Wilkins, Barnett ahead of competition

Arizona State held its final practice session of the spring Wednesday ahead of Saturday's spring game at Sun Devil Stadium.

With Arizona State's spring game rapidly approaching, the Sun Devils held their penultimate practice of the spring Wednesday in preparation for the marquee competition of the offseason. 

Though the Sun Devils aren't expected to hold a full-contact scrimmage this Saturday, head coach Todd Graham emphasized the elements of Saturday's spring game he's looking forward to including the opportunity to interact with fans and watch his players compete on the field for the final time before fall camp. 

"Get out here, fans are going to get to call plays, a lot of them critique the plays pretty good from the stands, get your chance to call them and it's going to be a lot of fun," Graham said. "A lot of fans, a lot of interaction on the field, we're going to have a lot of competition, old school competition, the old, what people call the Oklahoma drill, we'll be doing some fun stuff like that and then we're going to play about a half of football."

With the spring winding down, Graham said the Sun Devils' quarterback competition has heated up to the point where ASU is now evaluating two primary candidates for its starting job.

Junior Manny Wilkins and sophomore transfer Blake Barnett have clearly established themselves as the front-runners for the job, according to Graham, while sophomore Dillon Sterling-Cole has been relegated to working with the second and third-team offenses. Neither sophomore Bryce Perkins or sophomore Brady White have been cleared for full participation this spring after suffering season-ending injuries last fall, but it appears both quarterbacks will have to work from behind come August if they hope to catch up with Wilkins and Barnett. 

"They stand, Manny wears No. 5 and Blake wears No. 8," Graham said. "It's just, I mean obviously those two guys are the main, Dillon (Sterling-Cole) is running with the second and thirds there, you've got Bryce and you've got Brady that are not able to compete right now so it's been really, those two guys are ahead of everyone else."

Like he has for much of the spring, Graham said that he's not as focused on the physical elements of how Wilkins and Barnett are performing because he's looking for the player who establishes himself as the best leader for ASU's offense. In the past, Graham's quarterbacks have always served as team captains --including last year, when Wilkins was a team captain as a sophomore. 

"I'm looking for the guy that elevates the other 10 guys on the field," Graham said. "I'm looking for the next Taylor Kelly. The guy that has the kind of leadership to lead us to a championship, that's what I'm looking for. It's the intangibles more than it is all the physical stuff. It's how he impacts the other 10 guys and how he impacts their plays."

With new coordinators on both sides of the ball, ASU spent much of the spring installing new playbooks and drilling in new terminology. For the second straight offseason, Graham brought in a slew of new assistants, but he said the assimilation process for the assistants hasn't been a challenge to deal with this spring.

Graham attributed the seamless transition for ASU's new coaches to the culture he and his players have established over the past five seasons, and said that at this point, there's no reason for the Sun Devils to stray from the identity that has been cultivated within the program since Graham arrived.

"We're not changing in year six, get rid of the stuff that doesn't work and build upon the things that do. And we've done some things well. Our players have been here, they haven't changed jobs. So there's not that much change. Some terminology things, but I'll be real honest with you, most of that stuff, I wish we left it the way it was. I just like their attitude, their work ethic in the 14 practices, we've gotten better fundamentally, and we wanted to have our identity back and our identity as a football team and our identity as a football team is hard-core discipline."

News and notes

  • Sophomore quarterback Bryce Perkins, sophomore offensive lineman Cade Cote, junior cornerback Kareem Orr, sophomore wide receiver Kyle Williams and senior defensive back Marcus Ball all wore green jerseys and were limited in their participation during Wednesday's practice.
  • Sophomore quarterback Brady White, sophomore defensive end Jalen Bates, freshman running back Eno Benjamin, senior wide receiver Cameron Smith and senior defensive lineman Corey Smith were all non-participants at Wednesday's practice.
  • ASU performed a 'W' tackling drill during the portion of practice media was allowed to view and senior tight end Christian Hill, junior running back Kalen Ballage, junior wide receiver Jalen Harvey and senior center A.J. McCollum were among the standouts from the drill.
  • The 11-on-11 sessions at Saturday's spring game will not include full tackling. 

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