
C: Stephon McCray
RG: Stephon McCray OR Zach Robertson
RT: Quinn Bailey

NT: Ami Latu
Tiger: Tashon Smallwood
DT: JoJo Wicker
Devil: A.J. Latu
Spur: Laiu Moeakiola
Sam (strong-side backer): Salamo Fiso
Will (weak-side backer): Christian Sam
BC (boundary corner): Tim White OR Kareem Orr
BS (bandit safety): Kareem Orr OR Chad Adams
FS: Armand Perry OR Laiu Moeakiola
FC (field corner): Gump Hayes

P: Matt Haack
KOS: Zane Gonzalez
FG: Zane Gonzalez
LS: Mitchell Fraboni
H: Matt Haack

Tim White at Corner?

Don't count on it. Here's what Graham said:

"He is one of the most dynamic players with the ball in his hand. That will be his job. He will get the ball on kick returns and punt returns and screens and vertical passes and intermediate passes, and that's going to be his primary role.

"Tim is a guy that is extremely versatile. And so will we look at utilizing all those skills? Yes, but we're going to make sure that we don't—first things first, he's going to be a guy with the ball in his hand."

After speaking to the media on the main stage, Graham spoke to a handful of local media members and said he would like Maurice Chandler, J'Marcus Rhodes, and Gump Hayes to handle primary duties at cornerback.

Finding a Happy Medium Defensively

The 2015 season was an uncharacteristically difficult one for Graham's defense, particularly the secondary. He talked about the struggles of his defensive unit, and why injuries in the back end of the secondary hampered the group's success...

"We built the thing (defensive scheme) to stop the run. What happened really was—losing (safety) Armand (Perry) hurt. And then we should've adapted, and really given up some underneath stuff, and gone to more of our zone-pressure stuff that we'd done. It's just not what we had been successful doing.

"And I think when we lost (safety) Jordan (Simone) it killed us, because you look at the UCLA game—pretty good pressure, pretty good stuff—and I think that's what enabled us. So, it's kinda you live by the sword, die by the sword. There's gotta be that happy (medium); you gotta know where that line is at.

"And I think that it's really hard from a personnel standpoint because you have to oversign and fortify your defensive line.

"We're gonna have better than depth than we've ever had this year on offense and defensive line—even though we'll be very young on the offense.

"But, one week you're playing four-wide receiver (offenses), next week you're playing Pro-I (offenses); it's so diverse. So, one week you're playing six defensive backs... It just makes it hard. You can't say guys got hurt. You're gonna have that.

"We had a deal where we had injuries in key spots that just... If you're taking this much risk with a player, and I'm taking this much risk with this deal with him, and then you drop off, and I've got this much risk (left between). And I think people obviously had studied and exploited that and knew we had that, and we just didn't adapt the way we needed to adapt.

"And we weren't horrible. We loss five games that we were winning with four minutes left in the game, so the good news is that we're not far off. I just think the key for us is that we went back and assessed and evaluated and that's what our findings were. That's what we emphasize, the No. 1 thing we emphasize every day. But I think you will see a difference. We've made some modifications to some things and how we're going to emphasize and workout some things like that that I think we're going to workout.

"The first year I was here, we ran a lot of zone pressure. In 2013, we were able—we had a lot of success with the pressure.

"We've really become a six-man pressure team, and in 2014 we had a lot of success with that. But, we lost two guys on defense: 1.) Damarious Randall, 2.) Marcus Hardison. I think losing Damarious was huge. We felt like Armand could do some of the things (Randall was able to do); we recruited these guys to run what we're doing. And losing Armand, I think, really, really hurt us, because we actually had to move a guy (Kareem Orr) that was playing corner over to play safety, and he did good—got a lot of interceptions, made freshman All-American—but still it was tough.

"Losing safeties is really tough—and we hadn't done that—because of the communication, and just what we do, the complexities of what we do."

Coaching Staff is Promising

In the offseason, Graham landed a new offensive coordinator and QB coach in Chip Lindsey, along with a receivers coach and passing game coordinator in Jay Norvell.

Graham is very excited about adding them both, especially because they are renowned for developing talent at their respective positions...

"What (Norvell) brought, what I really think, is the development of our receivers, and what he brings there is really gonna be invaluable, as well as what Chip brings as a developer of quarterbacks. You research both those guys and that's their field of expertise in developing quarterbacks and developing wide receivers."

Toning Things Down

Earlier this offseason, Sun Devil Athletics Vice President Ray Anderson said that he'd like ‘less bravado' out of Graham ahead of the new season.

There wasn't talk of a championship-caliber team, but Graham is still (rightfully) of the mindset that his team will perform with a championship mentality...

"Number one, we want to produce men of character that know how to live a championship life, and I think it's something that I'm proud of the progress we've made there. Number two, want to graduate 100 percent of our players. I think we've made progress there, the four best years academically.

"And then obviously we want to be Pac‑12 champions, and then it says Rose Bowl champions, and then it says national champions. Why would you have any other goal? ...

"Obviously we learned some lessons last year. The good news is we had put ourselves in position of having high expectations because we'd had back‑to‑back 10‑win seasons, and we lost a lot of close games is the reality of it, and we've got to win those close football games.

"We worry about the things we can control, and our motto is rise up. We get knocked on our can, you rise up and go at it."