Graham pleased with team’s progress

Graham pleased with team’s progress

With just a few days remaining before the Arizona State football team will travel 80 miles northeast to their annual Camp Tontozona training session in Payson, Ariz., the team hosted media day on Saturday led by head coach Todd Graham’s opening statement.

“Things are going well, I am really pleased with our guys’ development for the first phase of what we call ‘training camp,’” Graham said. “We have a couple days left before we go to Camp Tontozona. I think we have accomplished a lot of things, and I really like this group’s leadership; it’s the best leadership we have had for the third year, and everything is just better.”

“As far as the buy-in and how we do things, we have a very talented freshmen class. Things are definitely on target and going well. We had a really great first scrimmage today, everyone competed with great passion and I am really pleased with where we are. Particularly our guys on defense, they really held up well today, and it was a good scrimmage.

“I like this football team. Our motto is ‘Unfinished Business’ and for us to be Pac-12 Championships. Our program is going to be about winning championships. Every rep, every day, everything we do, I think we’re right in on having a 3.0 football team now.

“We had 70 Scholar Ballers, guys operating with a 3.0 or higher, so we have a lot to things to be excited about, I can’t wait to get up to Camp T, and getting started up there.”

*****

Confidence in newcomers

With plenty of returning, high-profile starters on the offense, the expectation for the Sun Devils is that the unit will carry the load in 2014. They will be expected to lead the team to victory in spite of a defense that lacks experience after losing nine starters from the year prior.

Those expectations don’t match the ones laid out by Graham on Saturday, though.

“Good programs and great programs reload but they don’t re-build,” Graham said. “To our fans, our students, and the Sun Devil nation, anything less than being Pac-12 champions is unsatisfactory.”

Still, he understands the challenges faced by the coaching staff as they prepare for a season of almost entirely new faces on the defensive side of the ball.

“We don’t have a lot of experience or depth so we are going to have to stay healthy and get that experience and continue to grow,” Graham said. “The success of our defensive side will be predicated on how well we develop the interior of our defensive line and how well we can get pressure on the quarterback.”

The interior of the defensive line, which Graham admitted is “fairly thin” in depth, features several new faces, including freshmen Tashon Smallwood and Connor Humphreys, as part of the cast of characters tasked with filling the hole left by the departure of two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Will Sutton.

While expectations of Sutton-like production is likely unfair for those rotating in at the Tiger role that the new member of the Chicago Bears found so much success in, Graham has raved about the early growth of the youth on the roster.

“We pride ourselves on is transitioning our Junior College players and our freshmen,” Graham said. “We will probably have less super stars this season, but I like our defensive unit.”

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Lofty expectation from the offense

While attention in camp has been on the development of an inexperienced and relatively unknown defense, there’s no question where the strength of the team is: on offense. Leading the way for the group is senior quarterback Taylor Kelly, who expects to be in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy.

“It’s definitely a goal of mine,” Kelly said of the Heisman Trophy. “But the main goal is the Rose Bowl, the Pac-12 Championship and the National Championship. As long as I can accomplish my team aspirations all my individual goals will come true. If I win a national championship I have no doubt that all my individual goals will come true for me.”

If the team is able to accomplish their lofty goals, it will likely be primarily on the shoulder of Kelly, who will have an increased role in his third year at the helm.

“We want [Kelly] to be a Pac-12 Championship quarterback,” Graham said. “Some of that requires us to let go of some of our control. Taylor Kelly needs to be the offensive coordinator for our offense on that field. Part of that is us letting go of him and that is hard to do.”

That dialed down role is something that offensive coordinator Mike Norvell has had to prepare for.

“Most people think by your third year you’re going to add all this offense because you have more time and more understanding. I’ve actually tried to almost scale back a little bit and just be able to change the variations of how we present things, but let Taylor go out there and just run the show,” Norvell said. “Let Taylor just go out there and go through his reads, pick apart the defense. I don’t necessarily call the perfect play, but instead give him multiple options.”

With his third and final season as the ASU starter set to begin soon, Kelly is prepared for the increased role.

“I’m excited. Coach Norvell has given me a lot of flexibility to check out of plays whether it’s in the run or pass game, being able to flip protection, but mainly I’m able to check with him on the sideline whether it’s going to be a good play or not,” Kelly said. “I’m very confident in the offense. I’m starting to think the way Coach Norvell is thinking.

“If a big play happens, I can almost guess the next play with our tempo. I’m very confident in myself.

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