Graham: Improved line capability on display

Led by improved depth along the offensive and defensive lines and quality personnel in the secondary and backfield plus a better overall approach to the game, Arizona State is better than in the past according to its head coach.

Fans may have generally given Friday night's Arizona State Spring Game lukewarm reviews, but in consideration of the bigger picture, through 14 of the team's 15 spring practices, Todd Graham sees a team that is substantially improved from seasons' past.

"I was talking to the coaching today, it's the best we've been to this point, where we're at," Graham said Sunday.

In particular, the ASU coach has been happy with the development of his offensive and defensive lines, with more capable depth in the groups than he's had to work with previously.

He's liked how redshirt freshman defensive end Renell Wren has progressed and true freshman defensive tackle George Lea has flashed, and called Friday's effort from redshirt freshman Devil backer Ismael Murphy-Richardson his best yet."

Along the offensive front, the coach is confident the Sun Devils hit on their young players, but also have the ability to bring them along slowly due to established, competent veteran depth.

"(Redshirt freshman left tackle) Sam (Jones is) a guy that has really done outstanding," Graham said. "(True freshman tackle/guard) Steve Miller really looks good. (Junior) Evan (Goodman) coming back (from a hamstring strain) really looks good there. Obviously with (senior) Christian (Westerman), (junior) Stephon (McCray) and (senior) Vi (Teofilo) and (senior) Nick (Kelly) we're going to be very solid inside.

"I think Evan is probably physically the best tackle. "I think (senior right tackle) Billy (McGehee's) had his best spring and (redshirt freshman right tackle) Quinn (Bailey's) continuing to get better. I think Steve Miller will definitely be a tackle."

A high quality offensive line is always of significant value, but perhaps even more so when running back talent is also present, and that's a true strength of the Sun Devils. Sophomore Demario Richard should be one of the team's best overall players, and classmate Kalen Ballage has made significant strides, with 15 pounds of added strength, now 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, and a more physical inside presence as a rusher.

"If you said, 'coach, who is the one guy in the spring who really is just dramatically improved, that is just knocking it out of the park,' is Kalen Ballage," Graham said. "Here's a guy who is probably our best pass rusher right now (being looked at as third-down edge rusher) and doesn't even know what he's doing. He sprints over there to do it. He wants to do it. Playing on every special team. We kicked off the other night he beat everybody down the field seven yards. Probably production-wise the best running back in spring practice, and that's saying something because we've got a heck of a backfield back there. I just like it because I can tell he's hungry and you can also tell he didn't get to play a lot."

Graham would like to see junior De'Chavon Hayes round out the group with a little more consistency. Hayes is as fast as anyone on the roster, but had a couple drops and double catches the last several practices and has struggled with alignment issues at times.

"I probably hyped him too much," Graham said. "You haven't proved anything yet. You need to prove yourself and do it our way. I've challenged him with that. He's going to be a very good player once he understands how we do things."

Others who have impressed Graham this spring include senior safety Jordan Simone, sophomore safety James Johnson, senior cornerback Lloyd Carrington, -- "I think Lloyd had an unbelievable spring," Graham said -- sophomore wide receiver Ellis Jefferson, senior cornerback Solomon Means, freshman running back Nick Ralston, and freshman quarterback Brady White.


  • Graham was displeased with a skirmish that broke out during the final team period because it resulted in personal foul penalties that he said on the field could have cost the team the game. He told senior Nick Kelly, sophomore Stephon McCray and junior Edmond Boateng to all leave the field after their participation, and Graham seethed for some time after the altercation, going to both sidelines to reinforce his displeasure.

  • Senior defensive tackle Demetrius Cherry was not in attendance, something that has been the case on several weekend practices this year. In his place with the first-team was redshirt freshman Connor Humphreys.

  • Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jalen Harvey suffered an apparent right ankle injury during the second half of practice and eventually left the field with the aid of crutches and a walking boot.

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