After spending the first half of Arizona State's spring practice slate installing his offense, new coordinator Billy Napier had an opportunity to take it for a test drive during the Sun Devils' scrimmage on Wednesday.
Working as a play-caller for the first time since the 2010 season when he was the offensive coordinator at Clemson, Napier said he was pleased with the progress of his unit, but wants the group to execute at a higher level.
"I think more than anything, we need to improve the execution level," Napier said. "We're getting better in terms of the togetherness and unity we've got as a group, but I really do think we need to improve from an execution standpoint."
On Wednesday, junior Manny Wilkins and sophomore Blake Barnett shared first-team reps at the quarterback position and drew praise from head coach Todd Graham for their ability to operate efficiently. On Friday, though, Napier said he needs ASU's quarterbacks to cash in on big play opportunities when they present themselves, and he hopes to see his signal-callers take the next step.
"A little bit of it is to be expected with heavy installations, especially days like today where we introduce a lot of new concepts but I think we've got plenty of capable playmakers, we're making progress up front and we got pretty good quarterback play in the scrimmage on Wednesday," Napier said. "But the explosive plays, when we're getting those opportunities, we've got to cash in. We didn't necessarily do that on Wednesday."
Napier admitted after Friday's practice that at this point in the spring, ASU's defense is probably ahead of its offense from an execution standpoint, but also said that shouldn't be an excuse for the Sun Devils' performance on the field.
"I think a lot of it just has to do with the makeup of your team," Napier said. "A lot of what we're doing on offense is new, but at the same time, we're making progress. I think the defense sometimes is more ahead of the offense in spring ball just in terms of what it takes to execute an offensive play, but at the same time, that's not an excuse for some of the issues that we're having. But there is lots of positives, we've got some players that are making progress and at the same time, we've got some veterans taking their games to another level as well."
One of the key points Napier made when he rehashed Wednesday's scrimmage was that he wants ASU to improve its offensive tempo. Now that the Sun Devils are developing a grasp for Napier's playbook, he wants his unit to take the next step in operating more efficiently, and Graham agreed.
"You see the potential the tempo was like I thought, it was just slow because it was the first time out there," Graham said. "But the tempo was much faster today, so we did some things to correct that."
Napier said that more efficient execution will come when his quarterbacks develop a better feel for ASU's offense.
The first-year coordinator also said that even with three healthy quarterbacks competing for the starting job, he hopes sophomores Brady White and Bryce Perkins will be healthy enough to make the unit deeper, after both signal-callers suffered season-ending injuries last fall.
"We had one turnover in the scrimmage, Manny (Wilkins) was really efficient, really high completion percentage and he took what the defense gave him," Napier said. "We need to improve our operation, we need to improve our time between the play call and the ball being snapped, that's an entire group, but the quarterback has to own that part so that's an area where we want improvement. But I think I'm pleased with the decision making, I'm pleased with how they're picking up the concepts. We need to continue to develop depth there, with Brady (White) being injured obviously and Bryce (Perkins) being non-contact we're a little thin there and we've got plenty of quality players, and I think before it's all said and done, we'll have a guy that can put us in position to win football games."