Arizona State opens fall camp Friday for coach Todd Graham's third year in Tempe. Coming off a 10-4 season that included a Pac-12 South title, the Sun Devils are motivated for more but face a number of challenges. Preseason camp spans 29 practices, including a trip to Camp Tontozona from Aug. 12-16, leading up to ASU's season opener with Weber State on Thursday, Aug. 28. Here are five storylines to watch in camp.
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One of ASU's best seasons in the past two decades ended with disappointing losses in the Pac-12 title game and Holiday Bowl, but not long after the equipment was stored away, the mantra for 2014 was launched: Unfinished Business. The phrase has been the rallying cry for a group determined to take the next step and win the Pac-12 title. Graham's teams have always shown well on the practice field but might be a little more motivated this fall, so look for a new energy about camp.
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Rebuilding the defense
Without question, ASU's defensive rebuild stands as the biggest thing to watch this fall. ASU is replacing nine starters, seven of whom earned All-Pac-12 honors last season. Graham and new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson have a tall task, and losing top junior college recruits Darrius Caldwell and Dalvon Stuckey for academic reasons makes it even tougher. Three expected replacements have starting experience, but there will be some wide-open battles for several starting positions.
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ASU's special teams units, save field goal kicking, ranked among the Pac-12's worst last season and proved costly in a few big games. That prompted offseason changes, as special teams coordinator Joe Lorig was pushed out and special teams duties were split up. Tight ends coach Chip Long is handling offensive special teams, while Patterson is handling defensive duties. Expect a heavy focus on specials teams in camp as the Sun Devils fine-tune their approach and work to determine the best personnel for each unit.
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Reloading the offense
ASU's offense finished 10th nationally in scoring last season but could be even better this year. Fall camp won't bring many major changes to the unit, which returns eight starters including quarterback Taylor Kelly and receiver Jaelen Strong, but a few changes will be implemented in earnest. D.J. Foster is the featured back, De'Marieya Nelson is the primary tight end, and transfer Christian Westerman will join the starting offensive line. Fall camp should give a hint of how much better the offense can be.
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The new guys
Graham landed a top 25 recruiting class that features plenty of the explosive athletes Graham loves. The group got fans more excited than any recent signing class, but will it live up to its billing? At least a handful of players are expected to contribute this season and will have fall camp to prove they can. A few to watch: RB De'Chavon Hayes, WR Eric Lauderdale, CB Kweishi Brown, DL Connor Humphreys.