Competition was certainly the buzzword for Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham after Thursday morning’s practice.
"There’s been a lot of competition everywhere," says Graham. "Offensive line, quarterback, secondary. There’s competition at linebacker. There’s competition up front."
While position battles may still be heated at numerous positions for the Sun Devils, no contests are more hot, and important, than the ones at quarterback and throughout the offensive line.
Under center (and in shotgun), the race between freshman Brady White and sophomore Manny Wilkins is still about as tight as it can be. The pair continue to alternate reps with the first team offense, and Graham wasn’t about to give away any information on who may or may not be pulling ahead in the competition.
"Sometimes when they walk on the field, there’s a little bit of space in between them," Graham deadpanned. "That’s it."
It’s a good bet that whoever ends up starting the maroon and gold’s season opener on September 3 will be the quarterback who controls the ball best.
After only turning the ball over 13 times and finishing sixth in the country in turnover margin two years ago, Arizona State took a step back in its 2015 campaign. That number spiked to 19 last season, and with just 21 turnovers forced, the team finished outside of the top-50 in turnover margin.
Graham and company have identified a return to their ball security ways of the past as one of their top focuses as fall camp presses on.
"Waking up tomorrow," joked Graham when originally asked what worries him the most.
After pausing, the head coach then continued.
"Making sure we get back to turnover ratio football is the biggest thing. So obviously, that is at that quarterback position. Our main three focuses are still the quarterback, offensive line, and secondary. And waking up in the morning."
Competition remains stiff on that young but intriguing offensive line as the season fast approaches. While senior Evan Goodman has the left tackle spot locked up, nearly every other spot on the line continues to be battled for.
"Evan is the guy I’ve really been impressed with," Graham says. "You can tell he's in his fifth year - his last year - and I'm really liking his maturity. But all of those guys have impressed me at one point."
Left guard Sam Jones, center Stephon McCray, right guard Quinn Bailey, and right tackle Zach Robertson were all immediately identified as guys who have looked good as of late to Graham, and coincidentally or not, all four played with the first-team offense in the 11-on-11 drill that was open to the media on Thursday.
Those positions are far from locked down, however, as guys like freshmen Steve Miller and Cohl Cabral, sophomores Alex Losoya and Connor Humphreys, and JC transfer A.J. McCollum continue to work their way into two-deep and situational roles.
"We just have to get steady everywhere," says Graham. "We've had some consistency but there's been competition at the center position, tackle positions, and the guard positions. So we'll have a big evaluation in Saturday’s scrimmage and kind of settle in there before we get prepared for the first game."
After using the 2015 season to adjust from the move from defensive line to offensive line, Graham says Humphreys is competing hard for a two-deep spot at guard.
"Connor’s one of those guys at guard who is right there competing for the two deep," Graham says. "We have got a lot of competition with that group. Saturday is going to be a big evaluation day for everybody (on the line)."
Yes, Saturday’s scrimmage will be important for everyone. Whether it is the young offensive linemen, the two frontrunners at quarterback, or at numerous other spots on the field, the scrimmage will mark the final opportunity for players to show off before game-planning for Northern Arizona begins in earnest next week.
Just as the case has been for all of fall camp, there will surely be a lot of competition.