Reinvigorated Bercovici eyeing starter role

A strong spring performance last year had Mike Bercovici atop the depth chart at quarterback. Yet, a disappointing conclusion to last year's fall camp, saw him redshirt his sophomore season. Bercovici put his hiatus to good use, improving many of his skills, and his unwavering confidence has the backup signal caller believing that he will make an impact in 2013.

Inconsistent play and turnovers plagued Mike Bercovici over the five week final audition to the 2012 season, helping pave the way for Taylor Kelly to snare the starting spot with Michael Eubank eventually becoming his back-up. As the odd man out, Bercovici, redshirted and was left to focus on what he needed to improve upon in order to prepare himself for another shot at the starting position in 2013.

"I just learned about perseverance and being resilient through the thick and thin," said Bercovici on redshirting. "Last year was a roller coaster for me, as a lot of people may know, but just understanding that if I work on myself and keep that positive energy for the entire team, it only makes me feel better. My energy and spirits were up all through our summer workouts. I worked my tail off and just kept my positive energy throughout the summer and it really has helped transition to the field.

"I've really gotten a lot of respect out of guys by staying here (and not transferring). It's just been an enjoyable summer. I've been here about three years now and I'm really confident in my abilities and this offense."

After it was announced that the California native, who saw action in two games as a freshman while backing up then starter Brock Osweiler, would use his redshirt after not making the two-deep at quarterback, many Sun Devil fans wondered if a possible transfer was soon on the horizon.

While that seems to be the prevailing norm for most dissatisfied athletes in college athletics nowadays, Bercovici insists the thought of leaving Tempe never crossed his mind.

"With the quarterback situation in the modern day, that's a popular thing and whatnot but my focus is here," he said. "I truly feel I can play as a Sun Devil. I promised my family and friends that they're going to see that #2 on the field this year and that's what I want - to get that energy back from the fans.

"They're excited for me to come back, even for someone who hasn't really stepped on the field that much. It's an amazing feeling and I owe it to the fans to play."

After his initial disappointment subsided, Bercovici met with Head Coach Todd Graham and Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell to discuss his options. The two urged him not to be discouraged with the results of last year's fall camp and to remain ready because another opportunity was sure to arise if he focused on the things he needed to improve upon to run the new, high octane Sun Devil offense.

"First things first, regardless of sitting out, they told I'm going to be competing for a starting job this year," Bercovici remarked. "They truly feel that I can help this team with my talents and I appreciate that. I hold truth to that because they're my coaches and I believe in them. They motivated me in the fact that they told me what to work on. They're confident that I understand the offense but just little things like protecting the ball, being able to attack the defense with my feet, and just be in that positive mindset.

"They said, ‘Just come out, starting in spring ball, and do your thing. Show us that you've improved on the stuff that we've asked you to,' and I feel like I've done just that."

Just two weeks before Arizona State's season opener, it's clear the challenge has been met by the Sun Devil quarterback. Throughout the offseason, Bercovici has demonstrated a greater command of Norvell's offense as he once again challenges Kelly and Eubank for his position on the depth chart. His confidence and greater sense of comfort has resulted in fewer turnovers and more consistent play as fall camp progressed.

"So far, so good," Bercovici recapped his preseason preparation. "This is my second year in the offense so I'm seeing things differently. I'm not so worried about the routes but actually my protection and understanding that next level stuff. Coach Norvell and I have a great relationship and I understand what he wants out of every single play. I feel like I've been doing really well."

A new dimension that Bercovici has added to his offensive arsenal this fall has been the ability to make plays with his feet. While his throwing technique and arm strength have never been in doubt, Bercovici's mobility, or lack thereof, was always a knock on him in a scheme that demands its quarterback to extend plays with its legs when the situation calls for it.

"Taylor and Mike have definitely pushed me," Bercovici said of quarterback teammates. "Because of them I'm working harder at protecting the ball. With (sports Performance) Coach Griswold, I just feel like with as much squatting and power cleaning as we've done, I can feel a burst I've never felt before.

"I've been able to attack the defense with my feet more now. I know that was a big question mark for me but it's something that I've improved on. It's just something that comes with the territory of knowing the offense. I've always been a quick guy so just being able to use my feet to get those extra yards has really helped."

Also helping Bercovici and the rest of the Sun Devil quarterbacks this fall has been the development of some of the offense's returning personnel and a couple new playmakers that have helped empower the passing attack.

"I know coach has talked about that o-line a lot but that front five is incredible," Bercovici noted. "They're the base of our offense right now. Without them, we aren't rolling like we are. But it's been great and we've got a whole bunch of new weapons.

"It feels good to know you can throw the football and the receivers will go make a play for you. What our identity is as an offense right now, I truly love being in it. We're going to play fast, we're going to run the ball, but we got guys who can go over the top. If we can just put the ball on the spot, we got guys who can go get it."

One of the camp's standouts has been sophomore wide receiver Richard Smith, who Graham recently hailed as the team's most improved player from last season. And while Bercovici agrees with his head, it's been one of the incoming freshmen who has quickly become one of the signal caller's favorite targets.

"I love all the guys but I'm telling you, Ellis Jefferson is going to be a special guy," Bercovici claimed. "In the meeting room, he's sitting in the front row. He's got bright eyes, like coach says. And he truly just knows how to get open. For being a freshman, understanding how to get open is huge. He plays with that big size he has, which is awesome. He's got strong hands. I gave him a handshake and, I feel like I have strong hands, but he's really got strong hands."

With the 2013 preseason dwindling down, a number of position battles remain to be decided on each side of the ball. While it's highly unlikely that either Bercovici or Eubank will unseat Kelly as the starter, Berco continues to work towards securing the back-up position and prove his summer of hard work has paid off as he tries to accomplish various personal goals.

"Protecting the football as best as I can," Bercovici said. "I know every single day, that's the last thing coach says coming out of the meeting. But personally there's going to be ups and downs. There's going to be times when Coach Graham is going to dial up a blitz that I've never seen before in my entire life. It's going to be a roller coaster all of the time throughout practice no matter what.

"I've just got to be able to keep that positive mindset because that's what coach loves; through thick and thin, is having that upbeat, positive attitude. This offense is real hit or miss and we can have some down plays and then come back on the next series and the ball is flying around in the air. So for me, just bringing that positive energy and believing in myself that we can do this and just have that one identity of winning a national championship on every rep."

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