The Arizona State Sun Devils’ coaching staff will feature several new faces in critical roles in 2017. Despite that, the guy leading the charge is still the same, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters.
“There’s no wholesale changes (coming),” head coach Todd Graham said during an introduction of ASU’s 2017 signing class Wednesday. “We’re looking to improve in everything that we’re doing, but we’ve recruited these players to run certain systems.”
Those certain systems will be implemented by three new faces: co-offensive coordinators Bill Napier and Josh Henson (Napier will handle lead responsibilities), and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett.
Last season, Graham’s offense was guided by Chip Lindsey, who’s now at Auburn. Prior to Lindsey, Memphis head coach Mike Norvell manned the position at ASU from 2012-15. Both adhered to incorporating Graham’s philosophy of attacking opposition with up-tempo, run-first, spread offenses.
“We’re going to be a run, play-action-pass team offense,” Graham said. “We’re going to be a spread-no-huddle; we’re going to be an 11-personnel team. We’re going to have three wide receivers most the time.”
Napier and Henson will be expected to adapt to Graham’s preferred style of offense by also learning the terminology already being used. This was something asked of Lindsey when he joined ASU as well, as Graham said this is done in order to make the transition as smooth as possible for his players.
“Change is the one constant in college football, so you’ve gotta be prepared for it,” Graham said. “So for our players, terminologies and things like that will be consistent.
“We’ve got some great teachers. We’ll have to work hard this spring to progress, but it will be the least amount of change for our players as possible.”
The position this could have the most influence on is quarterback. Former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett has completed his transfer to ASU, and was recently granted full eligibility for the 2017 season.
This news, in tandem with the Sun Devils’ latest hire of Napier — who joined amidst a stint in Tuscaloosa, Ala. as the Crimson Tide’s wide receivers coach — would suggest Barnett has an inside track on the starting job.
However, based on what Graham has said about the offense maintaining its same philosophies and principles, redshirt junior Manny Wilkins shouldn’t be counted out from winning the job quite yet.
Wilkins, who beat out then-redshirt freshman Brady White for the job last offseason, holds the most experience in ASU’s system and the most familiarity with its terminology. The question is whether or not he’s progressed far enough in his development to stave off Barnett from securing the job as he transitions.
The Sun Devils will have five-to-six possible options to start under center this year — alongside Barnett and Wilkins (which is what the competition will most likely come down to), Dillon Sterling-Cole (who could potentially be in line to utilize a redshirt if not ready to start just yet), a recently-activated Bryce Perkins, Brady White (who is not expected to be ready to compete for an extended period of time), and four-star freshman Ryan Kelley.
ASU quarterbacks combined to complete 60.5 percent of their passes for 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2016.
Spring practices are scheduled to begin Monday, March 13.