Graham: Sun Devils further ahead this spring

Arizona State is in a better place this spring than it has been in the past three years according to its head coach Todd Graham.

Two-thirds of the way through his team's spring practice schedule, Arizona State coach Todd Graham is pleased with how things are shaping up.

Following a Saturday scrimmage that represented practice No. 10, Graham said the Sun Devils are well beyond where they've been at this time of year in his previous three seasons in Tempe.

"I think that was 170 plays [including] special teams and everything in less than a two hour time period," Graham said. "So that was really good. I told them today, this was the best I've seen our football team look yet to this point."

Led by senior quarterback Mike Bercovici and a strong two-headed rushing attack of sophomores Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage plus impressive play from team's the top offensive line group, the Sun Devils put together a few full field drives that were converted into touchdowns.

"I've been impressed with their development throughout the whole spring," Graham said of ASU's offensive line, which importantly saw strong play from senior right tackle Billy McGehee and redshirt freshman left tackle Sam Jones.

The ASU defense didn't make it easy though. Its secondary in particular, which included sophomore safety James Johnson being the third player in the group to wear the Tillman camouflage practice jersey, was impressive against the pass.

With the second team, ASU's defense won the day handily, with young linemen Renell Wren, a redshirt freshman, and true freshman George Lea, particularly playing well. As has been his habit, redshirt freshman Devil backer Ismael Murphy-Richardson was around the ball a lot, and only needs to be more consistently assignment sound to earn complete trust from his coaches.

"There's not any area I don't think we got better at," Graham said. "This was by far our best scrimmage and I can really see the makings of a really, really good football team. This is the best we've been to this point in the spring at this time of year."

Young defensive line showing signs of development

Last fall, defensive linemen Marcus Hardison, Demetrius Cherry and Tashon Smallwood improved as much as any players on the roster from the first day of camp through the end of the season, a sign of not only their efforts but the capability of position coach Jackie Shipp.

Hardison has moved on, leaving big shoes to fill at the field side end position, but Cherry, a 6-foot-5 300 pound versatile player who can play three positions, and Smallwood, a 6-foot-0, 285 pound 3-technique tackle, return and will be in the two-deep and possibly start.

The Sun Devils also return junior Edmond Boateng, who has shown a lot of promise as an end or bigger Devil backer, but has to become more consistent.

It's a crop of younger and less experienced players who could help fortify this group and enable greater depth than 2014, when starters often had to last more than 70 snaps on the field.

Redshirt freshman end Renell Wrenn is one of the best looking players physically on the team and showed play that matched his impressive physique in perhaps his best practice Saturday.

"I think it was a pretty good day for me," Wren said. "Just continuing to work hard. Coach Graham said when I can see the ball and the tackle more that's going to help me get the quarterback. It's just something to work on. The fundamentals will get you everywhere right with the defensive line.

"Strength and conditioning got me way better on the field. Squatting a lot, benching a lot and just trying to be the biggest and strongest guy on the field and make that my advantage is what I am striving for."

After playing sporadicly as needed last year as a true freshman, sophomore tackle Emanuel Dayries took first-team reps in the scrimmage Saturday, as Viliami Latu rehabbed a minor knee issue.

"Right now I'm just going with it," Dayries said. "I'm learning every day, having good days and bad days, trying to improve on my bad days."

"I'm just trying to use what God gave me, just getting off the ball. Trying to get stronger to knock people back and hold my gap down more. [Sports performance coach Shawn Griswold] got everybody up with the squats and leg strength and everything. I got my squat up 80 pounds and feel a big difference."

Highly regarded recruit Connor Humphreys redshirted last year and has participated a couple times with the first-team this spring. He's a talented player according to Shipp, but one who has been getting comfortable with the adjustment to major college football.

"I feel like I'm just working on getting with the technique and everything and whether it's ones, twos, threes, it's reps and trying to get better and compete," Humphreys said. "I think I came in a little light and have gained the weight, learned the technique and now I'm playing with more confident.

"Coach Shipp is just a hard coach and if you look at it in the certain way he's trying to make you better. I just have to listen to him and try to do the best I can with what he's saying and use that to make me a better player."

Notes

  • After getting banged up near the end of Thursday's practice, junior defensive tackle Viliami Latu did not participate in the Saturday scrimmage.

  • With senior linebacker Antonio Longino out due to concussion-like symptoms, junior linebacker Carlos Mendoza played WILL linebacker for the first time this spring and worked with the first-team.

  • Sophomore James Johnson became the youngest player in terms of eligibility to ever wear the Tillman practice jersey Saturday, joining fellow secondary-mates seniors Jordan Simone and Lloyd Carrington.

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