With a new offensive coordinator and new defensive coordinator in the fold, Arizona State has spent the first half of its spring practice slate aggressively installing new schemes and drilling new terminology.
As the Sun Devils reached the midway point of the spring Wednesday, ASU had its first opportunity to gauge the program's progress in a scrimmage setting.
ASU held its first of three spring scrimmages Wednesday, and although it was closed to the media, head coach Todd Graham provided an update and evaluation of the day afterward.
"I liked how our guys competed, I liked the energy, thought we did some nice things running the football and the defense, I thought there were some explosive plays that went back and forth but I liked how our guys competed," Graham said. "Probably went 50 plays with the ones, 50 plays with the twos, all ones against ones, twos against twos, and then we had about 20 plays with the threes so pretty long scrimmage and guys competed and it went well."
For the first time this spring, Graham hinted at a pecking order on ASU's quarterback depth chart, as he said junior Manny Wilkins and sophomore transfer Blake Barnett shared first team reps during Wednesday's session. Graham was especially pleased with Wilkins' performance and said that even in new offensive coordinator Billy Napier's system, Wilkins demonstrated an excellent command of operating ASU's unit.
"Manny and Blake got the majority of the reps with the ones and both of those guys did a good job," Graham said. "I think we had, I think we had one turnover, Blake had an interception. I think Manny was 100 percent on ball security and obviously Manny has such a command of what we're doing, he knows our offense and how to operate it. He just controls cadence, he does a lot of things, but I liked how he operated, you can tell that he's a veteran."
Graham has been particularly complimentary of Wilkins this spring, but after Wednesday's scrimmage, Graham indicated Barnett was efficient and ran a smooth operation when he was on the field as well.
"Then Blake did some nice things, had some nice throws, we had some explosive plays in there and we were fairly clean," Graham said.
With Wilkins and Barnett trading reps, Graham said sophomore Dillon Sterling-Cole worked behind them while fellow sophomore Bryce Perkins did not participate in Wednesday's scrimmage because he isn't cleared for full contact drills yet. Perkins suffered a neck injury in August that forced him to miss the entirety of the 2016 season.
"I thought Dillon (Sterling-Cole) did good when he was in there and then obviously Bryce (Perkins) can't go, he's not cleared to go so he couldn't participate in the scrimmage," Graham said.
Though Graham has insisted for much of the spring that the changes from former offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey's scheme to new offensive coordinator Billy Napier's scheme will be slight, he said that many of the adjustments were apparent in the way that Napier called plays on Wednesday.
After hiring Napier in January, Graham said he hoped that the Sun Devils would return to the run-oriented offensive approach they developed early in Mike Norvell's tenure as ASU's offensive coordinator, and Graham said Wednesday that many of the run and play-action pass concepts he's hoping to see were on display in the scrimmage.
"Our tempo is a little bit slower than where we want it to be but that's expected," Graham said. "A lot of volume with what we've put in and we've returned to a lot of the things that we did before when coach Norvell was here, or our first couple years as far as our runs and play-actions and nakeds and a lot more 11-personnel and two-back sets. So we got some install on them and we're getting used to it."
Though most of Graham's post-scrimmage comments focused on ASU's performance on the offensive side of the ball, Graham said he thought the Sun Devils' defense outperformed the offense.
Under new coordinator Phil Bennett, Graham said the Sun Devils are focused on renewing their aggressive approach while limiting the amount of explosive plays they surrender. On Wednesday, Graham said ASU's defense was able to cut down on giving up big plays, but that there's still plenty of work left to be done.
"I thought our defense was marked improvement in that area because today they didn't give up a lot," Graham said. "I thought today, the defense won the scrimmage if I was declaring a winner. That's one of the things, our big focus is the same things we've had as far as the TFLs, the sacks, being aggressive and all of that but they did a nice job. I think we're marked improved as far as what we wanted to get done, to this point we're on target to where we want to be by the end of spring. Still a lot of improvement, a lot of work to do, but we're better because we're giving up less big plays."