Todd Graham: Arizona State hungry for return to success

Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham believes his team has been motivated by consecutive losing seasons and ready to recapture the success that marked his first few years in Tempe.

Arizona State isn't so far removed from its consecutive 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014 that it doesn't have players who remember that success and are craving to experience it again.

Key veteran players, including senior running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood and linebackers D.J. Calhoun and Christian Sam not only were a part of those teams, they were major contributors. 

Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham is acutely aware of the program's significant downturn in 2015 and 2016, but would rather reflect on the success that came before it, other than to use it as a motivational fuel. 

"It's too much work not to win," Graham said on Friday. "I think the fact that a lot of these guys have been a part of when we did it and when we were successful, and that makes you hungry. And we're hungry."

Graham has repeatedly stated in recent weeks that he is confident ASU will have enough talent to be successful in the year ahead. In particular, he's tended to point to the team's playmaking capability and overall athleticism. That continued upon his review of the team's first true scrimmage of the year, which marked the midway point of their spring practice schedule. 

I'll tell you some things I've seen from the film, there's no doubt we've got some explosive guys, some explosive players on both sides of the ball on this football team," Graham said. "Just continue to work fundamentally at getting better, but I've seen marked improvement in those areas that need to get better and the secondary is one of the areas I was impressed with (in the scrimmage)."

With ASU transitioning to new offensive (Billy Napier) and defensive (Phil Bennett) coordinators and a three new position coaches, there's more learning and teaching going on this spring. But Graham doesn't feel like the team is behind where he'd like it to be at this juncture. 

"It's just different," Graham said. "The thing about these coaches is philosophically when you go hire people you want to hire people that fit the profile of what we're looking for and how we do things. It's been pretty smooth from that standpoint. I've been very impressed from that standpoint. It speaks volumes about our place. Both coordinator, both line coaches I've been very pleased with, (wide receivers) coach (Rob) Likens is a fireball, I love him. All the guys I've been very pleased with."


-- Senior safety Marcus Ball hasn't practiced in contact drills this spring, but Graham said it's precautionary due to an undisclosed medical condition. Ball has played with the issue last season and it isn't expected to keep him off the field. Last season he led the team in tackles in the second half of the season after transitioning from Spur to Bandit, and that's where he's likely to again play. ASU is calling it the position the Down (boundary) safety under Bennett. 

"I expect him to be a senior leader," Graham said. "He's going to be a guy that if you put him out there, it would be an even better group than we had in our first scrimmage. He's a guy who has had a lot of experience and I thought was solid for us last year."

-- In the team's first practice after its scrimmage, several players were new additions to the limited participation list, including sophomore wide receiver N'Keal Harry and junior safety Das Tautalatasi, who worked on the side along with sophomore receiver Terrell Chatman. Others, including Ballage, Calhoun and sophomore linebacker Malik Lawal were in green non-contact jerseys, but practicing in all team drills observed by reporters. 

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