Napier using spring to shape Arizona State's offensive identity

Arizona State offensive coordinator Billy Napier will use the first three practices of the spring to aggressively install his scheme and help the Sun Devils start to shape their offensive identity.

Senior running back Demario Richard referred to it as an SEC mindset. 

Whatever you want to call it, the identity of Arizona State's offense is important to new coordinator Billy Napier. 

Napier, who arrived in Tempe this year having spent the last four seasons coaching wide receivers at Alabama, indicated it's more important that it be observed and felt than named. 

"More than anything we want to establish how we're going to play," Napier said following the Sun Devils first spring practice Tuesday. "What is the 2017 ASU offensive unit going to be? What are we going to be known for? We talk about leading the league in 'finish.' We want the effort to jump off the film. We want people to watch us play and to admire the intangibles we play with."

The third offensive coordinator in three seasons for ASU, Napier said he sees the coaching changes as freeing. It's an ability to fine-tune the program's established ideology in practical ways without being weighed down by what may have happened in preceding seasons.

"You get an opportunity to fix things that maybe you had issues with in the past," Napier said. "You get to improve your system because you get to start from scratch and make it teachable. If it doesn't make sense to a bunch of grown men as coaches it's definitely not going to make sense to the players. We've been able to really start from scratch and iron out all the wrinkles we've had in the systems that we've kind of used to put together the one we're running now. It's been a challenge but it's been a lot of fun."

ASU will have three aggressive install days followed by a review day. Then it'll be two more install sessions, another review, and a scrimmage on the eighth practice. It's what Napier has taken away from his earlier experiences, not only at Alabama under Nick Saban, but at Clemson under Dabo Swinney, where he was the offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010, and at Colorado State where he coached quarterbacks in 2012 for now-Florida head coach Jim McElwain. 

"I've been through this a couple different times in my career, Napier said. "The biggest thing is you've got to plan according to the number of reps you've got. We've got a good system in place. I've had an opportunity to work with a lot of good, quality coaches in the past. We've got a plan, it's a proven plan. That's something I can say comfortably to our guys. I can stand in front of them and say if we do it this way we'll have success.

"We've done a great job as a staff really establishing how we're going to operate, what the precedent is going to be. Each and every time we do something knew we've got an opportunity to really draw a line in the sand and really hold them accountable. That's what the game is about. I don't think we've got a talent issue on our side of the ball in particular. We've got good quality depth, we've got plenty of playmakers. It's really going to come down to the intangibles on our side, the effort, the toughness, the discipline, and really whether each player is an asset to our team or a liability. Not only how they practice but their self-discipline off the field. Can we depend on you? Are you accountable? That's what we are really trying to establish."

Finding a reliable starting quarterback is an obvious priority, but not one that is going to be rushed. Tuesday, junior Manny Wilkins took reps with the first-team while sophomore Bryce Perkins, coming off a neck injury that sidelined him in 2016, operated the second unit. Napier is being deferential to returners, but former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett is going to get plenty of chances. Nothing will be resolved with the quarterback situation until at least August. Napier has been on a staff that worked through quarterback battles at Alabama on three separate occasions.

"We were able to spread the repetitions out and we'll go watch the film, evaluate the decision making, evaluate the accuracy," Napier said. "For me and the quarterback position, I'm watching how do they effect the players around them. What type of communicator are they? Does the other 10 players on the field, does their level of play rise because they're out there with this guy. We've got plenty of talent at the quarterback position if we can just find somebody in that group to be able to play winning football for us. Blake is certainly a candidate to win the job and he's got every opportunity to prove himself.

"Somebody's going to have to take ownership, win the job, win the team. That's certainly what we're evaluating each and every day but we're a long way from that decision being made."

More broadly, Napier asked his players during Tuesday's pre-practice offensive meeting to write down and keep for themselves a self-evaluation of what they need to do to to become the best versions of themselves. Then it's about demonstrating that on the field in a way coaches can identify and figure out how to take advantage of. 

"I think for our players this was really their first opportunity for each of those guys to put an identify on film," Napier said. "That's what we talked to them about this morning....not only as a player individually but your unit, your position group. We've been through the first phase of our off-season, the tour of duty, and this is the next phase, spring practice, where we grow, we develop, we acquire knowledge. We certainly got a lot of quality reps on video to teach off. That is the most important thing. I was pleased with the effort, pleased with the attitude and approach. The execution has got to improve."

"We took a step forward today. You can still there is a little bit of a fresh breath out there, certainly excited about the challenge in front of us. But I'm pleased about where we're at and looking forward to the next practice, the next meeting, the next phase of our offense."


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