Before Arizona State kicked off fall camp on Wednesday morning, the Sun Devils were forced to call an audible.
Wet conditions swept the Sun Devils out of their friendly confines at Camp Tontozona and toward their backup option at Rumsey Park in Payson, Ariz. for the team's first practice of the season.
Flexibility and patience will be key for ASU this fall, as the Sun Devils are holding their first quarterback competition since head coach Todd Graham's debut season in 2012.
Sophomore Manny Wilkins, redshirt freshman Brady White, redshirt freshman Bryce Perkins and freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole are the four candidates competing for the starting job, with the first three players having a leg up on the newcomer from Texas.
Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said he could see the development of the three quarterbacks who spent the spring with the Sun Devils materializing on the first day of camp.
“I could tell already and the reason we could tell is because we got a new guy in with Dillon (Sterling-Cole), and it makes you appreciate the guys you have a little more," Lindsey said. "From the standpoint of what they’re comfortable with, their knowledge, directing the offense on the field, I think that magnifies it some. With Dillon, I’m trying to coach him and give him some hints and things and those other three guys are pretty dialed in. They studied and they’re prepared to do their best every time they go out and perform.”
On Wednesday, Wilkins and White split first team reps, while Perkins and Sterling-Cole worked with ASU's newcomers in the latter portion of the team's practice. Lindsey said after practice Perkins remains locked in to the battle for the starting job, and he'll have the opportunity to showcase his skill set with the first team offense during Thursday's practice.
"We'll rotate that and we're going to continue to rotate it as long as the weather gives us a chance," Lindsey said of his three-quarterback rotation. "That was just, you had to figure it out, plus he (Perkins) got more reps doing that, so we'll figure it out and do something else."
In each portion of this morning's session, one quarterback would take four reps, the other would take three, and the first quarterback would return to a drill and take the final four reps. Wilkins and White switched off which quarterback would start each drill, and Lindsey revealed the method behind ASU's training.
“It’s a good way to evaluate because you’ve got a bunch of different guys and we basically repeat the plays, so we’re putting them in the same scenario, the same setting, so to speak, and seeing how they react," Lindsey said. "So you’re getting the same pressure look on this play, and then the next guy, with the same pressure look, does he see it the same? Then we flip them and rotate them so one guy doesn’t always see, that’s what happened on that play, so that’s what’s going to happen."
Lindsey said the four-three-four rotation prevents quarterbacks from cheating plays by watching along the sidelines and provides as a safeguard against a quarterback's ability to anticipate specific blitzes and coverages.
"Smart guys stand over there and say, here’s where they’re getting the pressure, here’s where I have to go with the ball, but we do a good job of rotating the guys in with the first group to make sure they all get the initial look," Lindsey said.
Both White and Wilkins spoke after practice about their excitement in returning to the practice field and renewing the competition after a long summer of workouts. The quarterbacks downplayed the competition among each other and stressed the importance of improving in their own capacity on a daily basis during camp.
"I'm just competing with myself to be honest," Wilkins said. "If I make mistakes, I correct myself on the mistakes I make and really just going out there and watching film and playing ball."
ASU is the only FBS school without an eligible quarterback on its roster who has thrown a pass at the Division I level. Though Wilkins appeared in four games last season, he did not register an attempt while both White and Perkins redshirted.
With the departure of offensive coordinator Mike Norvell who left ASU to take the head coaching position at Memphis, Graham stressed the importance of finding an offensive coordinator who could mold inexperienced quarterbacks.
Enter Lindsey, who began his coaching career at the high school level and worked under Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, who served as an offensive coordinator under Graham at Tulsa.
Lindsey's familiarity with Graham's preferred offensive system and reputation for developing quarterbacks made him an obvious candidate to replace Norvell in Graham's eyes. While Lindsey didn't recruit Wilkins, White or Perkins, Lindsey has a background of developing quarterbacks he didn't hand-pick, which has influenced his teaching philosophy.
"I'm a high school coach, so it's been important to keep it simple everywhere I've been," Lindsey said. "That's the norm. I think it's important to evaluate your team and build the offense around your guys, and what I mean by that is what they're capable of processing and when. Day one install is short and simple for us, and the reason is because day two is going to be something different."
Young quarterbacks competing for a starting job are sometimes prone to trying to do too much or succumbing under pressure, but White said Lindsey's coaching style has eased the tension among the unit and helped the quarterbacks work toward achieving their potential.
"One thing he does is, he's a coach that I would run through a wall for," White said. "That's part of that teacher role that he has, he knows how to rally the troops and get them to love playing for them. He's done that in a very short time. I've learned a lot from him, he knows that you're going to make mistakes and he wants you to learn from them."
Though ASU won't name its starting quarterback publicly until right before the team's season opener against Northen Arizona, Graham and Lindsey said they anticipate the players will begin to separate themselves within the first four days of camp.
Both coaches will emphasize leadership qualities, ball security and an ability to lift up the players surrounding them, and once the coaches evaluate which quarterbacks meet those expectations, ASU will begin to modify its practices. Though the Sun Devils will attempt to keep their quarterback competition under wrap, Lindsey said ASU will adjust rep counts in the coming weeks as the coaching staff sees fit.
"I think so," Lindsey said when asked if he'll be able to tell early in camp which quarterback has an edge. "The past history of everywhere I've been, you do, but every year is different so we're going to have to wait and see how it plays out. You're going to have to make some decisions moving forward, but I don't think we're anywhere close to that."
While the Sun Devils are only one day into a camp in which competition is expected to last for weeks, Graham said his players should able to tell early on how the quarterback situation will shake out.
"Our players know exactly where we're at right now," Graham said. "If you're out here every day, you'll know exactly where you're at. I would never wait with my team to tell them who our starting quarterback is."
- ASU moved its practice from Camp Tontozona to Rumsey Park where a new $500,000 field turf was installed this offseason. Some talk around camp indicated ASU would prefer to practice on the new turf as opposed to the field at Camp Tontozona in light of the wet conditions.
- During the first few days of camp, ASU's veterans and newcomers will practice separately. After the veterans were released from practice this morning, the newcomers' session was cut short due to lightning in the area. the newcomers were able to practice for about 45 minutes before ASU cleared the field due to weather conditions.
- Texas transfer Bryson Echols and Oklahoma transfer John Humphrey practiced with the veterans. Echols is eligible to play immediately and received a limited amount of first team opportunities at cornerback while Humphrey will sit out the 2016 before starting 2017 with three years of eligibility remaining.
- Tyson Rising, Maurice Chandler and Khaylan Thomas wore green non-contact jerseys today and did not participate in practice.
- Doug Subtyl was not in attendance at Wednesday's practice and we don't anticipate knowing more about Subtyl's status until at least the second half of August.
- Joseph Wicker practiced as a Devil backer Wednesday morning. ASU also looked at using the Devil backer on the field side as opposed to the boundary side. ASU could be looking at Wicker at Devil in response to the uncertainty regarding Subtyl's situation as Graham said after practice the team is looking for the best combination of players to rush the passer.
- Christian Sam ended practice early today. Sam had arthriscopic surgery on his hip this offseason and spent much of the morning practicing as the WILL linebacker. After practice, Sam told us he's back to feeling full strength and said he feels faster than he was before his injury.
- Freshman Cohl Cabral worked as a long snapper with the first team field goal and punt unit. Junior long snapper Mitchell Fraboni was at practice, and Graham has indicated Fraboni may be able to play past college as a long snapper, so it appears ASU is looking to see what it has in Cabral.