With a cold wind whipping through the stadium under big puffy white clouds, the 2012 Arizona State Sun Devils took to Frank Kush Field in Sun Devil Stadium for their second official scrimmage of the spring. This scrimmage was very different than the first, and we don’t mean the crisp spring 55 degree weather.
It was clear that the team was learning the system and buying into the Todd Graham philosophy. The players were getting into their formations quickly, and the plays were getting off faster. Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell could still be heard throughout the entire city of Tempe yelling “RUN IT! RUN IT!”. Defensive players were moving with more passion in the new scheme, and some were starting to react to plays rather than think. As one elderly Sun Devil fan in the stands said, “I haven’t seen this much enthusiasm in a long time.”
The defense had a strong scrimmage. Linebackers Brandon Johnson, Grandville Taylor, and Kipeli Koniseti were flying all around the field making numerous tackles. Koniseti is a powerful blitzer, as several times he violently pummeled offensive linemen into the offensive backfield. Of course, junior defensive tackle Will Sutton was a force in the middle on the defensive line. Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr had interceptions, and fumble recoveries were credited to Sutton and Carr. After the first quarter, Coach Graham interrupted Defensive Coordinator Paul Randolph and passionately spoke to the defense. Graham wasn’t yelling, but it was a strong plea for playing with passion and to “not be zombies”. Linebacker Anthony Jones quickly responded with a hit in the backfield on the first play back. Later Jones forced a fumble. Defensive tackle Corey Adams returned to the defensive line, but senior MLB Brandon Magee did not play. However, Magee was passionately cheering his teammates on the sideline while acting as another defensive coach calling out plays and making sure teammates were ready.
On the offensive side of the ball, spring is about which quarterback is going to step up as the leader and take the starting job. All quarterbacks showed their strengths and their areas for development in this scrimmage. Mike Bercovici, who started the scrimmage, throws the most accurate ball. He worked the entire field and utilized the tight end position to keep drives moving. Bercovici obviously isn’t the best runner of the three, but he can move. Bercovici doesn’t have anchors for feet, but it’s clear he is not as comfortable running. Bercovici did fumble once on an awkward slide. Taylor Kelly ran effectively out of the QB spot, but he struggled getting the ball downfield to spread the defense out. Michael Eubank continues to be a strong runner, never afraid of contact. Eubank has a great arm, but some of his passes were late or high which resulted in two interceptions. No clear leader out of the three right now, but each are improving. Expect some big things from all of them next Saturday.
For the second straight scrimmage, James Morrison showed that he can be a powerful, between the tackles runner. Several times, Morrison drew oohs and ahs from the crowd for plowing through defenders. It looks more like Morrison is hitting the defender than the defender hitting him. With incoming running backs DJ Foster and Marion Grice and the return of Cameron Marshall in the fall, Morrison is showing that he wants strong consideration for carries during the season. While the receivers struggled again due to timing issues with the QBs, two receivers stepped up during the scrimmage. Tight end Max Smith caught 7 balls for about 70 yards and 1 TD. Getting extra repetitions due to the injury of Chris Coyle, Smith was definitely getting tired blocking on every play, but Smith never quit. Even on plays where Smith caught passes, those plays started with Smith blocking the outside linebacker into the middle of the pack. Redshirt freshman Gary Chambers had 3 catches on the day, 2 for TDs. Chambers worked the middle of the field with power and speed and he showed strong hands going up for his TD grabs. However, all receivers though need to work on their offensive timing with the QBs.
In special teams performances, Josh Hubner as usual had some big strong punts. Alex Garoutte was 5 for 7 on FGs. He made his first two, and after his first miss, Coach Graham ran over and started coaching. It was quite impressive because Graham was passionately telling Garoutte to kick with power and confidence instead of trying to chip it through the uprights. Graham was physically showing Garoutte the difference by swinging his leg soft and then swinging it in a powerful, head down driving style kick. Garoutte definitely showed his big leg after that mini-coaching session.
Some interesting personnel changes were seen during the scrimmage. Due to the injuries of Marshall and Kyle Middlebrooks, Morrison and Deantre Lewis are the only running backs on the depth chart. Marcus Washington moved back to RB, from his new H-Back position, and Washington showed a strong running style, especially during a 40 yard rush down the right side of the field. For all field goals and extra points, the entire block team was offensive lineman with Koebensky taking over on the right edge. The three man punt wall that sits just in front of Josh Hubner was manned by Toa Tuitea, Jamil Douglas, and Jake Sheffield for this scrimmage. The first team offensive line remained in tact: Finkenberg, Douglas, Koebensky, Sampson, Schwab. However, on the 2nd team, Devin Goodman replaced Mo Latu at center.
This scrimmage was very situation play focused. The team’s warmed up with some 7 vs 7 drills, and before the scrimmage, the defense did some INT return drills while the punt team focused on protection when backed up in the end zone. Similarly to the start of the scrimmage, the end of the day focused on plays for punting, game-winning field goals, 2 point attempts, and 2 minute drills. The punting drills focused on plays backed up in the end zone again, pinning the opponent deep when punting from mid-field, and strong punt block schemes.
Two practices remain on Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 6pm. The spring season ends next Saturday with the official Spring Game at 1PM in Sun Devil Stadium after Pat’s Run.