“We are excited and very impressed with Coach Griswold and the training staff and the progress that we made this summer,” Graham said in regards to his team’s off-season strength and conditioning program. “We have had three practices (two with veterans and one with newcomers) and I am very impressed with their mental and physical conditioning and the progress that we have made.
On the other hand, ASU’s Head Coach admitted to being so tired after the first day of fall practice that he ended up sleeping on his couch. “There was no way I was getting in my car and driving home, cause my legs were too sore,” he said.
Graham stated that he is very excited about his teams’ chemistry, and the willingness of the players to embrace the culture change he brought to Tempe.
“We have great synergy right now,” Graham asserted. “I am so excited where we are at and look forward to developing this team. I can’t wait to go to Camp Tontozona and to climb Mt. Kush with the players, I am very lucky to be coaching with my staff.
“I feel like our guys are buying into the things that we need to get done. Our coaching staff was able to bring some great people to our program in a limited amount of time. I was very pleased last night with the speed and explosiveness from our newcomers.”
The ongoing quarterback position battle was naturally a topic brought up early and often during Media Day, and when asked if he would name his starting quarterback at Camp Tontozona, Graham confessed that this decision may not be attainable in the next ten days.
“Normally we scrimmage after six practices, but right now we won’t scrimmage until after ten,” Graham explained. “It was a good evaluation day yesterday. All three quarterbacks are facing a different animal this fall, [because] in spring we were real basic with them. Coming out of the first scrimmage we need to have two leaders, and coming out of camp we need to have our starter.
“The great thing about our situation is all three guys have the respect of the team; they are all high character guys. The one that’s going to play is the one who takes care of the ball.”
Coach Graham commented that he plans on putting all three quarterbacks in game situations and see how they handle the situation.
“We are going to script a bad play and see how they respond,” Graham said, “do they throw the ball away or throw an interception? In spring there was little pressure put on them, but now we are going to script adversity and see how they respond.
There certainly hasn’t been any shortage of idioms since Graham arrived at Arizona State, and today you could add one more phrase to the collection: “own the football.”
“Our offense needs to keep the ball and our defense needs to get the ball back for our offense, period,” Graham said. “All of our guys have their own personal football that they take with them to meetings and to practices. If one of our linemen can take it from them, they get rewarded.”
When asked about managing expectations, especially in a year that will be defined by a steep learning curve, Graham knows no one will exercise patience if the season is defined by a struggle.
“We are in big time recruiting battles, if I sat here and said it’s going to take time, they don’t want to hear that,” Graham stated. “That’s not the reality of our situation. I believe you are going to get what you expect. Can we win a championship this year? I think yes, and that’s what our mission is going to be.
“If we lead the PAC-12 in takeaways and protecting the football, then we will win the league. Success breeds success. I didn’t take this job thinking I couldn’t win in the first year. I don’t want to just go to a bowl game, I want to win a championship, and these kids deserve it.”
Graham believes it is only fair to expect a championship, with all of the work he has his players do on and off the field. “We raised our class attendance 78% and our team average GPA from 2.2 last spring to 2.56,” Graham remarked. “Every person in our program does community service; it’s only fair to our players to expect to win now.
“I asked for permission to coach them hard. I believe in the values and goals that our team has. These players want to win a PAC-12 championship and believe that they can.”
The quality depth at running back has been well documented in any preview done in anticipation of the 2012 season. With just session in the books featuring newcomers D.J. Foster and Marion Grice, Graham couldn’t help but be pleased with their performance.
“My response to watching Marion [Grice] and D.J. [Foster] was wow!” Graham exclaimed. “We have some homerun hitters. (Offensive Coordinator) Coach Norvell will be responsible for giving the best players the ball. We will feed Cameron [Marshall] but there will be 85 plays a game and Cameron [Marshall] will get thirty, so there will be plenty to go around.
“All of these guys are very versatile and can do some different things. We will line up in a lot of two back formations, but we can also switch it up to where D.J., Cameron, and Marion are all on the field together.”
Graham added that he very impressed with his young receivers as well. “Rick Smith has got some jets,” he said. “Alonzo [Agwuenu] was also very impressive last night.”
ASU’s Head Coach believes that first-year Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell can successfully guide the Sun Devil offense.
“Coach Norvell is the most passionate coach I have been around,” Graham said. “I put a lot of trust in him. He is a tireless worker and understands it’s about the players. He is still hands down the best recruiter on our staff.”
When looking back on his past eight months since being named the Sun Devil skipper, Graham spoke very highly of his time in Tempe.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege, being a Sun Devil is not just saying it,” Graham stated. “I have met a lot of students and fans to learn their values and to do this the right way. It has been everything I thought it would be. It has been a lot of hard work but the potential is incredible, I have never had a job like this.
“You don’t just fit any place, you have to fit the place and have knowledge of what the situation is.”
Graham has made no secret of wanting to implement an up-tempo style of play on both sides of the ball. There have been encouraging signs in the spring that this pace could be maintained, yet that approach needed to be tinkered with during the first few sessions of fall camp.
“We are moving at a turtle’s pace to make sure our young guys don’t get shocked,” Graham explained. “I don’t want to stun them; we aren’t even 10 percent towards mastering the tempo. At conditioning we are 75 percent to where we need to be mentally and physically. Personally I feel it take 2 to 2 ½ years to get to run at the level we want to.
“What’s most important is that we will have a new quarterback and we need to find the spot where the quarterback is successful. We won’t go slow, we will go fast but we need to find that spot [speed]. The key with tempo is that it can work against you and can fatigue your team midway through the season. We are about 70 to 80 percent towards the tempo where we want to be for the season.”