Arizona State strapped on the pads for the first time in preseason camp Friday and on the second play from scrimmage senior quarterback Mike Bercovici threw a touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Fred Gammage.
But it wasn't anything that either Bercovici or Gammage did that was extraordinary.
That's something ASU hasn't done enough of in Todd Graham's first three years in Tempe and the program's head coach knows it.
“We put the pads on, we try to strain and stress and coach them hard," Graham said following the workout. "Very mature how they handled that. Love having the whole team together. Very big and physical and strong on the interior up front.
"First time since I’ve been here, tight ends knocking people on the ground.”
Kohl was one of the day's standouts for his broad impact on the offense, but he was far from the exception in that regard. Bercovici was stellar and the team's offensive line and running backs, led by sophomore Demario Richard and junior De'Chavon Hayes, hinted at a potentially imposing run game.
“We are much more disciplined, much more mature, and much more talented," Graham said. "The biggest difference for me is the speed. One mistake and it can go (for a touchdown). A lot of athleticism.
“There’s a lot of talent out there. What I love about it is it’s the best talent we’ve ever had and by far and away the best attitude, character and how they do things.”
They're also further along this year than in previous years according to Graham, including taking a bigger jump from spring ball to preseason camp than he's remembered in the past.
“Going into the fourth year we had this little install we were going to do and it was going to take us about six days, and it’s all in (in three days)," Graham said. "It’s amazing how they handled it.”
Graham started to say he's never seen his program be so far along going into its fourth year only to realize he's never done it in his career before.
“I guess I haven’t been at a place for four years since I was in high school, so nevermind on that," Graham said.
One benefit of being this advanced is less of a need to rely on newcomers to fill holes in the two-deep. Even when those newcomers are extremely promising.
“This is by far and away the most talented football team we’ve had and this is, I think, the best team we’ve had because there’s just not a lot of questioning the minimum standards stuff, and there’s a lot more complexity to what we’re doing, which makes it a lot harder for a young person to play," Graham said.
Ballage moves back to defense
On the first day of preseason camp sophomore Kalen Ballage practiced exclusively at Devil backer. A day later, he was only participating at running back. Friday, it was back on defense.
Alternating between the two sides of the ball will likely continue in the short term until ASU coaches can figure out exactly what type of role they expect Ballage to play on defense.
If Graham'S Friday comments on the subject are any indication, at this early juncture it doesn't appear as though it will be a full-time move to defense, or anything remotely close to it.
“I think he’s got a chance to be really, really good (on defense)," Graham said. "I don’t know how much he’s going to do. I told you, we’re going every other day with him. I can tell you this, he’s going to rush the passer on third down. How much of that he does that, I don’t know. Right now if I told you the first two days, he looks a lot more impressive on offense. He’s very impressive on defense. But he’s really, really, really impressive on offense. So that means he’s probably going to play some both ways. We’ll see.
"There’s a reason why very few people in the country do that. Also I told you I felt like we’ve got to handle that. Sometimes you’re doing it because you have to and it’s a problem. If we don’t have to we’re surely not going to play him first and second down on defense. But right now through the first two days there’s not anybody out here who can rush the quarterback better than he can but he’s a pretty good tailback tomorrow. If we played right now, he’s play offense and rush the quarterback on third down. How much would he do that? I don’t know, eight to 10 times a game. So you’re spending a lot of ink for eight to 10 times a game.”