Scrimmage showcases team balance

There is little doubt that today was the offense's best showing in any of the spring scrimmages this year. Nonetheless, the three touchdowns scored were countered by four interceptions, continuing the fine display shown by the defense in the last four weeks.

"I thought overall, it was the best that both sides of the football have played," said Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson. "We caught the ball a little better; we had a slow start, but we've got to run the ball better. We're missing throws, too. But overall I'm pleased with where we're at.

"Defensively, we're flying around and making a lot of tackles and our speed is really starting to show up. With Brock [Osweiler], consistency's the biggest thing; he missed some throws to guys that were wide open."

Osweiler completed 13 of 21 passes for 143 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He encountered a slow start, seeing his second pass of the day intercepted by Osahon Irabor. However, during the second series for Osweiler, he really found his stride, completing 4 of 6 passes and finding A.J. Pickens for a TD on a swing pass. In his third and final series, Osweiler went 6-6, with a couple of long completions to George Bell and Chris Coyle, before capping it off with a TD to Jamal Miles.

"Obviously I wasn't prefect by any means, but I wasn't bad," said Osweiler who gave himself a grade of C+. "The biggest thing in spring ball…as long as you get better in certain areas everyday and improve on the things you didn't so well during the week, I consider the day a success and I think this is what we did today.

"There were a few errors, a few turnovers but at the same time we made plays. I thought our screen game was really good. I had two touchdown passes off of little rocket screens. I'm happy with today and as long as we keep getting better I think we will be all right."

***

Osweiler's backups were in sharp contrast to each other. Taylor Kelly had a dreadful day throwing the ball. Not only were his passes inaccurate, but he seemed to have a hard time finding his man and had to rely on his feet to move the chains. He completed just 2 of 8 passes for -6 yards, and was intercepted twice.

Michael Bercovici on the other hand didn't have a great day accuracy wise, going 7 of 19 for 124 yards, but showed glimpses of his potential with his touch and arm strength a couple of times on some deep balls. He connected with Kevin Anderson and Kevin Ozier for gains of 40 and 36 yards, respectively. He lacked consistency with some his throws, but also displayed good composure and command of the offense.

"He's got to learn to throw a curve or a changeup once in a while, because that ‘high heater' is not always good," Erickson said of Bercovici. "He's got a lot to learn; the no-huddle offense, the signaling, all the things you've got to do as a 17-year-old freshman, it's hard. It's enormous. You think that guys can come out and play at that age—I don't care what position, but particularly at quarterback—it's hard. But he's learning, he knows where to go with it and obviously he gets it there pretty fast. "He's like all of them [in that he needs to improve]. Even Brock's got things that he has to learn. I like where Mike [Bercovici] is at; we'll see where we are in the fall as far as who our second [quarterback] is going to be. I have no idea right now."

"I definitely didn't do my best [today]—I'd give it somewhere around a ‘B'," Bercovici commented. "I made a lot of simple mistakes. Sometimes I went too much with personnel close in the red zone instead of going with my progressions and using the field and just some immature stuff that I need to work on. I made a couple big throws and had a smile on my face and the next play I turn around and [the coaches] yell at me, so it humbles me a lot. I feel like I can make the throws out here, go through my progressions and hit the open receivers because a lot of times I force balls.

"The windows that are open, they close really fast [at the college level], so I just need to learn to throw a more catchable ball sometimes. There sometimes I get excited seeing an open receiver and I want to put the ball through his facemask instead of just putting it on his chest. It's something I'm still learning from, especially out here [in Sun Devil Stadium] because I still get jitters every time I play here."

Gerell Robinson led all wide receivers with 52 yards on four receptions, and was pleased with the manner in which the offense played today.

"I think it was the best offensive production we've had in all our scrimmages," Robinson claimed. "I definitely think that all the quarterbacks are making strides in different areas and making progressions, each one of them has taken on a leadership role. [Michael Bercovici] throws it very hard but I prefer it hard rather than soft; if quarterbacks throw it soft, receivers can get laid out.

"[Bercovici's inexperience] is an adjustment thing for receivers, for us to get used to how he throws and for him to get used to how receivers catch the ball. The longer he's here, the better rapport he'll have with his receivers."

Osweiler was also pleased with the play of Bercovici in the last few weeks.

"He's done good this spring," Osweiler remarked. "He's straight in from high school and I know how hard that is. I think Michael is doing a great job, he has continued to get better every single day and that's all you can ask from a football player."

***

Kyle Middlebrooks gained 57 yards of four rushes, mainly on lateral passes but his fellow running backs were generally halted by the front seven on Saturday afternoon, Kelly gained 28 yards from his quarterback spot on six rushes. It should be noted that starting running back Cameron Marshall carried the ball just twice today, probably to avoid the risk of unnecessary injury.

Aside from Irabor who picked off Osweiler, Harrison Evens intercepted Kelly and Osweiler threw a second pick to safety Jon Clark on a pass intended for Kevin Anderson.

Sacks were recorded by Greg Smith on Osweiler, Bo Moos on Kelly, Charles Beatty (played DE today) on Kelly. Jordan McDonald gave a very good effort, recording a sack and a few more active plays round the line of scrimmage. Carl Bradford also had a nice afternoon and brought some major power up the middle in run support.

Following the efforts of wide receiver Kevin Ozier in the last scrimmage, fellow walk-on linebacker Grandville Taylor was one of the most noticeable players today, showing good awareness, discipline and burst in the run game and pass game to the flats. Walk-on linebacker Brandon Johnson also made some good plays attacking the run Alden Darby and Clint Floyd showed some solid run support from their safety positions. ***

Kicker Alex Garoutte had a mixed bag of goods performance making good on 4 of his 7 field goal attempts. He connected from 22, 37, and 47 yards twice while missing from 37, 42, and 47.

His backup Parker Flynn connected on both his kicks today, form 37 and 42 yards out.

***

If you are of the belief that the offense does look better since the beginning of spring practice, let along better than last year's 15 spring sessions you are not alone.

"We've come far," Osweiler stated. "If you look back to last spring it's black and white and if you look at the start of this spring ball until now we've continued to get better every single day. That has put us in a position to be where we need to be in the fall, contend in every game and make a run in the Pac-12."

There has been a strong emphasis this past week on the offense's vertical game and the Sun Devil signal caller doesn't think that it's any coincidence that the offensive improvement is taking place at a time where he and the rest of the quarterbacks are going deep and often with their passes.

"The downfield passing game is every football team's hardest thing to master," Osweiler explained. "For us to be hitting some downfield throws this week was huge and gives us a lot of confidence. We needed that because the past couple of years we didn't have a big deep threat and anytime you can push the ball vertically it's definitely going to open a lot of stuff underneath."

The junior was extremely happy that what appears to be on a paper a depleted wide receiver group due to injuries, has seen some of its seldom used players step up to the plate.

"I couldn't be happier with the wide receivers group we have right now and how they're performing," Osweiler claimed. "Every single one of them is going out there every single day, busting their tail and getting better and making plays for us."

***

All week in practice the offense has outplayed the defense, and even though today's scrimmage was by no means a dominating display for the players in the maroon jerseys it did prove to Osweiler and players on this side of the ball the importance of what consistency in practice can bring.

Osweiler and his teammates break their huddle with the chant "National Champs" and realize that only hard work will put them on the path for this lofty feat.

"I think to be a championship team you have to practice at a very high level that not a lot of people know how to do," Osweiler said. "I thought last week we did that as an offensive group and on defense.

"If we can go out there Tuesday, Thursday (this week) and have great energy in practice and go into Saturday and be somewhat productive I will happy going into fall camp."

Joe Healey and Byron Kline contributed to this article


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