Eve Craig/SunDevilsSource

Spring storyline: ASU quarterback competition

The next and most important stage yet of Arizona State's quarterback battle kicks off Monday morning with the team's first spring football practice. Here's a primer.

We already know that Arizona State's quarterback competition isn't going to be resolved in the spring. The three players currently only campus and competing for the job, sophomore Manny Wilkins and redshirt freshmen Bryce Perkins and Brady White, were very closely grouped in the team's bowl practices and it's difficult to imagine one player distancing himself from the others substantially over the course of the next month. This is especially true in light of ASU's switch to Chip Lindsey as offensive coordinator. 

Lindsey is only in the early stages of getting a feel for his personnel, not just at quarterback, but across the entire offense. He's also going to put his own stamp on the scheme itself, and that's going to take time to introduce and fully incorporate. It may not even be done by the time spring football is complete. The quarterback Lindsey and ASU head coach Todd Graham eventually select will be the one who provides the team the best chance to win, and considering each possesses a unique set of skills, it's about finding the right pairing of those skills to the rest of the personnel. 

What does that mean, exactly? Well, Wilkins is clearly the most athletic from a mobility standpoint, and best read option quarterback. That type of skill set would be perceived as more advantageous for an offense lacking in receiving threats. Conversely, a team that is loaded with players who can get open down the field and an offensive line that is great at protecting a pocket passer lends itself to a quarterback who is at his best in the pocket cycling through progressions and delivering the ball accurately. It has less need for the read option. If a team uses a lot of quick game passing or Air Raid concepts, such as what Lindsey has used throughout his career, and doesn't have great vertical passing capability, it still is likely to go with a rhythm pocket passer over a dual-threat type quarterback. 

What's this ASU team going to be? That's really the key question, and we don't know that exactly because not only is Lindsey new, but ASU is replacing four offensive line starters as well as top receiving options Devin Lucien and D.J. Foster (the two players who had the most receptions in 2015). One would think that with Tim White, Cameron Smith and others returning at wideout, ASU's going to have some ability to throw the ball deep. To be sure, Wilkins can do that as well. Will he be able to do it better than the other two, though? Whereas it's clear who is the best read option quarterback, it's not clear who is the best in other aspects. 

At Southern Miss, Lindsey had a very immobile quarterback and there was a complete absence of zone-read with any quarterback threat to keep the football. But it also wasn't needed because of a terrific play play capability on throws down the field. There are so many other questions besides the so-called 'who is the best quarterback' that will influence ASU's decision. 

It's going to be important for media to not jump to conclusions from one day's practice to the next, particularly given the viewing constraints put in place by ASU football. By now everyone remembers that Taylor Kelly was in third place exiting the spring in 2012 only to win the job in the third or fourth week of August. What's more important than micro-analysis of the race itself is close observation of the skill development of each quarterback in the broader sense of what they'll likely be asked to do most to help the team's offense operate most effectively. 

Which quarterback will most quickly assimilate to Lindsey's offensive personalization tweaks? Who has the best conceptual command and ability to articulate that both on and off the field? Who gets the offensive lined up quickest and most effectively? Who has the highest percentage of play execution, not personally, but in the collective? Which quarterback best executes what will be the staples of this team's offense? Which quarterback puts the ball in the least jeopardy, has the fewest negative plays? 

These are some of the questions that Lindsey will be looking to answer, and they'll probably have more of an impact in determining which quarterback is eventually named the starter -- at least initially -- than who has the biggest arm or is the most athletic or most accurate, etc. Here are some of our observations on each of the three quarterbacks from a style and skill-set standpoint. 

Manny Wilkins -- A player with a very high ceiling but also a low floor as a prospect. He could be a star, or could never become a Division I starter. He has the broadest skill set of the three ASU quarterbacks because he's the quickest, fastest and most mobile, but also has a very impressive vertical passing capability from a strength and accuracy standpoint. Wilkins is clearly a student of the game, and is very invested in trying to be the best quarterback he can be. The primary key to Wilkins' success is whether he can more quickly process the field in game-like situations. He's had a tendency to not be able to get through progressions before turning into a runner and when he does start to move around, Wilkins tends to bring his eyes down and become very instinctual. In other words, he's not maximizing his athleticism from a play extension standpoint to find receivers down the field. If Wilkins has elite receivers who can separate and get open as well as an offensive line that provides time for that, and if the game slows further for him, he's got a chance to be special. But that's really asking quite a lot. 

Bryce Perkins -- Of ASU's three quarterbacks, Perkins is the most inclined to receive the football and quickly get it out of his hands. He's a very good fit for systems that don't throw the ball down the field a ton, but throw short to intermediate passes a lot, and is pass heavy, such as the Air Raid. Perkins has the quietest mechanics in the pocket, moves the least, is most inclined to want to throw the ball in a hurry, and is conservative in his approach to moving the team down the field. He has a higher floor than Wilkins as a prospect, but a lower ceiling unless he's able to improve his arm on throws down the field. Right now, that's an area he's more limited than the other two quarterbacks and it could be an issue with guys like Smith and White, who can get behind the defense. If those guys are forced to wait on the football it's going to be an issue. Perkins is the biggest and most physically durable of the quarterbacks. He's not as inclined to run, but when he does so, he's more apt to break tackles. He's also more likely to ward off would be sackers in the pocket. Perkins probably yields the fewest negative plays and can go quickly. 

Brady White -- The best play extension quarterback of the three from a throw-first standpoint, White has a natural feel for buying time to allow receivers to freelance off routes and get open. This is something Graham has talked about as important, in light of some limitations from ASU's offense last season or with some of his teams from the past. It is of particular value as a team gets closer to the goal line in the red zone. White also has a better arm than Perkins down the field, probably on par or nearly on par with Wilkins, and has similar touch and feel on his passes. While White isn't an ideal zone-read quarterback from a quick-twitch athleticism standpoint, he has good feel and can execute it enough to keep defenses very honest. One of the strengths of White projecting into the future is his calmness on the football field, which is seemingly an innate characteristic. He will take more sacks and negative plays as a result, which he has to watch, but he will cycle through progressions, extend plays, and allow for the most time for something to develop of the three. He is a little more risk tolerant than the other two as a result, which is a dual-edged sword. A pure quarterback, White also has a high floor as a prospect and can start somewhere in college for sure. Will he get that chance at ASU or be beaten out? Only time will tell. 


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