The Arizona State football team took the practice field last week for the first time in 2013 and this season seemed different than before. Last season’s first spring practice saw the introduction of head coach Todd Graham and his staff. This season, the players are more comfortable and familiar with Graham, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same old, same old.
Coach Graham has opted this year for shorter, more intense practices. I had the opportunity to visit practices last week and was surprised by this trend.
“We will only go 20 periods,” Graham said. “It is a lot faster, but we’re getting a lot more reps in a shorter period of time. So I thought today was really good.”
Senior center Kody Koebensky shared his thoughts about the new practice regime.
“He didn’t keep us out there that long, but during that time frame, I mean, he gets 100 percent out us, whether we want to or not,” Koebensky said. “We’re getting real good work within that two hours.”
Thursday’s practice was the first time that the Devils padded up and experienced full contact since the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 29.
Here is the list of those whose stock is rising and who is on the way down.
Stock Up: D.J. Foster
The sophomore running back was injured in the final game of the season and sat out most of it with only one rushing attempt and two receptions.
The injury to the 180-pound freshman was due to his small stature. The Freshman All-American entered spring practice at 205 pounds—adding 25 pounds of pure muscle.
Foster was an integral part of the Sun Devils rushing attack last season and was second on the team in all-purpose yards with 1026. His 533 receiving yards were third best on the team and his 493 rushing yards were fourth best.
Foster was highly recruited out of Scottsdale’s Saguaro High School and was one of only six players in Sun Devil history to start in their first opportunity as a true freshman. He was also awarded All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention, and his 38 receptions along with 533 yards registered No. 2 all time for Arizona State freshmen.
With the added bulk, Foster believes that his future is blaringly bright.
“It will help taking those hits from the big boys up front.” Foster said knowing the muscle will assist in “adding longevity and last as an every down back.”
Stock Down: Chans Cox
Arizona State’s prized recruit, linebacker Chans Cox could be one-and-done this spring.
Cox was battling an ankle injury in his final season at Lakeside’s Blue Ridge High School and it apparently returned during Tuesday’s first practice.
He spent the week’s practices in a walking boot and did not participate in practice, performing exercises on the sidelines.
Cox, who graduated early to participate in spring drills, was slotted to play the Devilbacker position left vacant by Brandon Magee. The spot will now most likely be filled by redshirt junior Carl Bradford.
“Chans, we’ll just kind of see how it goes week by week,” Coach Todd Graham said Saturday. “They’re going to do a little procedure on, so (it’s) probably likely that either one of them won’t be very good (to participate this spring).”
Graham is also speaking of redshirt freshman offensive lineman Stephon McCray who is recovering from a torn meniscus.
Stock Up: Kevin Ozier
The heir apparent to lead the Sun Devils receiving squad made a big impression in the first week of spring practice.
Ozier is unofficially listed as the No. 1 receiver on the depth chart and has caught some nice passes in tight coverage.
Coach Graham has brought in a number of new receivers that will be joining the team in the fall and will push Ozier, Alonzo Agwuenu and Richard Smith.
Ozier played in all 13 games and was sixth on the team in receptions and receiving yards. He was the No. 3 wide receiver with 21 receptions for 324 yards and five touchdowns. The two receivers ahead of him both graduated last season and Ozier is ready to anchor this receiving corps.
The former walk-on has earned the respect of the coaches and teammates; Vontaze Burfict is witholding comment.
Stock Down: Alex Garoutte
Here we go again.
After starting the 2012 season as the Sun Devils starting kicker, Garoutte only converted 1-of-4 field goals under 40 yards in the Sept. 29 game against California and lost the starting job to Jon Mora. Mora converted his only attempt versus Colorado but was supplanted by Garoutte the following week against Oregon.
Garoutte missed his only attempt and Mora was permanently reinstated as the field-goal kicker. Mora went on to miss only one attempt in the final five games, but attempted nothing over 40 yards.
The onus is on the redshirt junior Garoutte to take over the full range of kicking responsibilities: kickoffs, field goals and PATs. He, however, has not impressed coaches with his field-goal accuracy.
Garoutte went all season without missing a PAT, he was 51-of-51 coming into the final game of the season and missed one to finish off the year just shy of 100 percent at 59-of-60.
Hopefully, this isn’t a harbinger of things to come in the 2013 season as field goals and PATs can make or break the Sun Devils in close games.
Stock Up: Taylor Kelly
It’s hard to fathom the amount of improvement in the redshirt junior quarterback from Eagle, Idaho. Last year at this time, he was in a dead heat battling young guns Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici for the starting position.
Even with the decimation of Northern Arizona in the season opener, Coach Graham wasn’t sold on Kelly and allowed Michael Eubank considerable playing time in the next three games. Excluding the Oregon game, Kelly stepped it up and became the quarterback that Graham knew he could be and thus pulled back on Eubank’s snaps.
Kelly cemented his position in the final three games of the season averaging 235 yards passing and 47 yards rushing. He also added eight passing touchdowns and one rushing score over that stretch.
Coach Graham has brought in a bevy of new receivers for the upcoming season, but for now, Kelly needs to build a rapport with receivers that aren’t coming out of the H-back or running back position. He has found Kevin Ozier several times in practice but also needs to look for Alonzo Agwuenu and Richard Smith.
Kelly is firing on all cylinders and is enjoying his time out on the field in the first week.
“I’m loving it.” Kelly said. “We understand where to go and where to line up so we are moving at a much faster pace.”
Stock Down: Carlos Mendoza
The remarkable freshman linebacker received his first start last season in the Week 2 game against Illinois filling in for Brandon Magee. Mendoza intercepted two passes that game before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury and garnered seven tackles through the first two games.
Mendoza had surgery to repair the shoulder injury and was slated to dominate at the WILL position this spring and heading into the fall.
At spring practice, he was wearing a green ‘no-contact’ jersey on Thursday and Saturday and has yet to participate in anything other than drills.
Redshirt senior Grandville Taylor has been playing the WILL position and deserves the start if Mendoza isn’t ready for contact in the fall.
New Faces, New Places
The coaching staff for Todd Graham has gone through a bit of a shakeup.
As of the beginning of spring practice, there have been several changes on and off the field.
Jackie Shipp (pictured), a former NFL linebacker with the Miami Dolphins who spent 22 years coaching college football including 14 years as the defensive line coach at the University of Oklahoma, will coach the defensive line at Arizona State.
This will allow Defensive Coordinator Paul Randolph to focus on the linebackers. Chris Ball was also promoted to Co-Defensive Coordinator and will coach the secondary.
The recruiting staff also saw changes in welcoming 13-year coaching veteran Sherman Morris to the Assistant Athletics Director for Recruiting position. Morris, who has spent the past six years as the Director of Player Personnel for Les Miles at Louisiana State University, comes to Tempe with several recruiting accolades, including the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in Division I football in 2009.
The on-campus recruiting coordinator, Bo Graham, leaves the recruiting office and will take over as the running backs coach. Graham formerly coached his father’s running back squad at the University of Tulsa.
Former Texas Tech interim head coach Chris Thomsen was originally hired in January as the running backs coach following the departure of Larry Porter to the University of Texas. Thomsen, one of the best offensive line coaches in the country, was named the offensive line coach after Graham announced that Bob Connelly would not be returning in the 2013 season.
Here is the revamped list of all Arizona State coaches.
- Todd Graham—Head Coach
- Paul Randolph—Senior Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator (Linebackers)
- Mike Norvell—Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach
- Chris Ball—Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Passing Game/Safeties
- Jackie Shipp—Assistant Coach/Defensive Line
- Chris Thomsen—Assistant Coach/Offensive Line
- DeVaughn Alexander—Assistant Coach/Wide Receivers
- Bo Graham—Assistant Coach/Running Backs
- Chip Long—Assistant Coach/Tight Ends (Recruiting Coordinator)
- Joe Lorig—Assistant Coach/Special Teams (Cornerbacks)
- Four Graduate Assistants including former ASU standouts Rudy Burgess and Aaron Pflugrad