Camp Storyline: Backup QB battle

How is the backup quarterback battle between Manny Wilkins, Brady White and Bryce Perkins shaping up as Arizona State prepares for preseason camp?

We know, of course, that senior Mike Bercovici will assume the full-time starter duties as Arizona State's quarterback in 2015. There's no question about that, and Bercovici has already demonstrated he's more than capable of playing effectively in the Pac-12. In fact, Bercovici was one of eight college quarterback counselors at last week's Elite-11, and won the event's skills competition.

As the Sun Devils gear up for preseason camp, what remains undetermined is which backup quarterback gives the team its best chance of winning games if Bercovici is knocked out of action.

Importantly, this is a very different question than which quarterback will take the field in mop up duty. When there's no game on the line, it doesn't make sense for ASU to burn the redshirt year of either freshman, Brady White or Bryce Perkins, and we expect the Sun Devils won't do so.

Redshirt freshman Manny Wilkins is capable and almost certainly will be the quarterback who plays when the games have long-been decided. But whether or not he'd also be the player ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell calls off the bench if Bercovici is lost in a meaningful game is yet to be determined.

Norvell and ASU head coach Todd Graham are going to play the quarterback they feel gives the team the best chance to win when the decision can alter the outcome of a game or season.

We've yet to see Perkins practice with the Sun Devils so he's still somewhat of an unknown in terms of his initial preparedness and in that respect somewhat of a wild card. Who knows, he may end up being the best of the three.

When comparing the spring performance of Wilkins and White, there wasn't much separation between the two in terms of overall competency. It's a battle that is going to continue into fall camp and likely well beyond.

Wilkins and White are an interesting contrast in styles.

Wilkins' mobility and athleticism is not only a great weapon, but one he relies on at a very base, instinctual level, even at times to his own detriment. On the far other end of the spectrum, while White is relatively mobile -- though not on the level of Wilkins -- he's at times too patient and comfortable in the pocket, to the point that he'll take sacks as he's still waiting for an open target to emerge downfield.

For Wilkins to solidify the role of actual backup -- again, different from who plays in mop up duty -- he'll have to force himself, uncomfortable as it may be, to stay in the pocket and keep his eyes progressing through his reads. Fighting the instinct to tuck and run is hard, particularly when Wilkins is so capable in that regard. Becoming more of a threat in the pocket is only going to accentuate his playmaking ability with his feet.

One advantage Wilkins may have is the overall personnel of the Sun Devils, a team that has more in the way of established capability along the offensive line and at running back than at wide receiver. That means the read option and overall ground game could be more of a strength than the vertical passing attack, unless one or more of the returning or new wide receivers really steps up.

White has less experience than Wilkins but a good natural feel for the position, and an envious ice-water calm personality trait in the pocket that nevertheless could end up freezing him out of the backup role if he's not adaptable. He's had a tendency to take unnecessary sacks, including in the spring game, but generally speaking it's much better to operation from a place of having too much patience than not enough.

White uses his mobility more as a play extender looking to throw the ball, probably at least in part because he grew up playing with high profile wide receiver Trent Irwin, a guy who consistently managed to get open, even when doing so appeared almost out of the question in the face of double and triple teams.

Wilkins never had a weapon like that at his disposal. He had to do it on his own most of the time, and that often involved simply out-running defenses, something he was able to do quite well at the high school level. But even so, he has at least as good an arm as White and throws a very clean, accurate ball with impressive mechanics.

The potential for both players is high. Neither quarterback has separated from the other as yet, but it's still early. What's likely going to determine who eventually emerges is which of the two wins becomes the better player mentally, not physically.

After all, Bercovici had the starting spot all but won in preseason camp in 2012 when he was much less of an athlete than he is today only to give it away because of a shaky decision making that resulted in a number of interceptions. He's a more capable player physically now, but where he really advanced is with his command of the system and understanding of the game.

We'll see over time if one of the three younger quarterbacks separates from the others, and perhaps get some more clarity in the month ahead as to which of the three gives ASU the best chance to win games if needed to do so.


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