Arizona State's opportunities to get better this spring are increasingly scarce. The Sun Devils will practice just once more ahead of Saturday's spring game, but their head coach Todd Graham is pleased by how things are progressing considering they have new coordinators on offense and defense.
"Really like how our guys are competing," Graham said Monday. "I thought they competed really hard, got better as a team. A lot of the things that we wanted to get accomplished in those first 12 practices, I think we did. Looking forward to this week. We'll have a pretty competitive Wednesday and Saturday. The next two days will be half-compete and then obviously the Spring Game is all compete.
"We'll do a lot of compete stuff, like our W Drill, our Score Drill, we'll do some 7-on-7 and then we'll scrimmage."
Graham has been careful not to show media any 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 this spring as they've installed schemes that have been tweaked, at minimum, and potentially even overhauled, particularly on offense. As a result, he's not going to show too much during Saturday's scrimmage, which will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.
"When they put it on TV," Graham said, when asked about the stripped down scrimmage that fans see to conclude spring ball. "So everybody is going to watch it, so you have to be very bland about what you're doing, especially your communication."
Stylistic changes have been more pronounced on offense, where the Sun Devils have had three coordinators in three years, and are going to look structurally a fair amount different than they did in 2016 under Chip Lindsey. But on defense, the changes are more in how the defense will be communicated and called. Graham and first-year defensive coordinator Phil Bennett have known one another for more than 20 years and are very much on the same page when it comes to their aggressive approach.
"I think the biggest thing is how similar, just philosophically," Graham said. "Defensively, our guys are used to a certain intensity and a certain passion, and he's been a great fit from that aspect. He's done a good job of blending and marrying things. The thing that's been good about it, the origin of what we've done, that's who I learned from in my 20s. Even though there's something things, we call something cloud or key, you use a different term, but basically very similar schematically. More than anything, just his personality, the teaching style, the defense has markedly improved."
Graham got to know Bennett in 1995-96, when he was the defensive coordinator for Texas A&M's all-time winningest coach, R.C. Slocum, the father of current ASU Associate Head coach Shawn Slocum.
"I was just a little high school coach," Graham said. "Me and [ASU linebackers coach Keith) Patterson, (Bennett) used to meet with us," Graham said. "We would work camp and they would come to our high school at Allen and clinic there. That's how we developed there...studied a lot of football there and just loved it. It was just a good fit because really his style that really fits and one that our guys respond to."
-- Sophomore wide receiver Ryan Newsome was playing at the Z-receiver (outside receiver) position today while senior Ryan Jenkins was playing at the H (slot). Newsome has previously worked at the H while Jenkins previously worked at the X.
--Redshirt freshman Frank Darby was wearing No. 86 and working with the receivers during individual drills. Todd Graham said late last week that they're likely to keep Darby on offense and he had two touchdown catches with the reserves in Friday's scrimmage.
-- Todd Graham has been talking about the Sun Devils using more two-back sets offensively but we just haven't seen that to this point -- until today. Seniors Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard were on the field together with the first-team in tempo, and then in the skill period, Ballage worked on route running from a near slot alignment.
-- After taking last year off to address academics, junior college transfer Doug Subtyl is continuing to make progress, and his arrival for the spring should help out a lot according to his head coach. "He's learning," Graham said. "He hasn't played football in almost two years. Obviously he's got a lot of ability, and just really raw. This has helped him tremendously, getting here in the spring."