The month of August has come and gone for Arizona State and the Sun Devils are ready for their season opener against FCS opponent Northern Arizona on Saturday. ASU opened the Todd Graham era in 2012 against the Lumberjacks with a 63-6 victory, and they'll square off for the second time in Graham's tenure as the Sun Devils' head coach begins his fifth season with the program.
While almost every player has talked about how exciting it is to finally suit up against a team with a different color jersey, Graham admitted after Wednesday's practice he could always use more time to adjust and prepare the Sun Devils for the season.
"I always want more time, you know you always have nagging things and injuries, you want to master the fundamentals that you're doing," Graham said. "There's so many people at different levels, you want more time, but I'm ready to kick it off, though. I know our guys are."
Graham said he believes his players are more eager to take to the field this season because of some of the relationships they have developed with ASU's new coaches. The Sun Devils had significant coaching turnover in the offseason as Graham's staff will feature five new assistants this year, and he said their presence has played a role in generating excitement.
"I think there's more excitement because of the relationships," Graham said. "I think this coaching staff and our team, I think we've got a close-knit bunch. I think we've got a lot of great teachers and I think our players have really matured, especially the veteran group of guys that are very mature and want to be the best."
Senior safety Laiu Moeakiola missed three practices at the end of last week, but returned to practice Tuesday and participated in individual drills in periods open to the media at both Tuesday and Wednesday's practices.
"That's why I'm out there, I feel ready, I feel great," Moeakiola said.
A year after finishing last in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game, the Sun Devils are counting on Moeakiola to be able to contribute in a revamped secondary. Moeakiola has struggled with various injuries throughout his career at ASU, but when he's healthy, Graham considers him one of the team's most important players and one of its best communicators.
Moeakiola didn't take first team reps during a takeaway period open to the media during Wednesday's practice, but started camp as the first team bandit safety and brings much-needed experience to a group that includes sophomore field safety Armand Perry, sophomore cornerback Kareem Orr and senior cornerback De'Chavon Hayes
"I'm feeling extremely confident right now, I think guys have picked up what we're doing and we're ready to go out and see it on the field," Moeakiola said.
News and Notes
- Graham said ASU has not yet named its captains for Saturday's game, but reiterated that the team will vote on captains each week. Graham said he envisions the Sun Devils voting for weekly captains on Thursdays and then naming the captains on Fridays.
- Offensive lineman Marshal Nathe, tight end Grant Martinez, long snapper Mitchell Fraboni and offensive lineman Tyson Rising warmed up in the injury line at ASU's Wednesday practice. Junior safety James Johnson was the only other player outside of the injury line who joined the quartet of players at Muscle Beach when the Sun Devils began individual drills.
- After working out at Muscle Beach Tuesday, sophomore Spur linebacker Tyler Whiley participated normally in individual drills with his position group and worked with the second team defense in a takeaway drill.
- Graham said junior college transfer and Devil backer Koron Crump will work as a gunner on punt coverage this year and said Crump is among the fastest players on the team.
- Sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins practiced with the first team offense during an 11-on-air drill Wednesday morning. Wilkins has taken every first team rep during practice periods open to the media over the last 10 days.
- Freshman wide receiver N'Keal Harry took first team reps with the offense in the 11-on-air period, and appears poised to start his first career game with ASU Saturday night.