With the neck injury suffered by redshirt freshman Bryce Perkins Arizona State is down to two retuning scholarship quarterbacks, sophomore Manny Wilkins and redshirt freshman Brady White. There is also true freshman newcomer Dillon Sterling-Cole who has made a big impression with his physical tools to start camp.
After three straight practices of Wilkins being with the first-team in the 11-on-air segment that media observes daily, White was in that role in Thursday's practice.
At this time though it appears that Wilkins may have a slight lead over White in the quarterback battle based on everything we've seen -- which admittedly isn't much since the team returned to Tempe -- and anecdotally heard from those at practices.
There's no clear indication that either quarterback is clearly performing at a high level, much less separating from the other, though Wilkins has by some accounts done reasonably okay.
Prior to the injury, Perkins was running third on the depth chart per our sources and had contemplated a transfer that now will not happen this year.
It remains unclear if ASU would consider playing both Wilkins and White in the team's Sept. 3 opener against NAU or when a starter may be decided upon. We're still three weeks away from the team's first game though and there's no need for any such decision to happen in the next two weeks, at least.
The focal points with Wilkins and White from a skill development point are unchanged. We have to see how Wilkins handles pressure from a passing standpoint and whether he becomes too reliant on being a runner. We have to see White strike the right balance between extending plays and not taking negative plays or making jeopardy throws.
Top players: Wilkins, White
Freshman who could play: Sterling-Cole (unlikely but possible)
There's a hard set duo of juniors Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage atop the depth chart here and they'll obviously soak up just about all of the game reps as long as they both are healthy and fully operational.
We have seen very few two-back formations other than in the first couple days of camp. There hasn't been much use of a running back in a slot receiver role but that doesn't mean we won't see it in games because players have told us that it's part of the offense and we did observe it in the spring.
Richard hurt his right ankle/foot area in Tuesday's practice but by Thursday was fully dressed out and wearing pads and cleats, with the right foot heavily taped. He isn't participating in practice but it doesn't appear as though he's dealing with a multi-week injury based on what we've observed. There's a very strong chance he's ready to play at or near full strength in the season-opener.
Of course, ASU probably wouldn't need Richard against NAU and making sure he's fully healed is more important that week, particularly with Ballage capable of shouldering a large load and a very capable redshirt freshman Nick Ralston in the third slot.
Ralston has lost 25 pounds in the last year after arriving at ASU with an undetermined mandate from a position standpoint that kept him in limbo. It wasn't clear if he'd play linebacker or fullback/h-back but running back wasn't the initial plan. So Ralston was heavier than ideal for running back and also was banged up coming off his senior year of high school. Then he tore his hamstring and got the medical redshirt.
In camp this month Ralston's looked better than we've seen him from an athleticism and mobility standpoint. He has some things that are similar to Richard from a style standpoint but is probably more athletic than given credit for.
Redshirt freshman Jason Lewis arrived at ASU with a lot of fanfare because he's a huge running back who won a state championship and was heavily recruited and highly regarded. But Lewis was academically cleared to practice late and wasn't totally healthy at the start of camp last year. He was behind and then through the season showed that he had to make a lot of progress to move into the competition.
Lewis is definitely a big and mobile guy at his size but running in the right lanes, knowing protections, finishing runs with physicality are all things that have been sporadic. He knows he's young and learning and has a lot of developing ahead and was in very good spirits about everything and the process of improving.
Junior Jacom Brimhall has split some reps with Lewis at depth and is a very different type of player stylistically. He could perhaps be an option if there is a rash of injuries in the ASU backfield.
Freshman Tre Turner is headed for a redshirt baring catostrophic injury problems on the depth chart ahead of him.
Top players: Richard, Ballage, Ralston
Freshmen who could play: None
ASU returns experienced senior Kody Kohl here and Kohl has by all accounts set himself up really well for his senior season. He's gained 20-plus pounds to get to 240-245 pounds and is saying he wants to be a much more impactful blocker than the position blocker he's been at earlier points in his career.
ASU coach Todd Graham said Thursday that he's seen clear improvement from Kohl and ASU's tight ends overall as in-line blockers and it's something that's going to really help the program moving forward. ASU sports performance coach Shawn Griswold said Kohl's weight room improvement is atypical for someone going into his fifth and final year.
We know that Kohl has had his share of drops and missed opportunities and he is aware of that as well, of course. He's also the leading returning tight end in the Pac-12 in receptions. It seems like he's poised to have his best season, but that has to be demonstrated on the field in months to come.
Junior Raymond Epps is one of the most improved players on the roster over the last two years. He's transitioned from being someone who looked more like a big wide receiver when he arrived at ASU to now looking completely the part of a major college tight end from a size and style standpoint.
Epps also really struggled with getting lined up properly and being able to execute the playbook but those days appear to be in the past. He's not shown any of those issues in camp this year and because Kohl and Epps have looked so competent and prepared to play effectively we've seen ASU offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey roll out a lot of two tight end formations in camp.
What's really remarkable is that the team's overall most talented tight end is probably third or fourth on the depth chart right now and that's sophomore JayJay Wilson. Even Kohl has admitted that the younger players on the roster are as big or bigger and as strong or stronger and as athletic or more athletic.
Wilson has to keep his eye on the prize because he's had a tendency to get undisciplined academically and with his fitness level and body composition. But as a football player, he's just a natural with an NFL ceiling, quite mobile and someone who makes plays on the football in a seemingly effortless fashion.
Redshirt freshman Thomas Hudson is the biggest tight end on the roster despite his youth and yet moves well enough to be able to play within ASU's no huddle structure and fill all of the alignments seamlessly including playing flexed to the slot.
Junior Grant Martinez has potential and is a very good receiver of the football but has had injuries completely undo his chances of seeing the field the last couple years. Freshman Jared Bubak has the size and moves reasonably well but has never played the position and will be headed for a redshirt year.
Top players: Kohl, Epps, Wilson
Freshmen who could play: None
For the entirety of Graham's tenure at ASU there hasn't been as much depth or talent at wide receiver as the Sun Devils would prefer. There have been some stars, of course most prominently Jaelen Strong, and last year Devin Lucien really worked out well as a post-graduate transfer, particularly late in the season.
But entering the 2016 season ASU looks to finally be starting to turn the corner from a talent standpoint and its acquisitions this year have been the biggest reason. They signed more players this year than we can ever remember at the position, including four true freshmen led by N'Keal Harry and two young Division I transfers from big time programs Oklahoma and Texas, John Humphrey Jr., and Ryan Newsome.
These players have looked very promising in camp, but most won't see the field this year, with freshmen Frank Darby and Jeremy Smith headed for redshirt years. Humphrey and Newsome look good enough to play in the rotation right now but have to sit out the season post-transfer.
At the top of the food chain, senior Tim White looks poised for an excellent senior season. He should be one of ASU's top players and has looked like it in the first week or so of preseason camp. He's explosive and extremely fit and running better routes than ever.
Sophomore Jalen Harvey was having a terrific camp until he suffered an ankle or foot injury in Tuesday's practice that left him in a walking boot. He seemed well on pace to be one of ASU's starters.
Wide receivers coach Jay Norvell and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey are going to try to settle on the top five or six players who will receive the bulk of the reps on a game by game basis.
White and Harvey are locks -- when healthy -- and junior Ellis Jefferson has worked with the first-unit very consistently throughout camp. He has shown very well at times in August before only to not end up playing a big role in the season. This is the year he hopes will get him over that hump and certainly he'll be among the guys who get a lot of game reps early.
Junior Cameron Smith is coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss last season post-surgery. He's mostly worked with the second-team in practices as he works to get back to full speed. He's not there yet but has made clear improvement since the spring and has been getting closer. Smith was ASU's best route runner two years ago and also a great blocker so he'll be in the group of players getting the bulk of the reps as long as he's healthy.
It's really after White, Harvey, Jefferson and Smith where things begin to get tougher to project. Harry was getting second-team reps and even a glimpse with the first-team before being hurt this week. He's been in a green non-contact jersey and had his ankle taped in Thursday's practice while jogging at half speed.
Senior Frederick Gammage has taken some first-team reps in the slot with White bumping outside subsequent to Harvey's injury. It's clear that Gammage is battling true freshman Kyle Williams, a shifty and well put together newcomer, for the backup slot role.
On the outside, it's Harry, redshirt freshman Terrell Chatman and walk-on Tennessee transfer Ryan Jenkins who are trying to make it inside the top five or six players. Harry appeared to have the best odds before being hurt. He's probably at worst the No. 5 option when healthy and could move higher. The sixth spot is really up for grabs between Gammage, Williams, Chatman and Jenkins, but a slot player like Gammage and Jenkins would have better odds unless injuries to outside guys like Harvey and Harry persist.
Top players: White, Harvey, Smith, Jefferson, Harry (Humphrey and Newsome are as well but must sit out)
Freshmen who could play: Harry, Williams
The Sun Devils are replacing four starters here and will have one of the most inexperienced units in the Pac-12. They do return regular 2015 starter Evan Goodman at left tackle but he was inconsistent with his performance as a junior last season. Goodman is talented and coaches have said he's significantly improved his leadership and consistency this year and could be poised for a great season.
Senior Stephon McCray has played a fair amount as a backup, often coming into the lineup as the first guy to play when someone else has been injured on the interior. He's clearly among the top players in the group right now from a pecking order standpoint and ASU offensive line coach Chris Thomsen moved McCray from right guard to center with the first unit almost immediately after the start of camp last week.
In ASU's effort to get the best five linemen on the field together, there's been no movement with the first unit at left tackle or at left guard, where sophomore Sam Jones appears locked into place. Jones is looking especially fit and was moving with great flexibility and change of direction in the Sun Devils' final summer conditioning session immediately before the start of camp. He played last year primarily at tackle as a redshirt freshman but appears better served inside at left guard where he'll have the big task of replacing Christian Westerman, who didn't give up a sack or get a single penalty in 2015.
Goodman, Jones and McCray are solidly in the first three starting offensive line slots. Things get a little bit tighter from spots four through seven or eight and Graham said Thursday that his team's offensive line is deeper than it has been in the past despite its relative youth.
Thomsen told us this week that he feels he currently has the best five together on the first team and the two other players who have worked consistently with the first unit this week are sophomore Quinn Bailey and redshirt freshman Zach Robertson. We've seen Bailey and Robertson flip flop between right guard and right tackle as Thomsen appears to be trying to figure out which gives the Sun Devils a better overall capability.
Bailey has been one of the most improved players on the offense in practice the last couple years and is a good run blocker for his length. Robertson is a good flex option between guard and tackle, probably better served long term playing inside where he said his strength is as a pass protector. Ultimately the decision may come down to which player better handles speed rushes on the edge.
The sixth offensive lineman right now might be redshirt freshman Steve Miller, a player who has moved all over from right tackle to left tackle and left guard. Miller has great size and versatility for a youngster and competes in a way that coaches like.
The seventh and eight spots may come down to a backup center battle between junior walk-on Tyler McClure and true freshman Cohl Cabral unless junior college transfer A.J. McCollum can get out of a green non-contact jersey and back into playing shape in a way that reshapes the group.
As we're still early in camp and there's more competitive depth here than in the past, it's very possible we see some additional movement in the pecking order between the four and eight spots with Miller, McClure and/or Cabral capable of moving up in a reshuffling. Sophomore Connor Humphreys has worked primarily with the second unit at left guard and could also push up, and certainly be an option in the future.
Top players: Goodman, Jones, McCray, Robertson, Bailey, Miller
Freshman who could play: Cabral