CAMP TONTOZONA, Ariz. -- Arizona State wrapped up its annual training camp trip to Camp Tontozona on Saturday, only this year the team didn't hold a scrimmage as it typically does.
With concern over the condition of the field after rain Friday, the Sun Devils opted to hold a more standard practice with extra 11-on-11 action for the 5, 200 fans in attendance.
"We tried to do as much as we could," coach Todd Graham said. "It's something where we've got to be smart and not get anybody hurt."
The end of Camp Tontozona served as a turning point of fall camp. Just six practices remain before the start of game week preparation for the Aug. 28 season opener, so ASU now shifts into next gear. Here's how things played out Saturday.
"Really, really pleased with today. We had a little different day today. We had a lot of controlled situations, wanted to get a lot of work on special teams. ... Worst thing was just dumb penalties. We had a personal foul penalty. We just don't get those. I assure you he probably won't do that again. We had six or seven penalties that we can't have, so we've got a lot of work to do. ... Coming out of here, it's been unbelievable. It's been the best Camp T that we've had. We've got a brotherhood coming down this hill. We've just got to make sure we keep it together. I like this football team. I'm really proud of their development to this point. These guys are focused on winning a championship, and we go down this hill, focus on Weber State and get ready to kick the season off here in less than two weeks. ... I'm never satisfied, but I'm confident coming out of here."
Three players who stood out
Salamo Fiso, linebacker, redshirt sophomore. Fiso didn't make any huge plays Saturday, but he was the first player Graham singled out after practice ended.
"Salamo Fiso is a guy that really, really is stepping up on special teams, defense, just becoming a leader," Graham said. "It's one thing to talk about being a leader. It's another thing to lead. So I'm very pleased with him."
The praise didn't stop there. Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson was also pleased with what he saw Saturday out of Fiso, one of ASU's two returning starters on defense.
"I thought he had a tremendous scrimmage today, did a lot of good things," Patterson said.
Demario Richard, running back, freshman. With ASU's running back corps thin during Camp Tontozona due to injuries, Richard got plenty of opportunities, and he capitalized. He stood out all week, and his performance Saturday drew high praise from offensive coordinator Mike Norvell.
"Demario Richard, I thought, had an unbelievable day," Norvell said. "He's showing that he can be an every-down back that can help take some of that pressure off D.J. (Foster)."
Richard scored twice during 11-on-11 action and showed well as a slot receiver, but his most impressive moment came when he lowered his shoulder and knocked Fiso to the ground for one of the day's harder hits.
Ellis Jefferson, receiver, redshirt freshman. In a day that lacked many big plays, Jefferson had the biggest, catching a pass from backup quarterback Mike Bercovici and taking it 65 yards for a touchdown.
It might have been Jefferson's best day of camp yet, which isn't insignificant, as he has been running with the second team following a strong spring. The two receiver spots alongside Jaelen Strong remain unsettled, so Jefferson could work his way into the mix. With little time left, his showing Saturday helped his cause.
Fall camp is winding down, and ASU kicks off against Weber State in 12 days. With that in mind, I asked both coordinators where their units stand after Camp Tontozona. Here's what they had to say:
Patterson: "I think the most impressive thing about all of fall camp is the amount of defense we threw at our kids and how well they handled it. With all the newcomers, we've thrown a lot of defense at them, put them in a lot of different situations, and they've handled it well.
"I'll tell you, I think we're going to shock people. I think when (teams) start playing us they're going to be looking for those nine starters that left, and they're going to have a hard time trying to find them."
Norvell: "The competition at every position is getting deeper. That's what I'm probably most proud of. You see at receiver we've got guys that are coming along. Our 3-back guys are coming along. The offensive line up front, we keep pushing to build that depth. There's some execution things we've got to get cleaned up. We had some negative plays, but overall I'm pleased with what I saw today.
"We're where we need to be, but we've got to continue to get better. We're not ready to kick off. I'm grateful that we have 12 more days. We've got to sit down and take a look at what we have after this work day and then move all our focus to Weber State. We've got to continue to improve, get better at the play-in, play-out execution, and then we'll be ready for game day."
Seen and heard
-- Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of Saturday's practice personnel wise: Safety Marcus Ball participated more than he has since injuring his shoulder at Camp Tontozona last year. Running with the first team, he remained in a green no-contact jersey but got physical a few times, even making some tackles. Graham said ASU is working Ball back in, but there is no timetable for his full return. For now, it doesn't sound as if he's in contention to start in Week 1.
-- ASU took extra measures to protect its most important players Saturday. Kelly, Bercovici and Foster had already been practicing in gold jerseys, indicating they can't be tackled, but ASU put gold on Jaelen Strong and safety Damarious Randall Saturday as well.
-- That personal foul penalty Graham mentioned? It was on linebacker Antonio Longino, who tackled Richard late in the end zone on one play. He heard about it immediately from Graham, who was livid, and had to do up-downs on the sidelines before returning.
-- Jaxon Hood, on his third day back with the team, practiced fully and saw time at nose tackle with the first-team defense. ASU is still working to get Hood back in shape, but he may be able to contribute sooner than expected.
-- After a couple bad defensive series, Graham gathered his defense up. He didn't sound happy. Before sending the defense back out, he left them with this explanation for why he's so hard on them: "I want you guys to stand at a podium and hoist a Rose Bowl trophy! I've got to strain the (heck) out of you!"
-- Kicker Zane Gonzalez looked sharp again, going 8 for 8 on field-goal attempts.
-- After Richard scored his first touchdown, Graham wasn't happy with the defense's tackling efforts: "This is not flag football guys!"
-- Personnel notes: Receivers Cameron Smith and Ronald Lewis saw first-team action. ... Jordan Simone took second-team reps at bandit safety, behind Ball but ahead of James Johnson. ... The first kick-return opportunities went to Strong and cornerback Kweishi Brown. Kyle Middlebrooks and Jalen Harvey handled the first punt-return duties.
ASU is back in Tempe and returns to practice Monday. The Sun Devils practice twice on Wednesday before taking Thursday off for the start of classes.