With Arizona State's spring practice slate set to conclude with the Sun Devils' annual spring game next Saturday, the program held its second dress rehearsal Friday as the team participated in a closed-door scrimmage.
ASU head coach Todd Graham said the Sun Devils improved on their performance from the program's first scrimmage which was held last Wednesday, and that Friday offered the coaching staff the opportunity to take an extensive look at how its personnel has progressed to this point.
"We had a lot of plays, we had almost 70 plays on offense, so at least three quarters of a game, so 70 plays with the ones and right at 68 plays with the twos and 15 with the threes so it was a long, good scrimmage and we got a lot of tape out there," Graham said. "I thought it was lots of good stuff."
Aside from having the opportunity to evaluate his players in a scrimmage setting, Graham also said Friday gave him a chance to see how his coaching staff would mesh as many of the Sun Devils' assistants worked from the coach's booth in Sun Devil Stadium.
Graham said that it's important for him to gauge the communication of his assistants, and that ASU recorded everything that was said over headsets so that Graham can go back and review the tape.
"That's something that we need as much as we can get," Graham said. "It went good, there's lots of things that we'll learn from it and we record all of that so we'll go back and evaluate it. It's a little bit different."
After the Sun Devils' first scrimmage of the spring, Graham expressed a bit of frustration with his offense's tempo and execution, but said that Friday's scrimmage was a much smoother operation.
Graham attributed the faster pace of Friday's scrimmage to his players becoming more comfortable in new coordinator Billy Napier's system, and his quarterbacks having a better feel for the terminology ASU is using on the field.
"I think we're running the same plays and one of the things that happens as you start to utilize the tight ends and our 3-backs and running backs more in those types of sets, there's more language that goes into that so that's important and you've got to learn it and get comfortable with it," Graham said. "And we've still got to figure out where that's at, how fast is that? The main thing is managing the tempo and being efficient."
Two of the Sun Devils' top standouts from Friday's scrimmage according to Graham were redshirt sophomore punter Michael Sleep-Dalton who drew rave reviews from Graham and redshirt freshman Frank Darby.
Darby began the spring as a Spur linebacker after practicing at wide receiver during his redshirt season a year ago, but switched back to the offensive side of the ball for the first time during Wednesday's practice. On Friday, Darby showed off his explosiveness as he reeled in a pair of touchdown catches, including one from 40-plus yards out.
"Darby moved back over to receiver and had a big touchdown catch, about 40 yards, two touchdown catches, one of them was about 40-something yards so he's a guy that stuck out," Graham said.
At the outset of the spring, the Sun Devils moved Darby and redshirt freshman Jeremy Smith from wide receiver to defense in an attempt to give the Sun Devils' secondary more versatile options. Though Graham said Smith will remain at his new home at safety, he said Darby will likely stick on the offensive side of the ball.
"I think Darby, that kid is like coach, whatever you want me to play, so we go over and look at him on defense and we move him back to offense, he learns what he's doing, scores two touchdowns today, that's the kind of guy you want," Graham said.
Darby wasn't the only receiver who stood out to Graham on Friday, though, as sophomore Terrell Chatman continued to impress the ASU coaching staff. A former four-star recruit, Chatman hasn't played a down on offense yet in his ASU career, but Graham said things are starting to click for the Louisiana native this spring.
"Terrell Chatman," Graham said when asked about spring standouts. "He's really improved, just you know, when kids come in, it's just really fast to them. And then how quickly they adapt and his process to this point had been slow. But man, big time talent potential and he's just, it's like a light went on so he's still got a lot of potential, the sky is the limit, but he's a guy that has really really stuck out to me, marked improvement."
Graham said Friday's scrimmage was relatively even and that both ASU's offense and defense had their fair share of explosive plays, and he attributed much of the defense's success to a quartet of players who have enjoyed strong springs.
ASU's sixth-year head coach singled out the play of senior J'Marcus Rhodes at Spur, redshirt freshman Chase Lucas at cornerback, and freshman D.J. Davidson and junior Renell Wren along the defensive line.
"J'Marcus Rhodes at Spur has really been a standout, Chase Lucas, let's see, up front, D.J. Davidson, when he learns what he's doing, he's going to be a force," Graham said. "Renell Wren, another guy that did not play, he played some last year and then there's a whole bunch of veterans that are working to get better."
With two practices remaining ahead of ASU's spring game next Saturday, Graham said he's hoping the Sun Devils will be able to clean up some of the procedural errors he saw on Friday. The Sun Devils' spring game will be the 15th and final opportunity ASU has to take the field this spring, as players won't have the chance to strap on the pads again until this fall.
"The big thing is just continuing to get better fundamentally," Graham said. "I want to eliminate, too many procedure penalties was probably the big thing. We had very few penalties defensively, we had very few penalties offensively, very few holding penalties, just some procedure penalties and a lot of those were with the twos and stuff like that, we just need to eliminate those."