First scrimmage features mixed bag of goods

Coach Graham has made no secret about his plans of operating a fast paced, high octane offense at Arizona State since he took over in January. The first couple weeks of spring practice have been conducted at a frenetic rate, with maximum effort expected during each moment on the football field.

Despite being down a starting running back - Cameron Marshall underwent arthroscopic ankle surgery last week and is expected to miss the rest of spring camp - and having three inexperienced, although very talented young quarterbacks, Coach Graham has continued to hold the offense to high standards this offseason.

On Saturday the Sun Devil offense got their first chance to show their progress as the team participated in its first scrimmage after just five official practices so far. To the surprise of few, the offense sputtered at times under the command of the underclassmen quarterbacks as they continue to try to grasp the nuances of the new coaching staff's schemes, but the end result was both encouraging and something for the team to build on as they continue throughout the spring.

"It was a first scrimmage is what I would tell you," Graham said. "Obviously a lot of things to work on. The biggest thing we were trying to get is discipline and got a ways to go – too many penalties. But first scrimmage is first scrimmage. A lot of positives things, and an awful lot of work to do."

One of the hot topics of the offseason has been the ongoing QB battle between Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank and Taylor Kelly. On Saturday, all three saw their first live action of the spring, teasing the fans with brimming, yet unfulfilled potential.

The scrimmage started out slow for the Sun Devil offense as the team was forced to consecutive three and outs on their first two drives. Sophomore Bercovici, who has had a solid camp so far, started the morning working with the first team offense. He showed good command of the offense and matured poise in the pocket. He finished the day 8-14 with 81 yards, one touchdown and one interception, both of which came on consecutive throws late in the scrimmage.

"Today I thought I did a good job, but definitely not my best," he said afterwards. "For a first scrimmage, it's good to get rid of the first game jitters. You know, you're in uniform, you're uncomfortable, you second guess the board a couple times with the signaling. And then ending the game on a sore note with the interception at the end in that two minute series where I've got to get the ball down the field, it just kind of put a sour taste in my mouth. But overall I thought I did a lot of things right, fundamentally."

Bercovici was backed up by redshirt freshman Michael Eubank who has remained a close second to Bercovici through the first two weeks of camp on the QB depth chart. Eubank, despite a sluggish stretch that featured a couple poorly thrown balls and an interception, turned in arguably the best performance of the quarterback trio Saturday by going 9-17 and throwing for 140 yards with three touchdowns. And when Eubank was having trouble with his arm, he relied on his legs to extend drives, rushing for an additional 40 yards on 12 carries.

"The vibe I got today was that they pretty much simplified it a lot," said Bercovici on the offensive approach by Sun Devil coaching staff. "In practice we're more stressed on technique and fundamentals. Today it was a game situation and we were moving a bit more instinctually and we weren't really worried about that stuff.

"Also, for (wide receivers) Coach Alexander, this was his first time not having (offensive coordinator) Coach Norvell next to him, so the communication was a little bit slower than normal, but it was also slow on the field too. But I thought we did a solid job."

Taylor Kelly was the third quarterback to see action on Saturday and like the two others, struggled at times before settling. Kelly went 8-14 for 76 yards and 1 interception. All three quarterbacks were forced into pressure and harassed by the Sun Devil defense for most of the afternoon as the defense registered seven sacks.

"They were bringing a lot of pressure today," remarked Bercovici. "That's more pressure than we're used to. Being live, as a quarterback I got hit a couple times, and that felt good. Overall I thought it was a solid day."

Kevin Ozier, recently award a scholarship by Coach Graham, led the way for the Sun Devil wide receivers as he caught four passes for 74 yards and two scores, both of which came from Eubank. Ozier managed to wrestle away a 36 yard touchdown pass on 4th & 16 over the outstretched arms of Robert Nelson that began to swing the momentum towards the offense's favor.

Utility man Jamal Miles recorded three catches for 42 yards helping pace the attack while Max Smith chipped in with an unexpected 2 receptions for 44 yards. Marcus Washington showed off his hurdling skills by leaping over an ASU defender on one of his two 25+ yard catches. All in all, 13 different receivers caught passes, showing the depth and potential at the position.

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Coach Graham has said repeatedly that he hopes to see an aggressive running attack from Arizona State this fall. With the kind of depth and talent that the Sun Devils have at position, even without Marshall for the time being, it's easy to see why Graham would want to make that the focal point of the offense.

Senior James Morrison, who took most of the first team reps at running back on Saturday, led the way gaining 63 yards on just 11 carries. Morrison, a fan favorite and known for his smash-mouth style of running, showed no mercy towards the Sun Devil defense as he continuously looked for contact and churned out tough runs. Despite not getting into the end zone, he showed why most think he deserves to be the primary backup to Marshall, especially in short yardage and goal line situations.

"We have a few backs banged up and I'm just trying to take advantage of every opportunity I can get," Morrison commented. "I have been waiting patiently and it's nice to go out there and show what I can do.

The running back feels that the new offensive scheme is tailor made to his skills.

"Coach Graham is a very physical coach," Morrison said. "He likes to rush the ball and punish the defense. He wants to push the ball down the field with the run. That really fits what I'm trying to do so I'm happy about that. Last year we were setting up the pass with the run and this year is a complete opposite. The zone technique is similar to last year, but like I said we are a run-first offense and Coach Graham wants running backs that are going to push the ball down the defense's throat."

Morrison was spelled most often by sophomore Deantre Lewis, who took another positive step forward Saturday in recovering from a gunshot wound that took place in Southern California that kept him out of action all last season.

Sun Devil fans have been anxious to see the Lewis of 2010 return to the fold, and while he is still working to regain his blazing speed and getting used to the constant grind of college football, he turned in a optimistic performance by rushing for 39 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown, along with hauling in 3 catches for 15 yards and another score. Lewis arguably stands to gain the most in Marshall's absence for the remainder of the spring.

Overall, the Sun Devils remained committed to establishing the run, carrying the ball 52 times for 205 yards. Jamal Miles showed off his speed in the backfield as well with 3 carries for 38 yards, including a 36 yard burst down the sideline setting the Sun Devils up for an early score. Seldom-used R.J. Robinson also got into the mix, rushing for 29 yards on 7 carries.

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The Sun Devil offense line, which Coach Graham called one of the surprises so far this spring, had its ups and downs Saturday. While the run blocking showed improvement, breakdowns against the blitz forced the quarterbacks into difficult situation and a few turnovers. The first team offensive line consisted of Andrew Finkenberg and Jamil Douglas on the left side, with Andrew Sampson and Brice Schwab on the left and Kody Koebensky at center. They were backed up by Tyler Sulka, Sil Ajawara, Mo Latu, Chip Sarafin and Kyle Johnson.

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Alex Garoutte took a big step in putting behind a sometimes painful 2011 season Saturday when the ASU football team played its first scrimmage of spring practice.

The sophomore kicker connected on four of six field goals, including makes of 31, 19, 31 and 44 yards. He missed from 44 and 39 yards. ASU coach Todd Graham said he has worked with Garoutte on the mental aspect of the kicking game more than anything else so far this spring.

"One thing I told him is not to focus on last season," Graham said. "When we go out there and kick a field goal, we want to do it just like we run our offense and defense. We want to attack the ball. And you need to have confidence. When you run on the field, you need to look like a guy that's made every single field goal."

Graham did add that there is competition at the place kicking position. At one point late in the scrimmage, the coaching staff let sophomore Parker Flynn kick one field goal, a 42-yard attempt that he connected on.

It may not have been a coincidence that Garoutte's last and longest field goal of the day came immediately following Flynn's boot.

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Sophomore linebackers Carl Bradford and junior Kipeli Koniseti were the understudies for Vontaze Burfict a year ago.

Now with the controversial middle linebacker declared for the NFL Draft, Bradford and Koniseti both shined Saturday in their first scrimmage since Burfict's departure.

Bradford, now playing mostly defensive end for the first team, led the Sun Devils with nine tackles and one sack Saturday. Koniseti, the middle linebacker for the second team, registered eight tackles and three sacks.

Linebacker is one of ASU's more inexperienced groups on the defense as all three starters from a year ago do not return. But if Saturday was any indication, the Sun Devils may be able to reload quickly.

Another standout was walk-on junior outside linebacker Grandville Taylor, who tallied five tackles, two pass breakups and seemed to be near the ball all morning.

"I would say I performed well but there are a lot of things I can improve on," Taylor admitted. "As a defense we did a good job, but this is just a learning experience for us because it's our first scrimmage. We're getting better and better every day and we just have to continue that. We're more together as a team than we were last year and we need. We're coming together as a team and that is what we needed to do in the first place."

Even as a walk-on Taylor has been able to impress not only the current coaching staff but the previous one last year. With the departure of four linebackers from last year who were the core of this unit, the junior has naturally been getting longer looks as he tries to cement himself as a starter.

"My mindset is to always try and doing everything right," Taylor stated. "I'm out there competing everyday and that is the most important thing. I have to make sure that I'm right on my assignments and everything else. That's what I need to do everytime I'm out there."

Fellow walk-on and first teamer middle linebacker Brandon Johnson also came on strong near the end of the scrimmage, as he had a pass breakup and five tackles, including one for loss and one being a tremendous hit near the goal line on sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly.

It was a rollercoaster scrimmage for defensive back Robert Nelson.

The junior made a diving pass breakup early in the scrimmage that could have been a highlight-reel interception if not for slipping from his hands at the last moment.

Nelson later mistimed a jump near the end zone that led to an easy touchdown catch for junior wide receiver Kevin Ozier.

Nelson then finally nabbed the interception that eluded him earlier when he picked off sophomore quarterback Mike Bercovici.

Overall the Sun Devil defense dropped balls that should have turned into six interceptions.

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Complete Stats (unofficial)

Rushing:

James Morrison: 11 carries 63 yards

Deantre Lewis: 10 carries 39 yards 1 touchdown

Michael Eubank: 12 carries 40 yards

Kyle Middlebrooks: 4 carries 10 yards

R J Robinson: 7 carries 29 yards

Jamal Miles: 3 carries 38 yards

Danny Lewis: 1 carry 2 yards 1 touchdown

Taylor Kelly: 3 carries 1 yard

Mike Bercovici: 5 carries -17 yards

Total: 52 carries 205 yards 2 touchdowns

Passing:

Mike Bercovici: 8-16, 81 yards 1 touchdown 1 interception

Michael Eubank: 9-17, 140 yards 3 touchdowns 1 interception

Taylor Kelly: 8-14, 76 yards 1 interception

Danny Lewis: 2-6, 16 yards

Total: 27-53, 313 yards 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions

Receiving:

Kevin Ozier: 4 catches, 74 yards, 2 touchdowns

Jamal Miles: 3 catches, 42 yards

Marcus Washington: 2 catches, 51 yards, 1 touchdown

Deantre Lewis: 3 catches, 15 yards, 1 touchdown

Max Smith: 2 catches, 33 yards,

Kevin Anderson: 2 catches, 17 yards

Rashad Ross: 2 catches, 36 yards

J.J. Holliday: 2 catches, 16 yards

A.J. Pickens: 2 catches, 13 yards

Darwin Rogers: 1 catch, 7 yards

Karl Holmes: 1 catch, 10 yards

Kyle Middlebrooks: 2 catches, 0 yards

R.J. Robinson: 1 catch, -1 yard

Total: 27 catches, 313 yards, 4 touchdowns

Defensive Stats

Carl Bradford, 9 tackles, 1 sack

Kipeli Koniseti, 8 tackles, 3 sacks

Alden Darby, 6 tackles, 1 INT, 1 pass breakup

Grandville Taylor, 5 tackles, 2 pass breakups

Brandon Johnson, 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 pass breakup

Isreal Marshall, 4 tackles, 1 sack

Greg Smith, 4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup

Davon Coleman, 4 tackles, 1 sack

Kevin Ayers, 3 tackles

Jake Sheffield, 3 tackles

Keelan Johnson, 3 tackles

Shane McCullen, 3 tackles

Robert Nelson, 2 tackles, 1 INT, 1 pass breakup

Will Sutton, 2 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack

Matt Tucker, 2 tackles, 1 pass breakup

Zach Stewart, 2 tackles

Cutter Baldock, 2 tackles

Deveron Carr, 2 tackles

Osahon Irabor, 1 tackle, 1 INT, 1 pass breakup

Gannon Conway, 1 TFL

Toa Tuitea, 1 tackle

Shaq Jenkins, 1 tackle

Jason Franklin, 1 tackle

Charles Beatty, 1 tackle

Steve Gallon, 1 tackle

Gannon Conway, 1 tackle

Joe Eason, 1 tackle

Mike Ingrassia, 1 tackle

Rashad Wadood, 1 tackle

Byron Kline and Chris Drexel contributed to this report


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