Chip Lindsey positioned to help lead ASU quarterback competition

Todd Graham said Arizona State's quarterback competition will extend deep into fall camp.

Entering the 2016 season, Arizona State is the only FBS school without a quarterback on its roster who has thrown a pass at the Division I level. 

It's a daunting outlook for the Sun Devil football program, which also starts the season with five new assistant coaches and four new starters along the offensive line.

Change is often viewed as unenviable in college football, but ASU head coach Todd Graham has maintained his confidence thanks to one man who nearly caused the biggest offseason shakeup of anyone within the program. 

Chip Lindsey was hired to replace Memphis head coach Mike Norvell as the Sun Devils' offensive coordinator in early December, but after helping orchestrate ASU's offensive game plan in its bowl game loss, Lindsey encountered a difficult decision.

Lindsey served as the offensive coordinator at Southern Miss during a successful 9-5 season last year, and when Eagles' head coach Todd Monken left to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive coordinator, Lindsey had an opportunity to return to the program and fill the vacancy left by Monken.

"If I'm being honest, I was deeply concerned," Graham said when asked if he thought Lindsey might leave ASU. "At the end of the day, it's a head coaching job at a Division I school. I'm going to tell you, I didn't think it was for sure. I think he was really excited to come to our school, I think he wants the same path as what (former Graham assistant) Gus (Malzahn) had and what Chad (Morris) had done and I think he's a smart guy. I think he thought being the offensive coordinator at Arizona State is a better job and a better path to where he wants to be. I don't think he wants to just be a head coach in Division I, he wants to be in a major job."

At Pac-12 Media Day on Friday, Graham expanded on the importance of Lindsey's decision to stay put, focusing less on what a departure would have meant and more on what Lindsey's presence means for ASU's quarterbacks.

Graham insisted on finding a coordinator who believes in the offensive philosophy Graham and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn helped develop together at Tulsa, and he wanted a coach who possessed experience in molding quarterbacks.

"Our quarterbacks have never thrown a pass, I need a guy that's a developer of a quarterback," Graham said. "That's all he's (Lindsey) done his entire life as a coach, it's develop quarterbacks. There's a difference. Guys who coach tight ends or receivers or running backs, they just dabble. He's really well respected."

Sophomore Manny Wilkins, redshirt freshmen Bryce Perkins and Brady White and true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole will all compete for the starting job this fall, but because of Lindsey's hire, the first three players will be able to do so in an offensive system they're familiar with and Sterling-Cole will do so with a coach who helped recruit him to campus. 

On Friday, Graham suggested the switch from Norvell to Lindsey during a year in which the Sun Devils will hold an open competition could work in the quarterbacks' favor. Before arriving at ASU, Norvell had never coached quarterbacks, and Graham believes Lindsey's experience uniquely positions him to help guide the transition process. 

"Mike (Norvell) had never coached quarterbacks before he came here," Graham said. "Most people don't know that. I would have never said that before, but no one ever asked, so I never said anything. And he did a good job, but I really like what Chip (Lindsey) brings from that standpoint, his background as a high school coach."

Graham also emphasized the importance of finding a coordinator who would keep the same terminology Graham has always used as a head coach, which should allow the inexperienced signal-callers to build upon the base of knowledge they have already developed. 

Because ASU will spend less time and energy installing a brand new system than it would have with a different coordinator, the coaching staff can use fall camp to evaluate how each of the four players leads the offense.

In the past, Graham has made it abundantly clear he expects ball security to be a quarterback's top priority, and he didn't waver when addressing this year's positional battle.

"We've been in the top three in the country in turnover ratio, and we dropped to 103rd," Graham said. "Turnover ratio, and we got quite a few turnovers, so we need to not turn the football over is the number one thing."

Aside from the obvious turnover rhetoric, Graham said the coaching staff expects to capitalize on the mobility of the quarterbacks the team has in the fold. Each of the four players has dual-threat capabilities, and Wilkins saw limited game action last season in a package that called for him to rush the ball. 

After tailoring the offense to fit Bercovici's skill set last season, Graham indicated every quarterback involved in the competition will help give Lindsey schematic flexibility because each of the competitors has the ability to run.

"So we've got four guys that we're extremely excited about," Graham said. "We recruited all of them. All of them can extend plays and are athletic and are more of the mold of being able to extend plays like Taylor (Kelly) was, so we're excited about that attribute."

After evaluating Wilkins, Perkins and White during the spring, Graham said ASU is in no rush to decide who its starting quarterback will be when the team takes the field against Northern Arizona on Sept. 3. 

The last time ASU held a quarterback competition, Graham said Taylor Kelly entered camp behind both Bercovici and Michael Eubank. A week before the start of the 2012 season, Kelly had surpassed the two players in front of him and earned a starting role that he held onto for three seasons. 

This season, Graham doesn't expect to make the call until late in camp, but said the team will be able to tell who wins the job well before an announcement is made.

"We'll do it the first week," Graham said. "We'll do it probably Friday before the first game. Why would I do it any time before that? Our players will know, just being honest with you, not trying to -- but I'm being truthful."

On Friday, Graham also said he would not rule out playing two quarterbacks during the first week of the season, but he did not expand on his answer when asked about that possibility.

Notes

  • Graham said senior Laiu Moeakiola will likely start at bandit safety with sophomore Armand Perry starting at field safety. Sophomore Kareem Orr and senior De'Chavon Hayes are in line to start at cornerback.
  • Graham praised the work of Donnie Yantis and Conrad Hamilton, two of the new hires on his staff this season. Yantis took over as the assistant athletic director for recruiting following Patrick Suddes' departure and the pair has already helped improve the walk-on program at ASU.
  • Graham said Tim White's roles will mostly be confined to offense and special teams this season. Graham said "first things first, we want to make sure he's a guy with the ball in his hand." 
  • Tim White and Tashon Smallwood were the two players who represented ASU at Pac-12 Media Day.
  • When asked on the Pac-12 Network set if he thought he was the best athlete in the conference, White said, "I believe so."
  • Smallwood said he's continually trying to emulate Will Sutton's game, and said one of Sutton's best skills was knowing exactly what the other team was going to do on any given play which came through intense film study. 

 


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