TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State players and coaches constantly stress their goal of winning championships — the Pac-12 championships, the Rose Bowl championship, the national championship.
Coach Todd Graham has made a point of reminding everyone early in fall camp it will take a lot to get to that point after an eight-win season in 2012.
“I say ‘Guys, look, really look at the situation,” Graham said Wednesday. “We just got here a year and a half ago. You think you’re going to win a championship in your second year and just go through the motions. That ain’t gonna happen. You’ve got to work at an intensity that is second to none.”
To that end, Graham has issued early challenges to a few players to be leaders and set an example. The two he’s challenged most are quarterback Taylor Kelly and defensive tackle Will Sutton. Both have become unofficial captains on their respective sides of the ball.
Graham said official team captains won’t be selected for a while, but it is fairly clear Kelly and Sutton will be among that group.
“I can clearly tell you that the most influential football players on our team are far and away Will Sutton and Taylor Kelly,” Graham said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are in that equation for us, but most years if you can name two captains, you’re doing good.”
It’s significant those two players have become the team’s leaders considering where they were a year ago. Kelly was seen as running third in a three-man competition for the starting quarterback job. Sutton was mostly off the radar. Both have embraced the leadership roles.
“I control the defense, and (Kelly) controls the offense,” Sutton said.
Added Kelly: “The leadership — I think guys respect me, and I respect them. (We need) for everybody to just get on the same page this year and grind and have fun with each other.”
Graham also mentioned running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, offensive lineman Evan Finkenberg, safety Alden Darby and cornerback Osahon Irabor as key leaders. D-LINE GETS DEEPER
With the addition of junior college defensive linemen Marcus Hardison and Demetrius Cherry and improvement from senior Gannon Conway, ASU’s defensive line depth is significantly improved over last season.
That might be of most benefit to Sutton, who at times last year played 80 or more snaps in a game, once hitting 91. With capable reserves, Sutton can get more breathers to keep him fresh in games and through the season, even if he’d like to be in every play.
“I don’t want to come out,” Sutton said Wednesday. “But to produce and make big plays on the field you’ve got to be playing (the right number).”
Graham said he’d like to see the number around 70 snaps per game, depending on game situations.
“That’s going to be one of those deals where I’m not going to be too happy about taking him out ever,” Graham said. “We won’t be taking him out too much, but the amount of snaps you play is really critical. … He’s going to play as many snaps as he wants to.”
Sutton admitted to feeling worn down at times last season but did not feel like he could leave games.
When ASU’s newcomers watched veterans practice Tuesday morning, only linebacker Antonio Longino carried a notepad and pen, taking notes of how ASU practices work and what other players were doing.
“That’s just to take notes and see what I’ve got to do because I’m still learning,” Longino said after Tuesday evening’s newcomers session. “I’m not coming in thinking I know it all.”
By Wednesday morning’s second veteran session, a few more newcomers wielded notepads. Longino’s effort to soak everything in from the get-go displayed his eagerness to fulfill his intention of contributing this season.
“I came here trying to make an impact,” Longino said.
Longino, 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, came to ASU from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. He’s expected to compete for playing time at the Will linebacker position, if not a starting job should Chris Young shift back to Spur.
Graham said Longino has progress to make in adjusting to the speed of things, something Longino himself admitted.
“He was really sharp in meetings and stuff,” Graham said Tuesday. “But I think the tempo got to him a little today. … I would tell you he’d probably say that’s the hardest thing he’s ever done.”
A few other newcomers caught Graham’s eye in their first practice, including receivers Cameron Smith, Ronald Lewis and Ellis Jefferson and linebacker Chans Cox, who was with ASU in the spring but missed most of practice with an ankle injury.
Newcomers will practice again Wednesday night. Veterans and newcomers will practice together for the first time Thursday evening.
“What we do is not simple; it’s somewhat complex,” Graham said. “So we can’t slow down coaching the older guys who are basically somewhere around ‘T’ or ‘S’ in the alphabet and the new guys are at ‘A.’ We give them a couple days.”
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
— As expected, highly touted wide receiver Jaelen Strong did not practice Tuesday night as he awaits clearance to practice. Defensive back Damarious Randall and linebacker Eriquel Florence also did not practice as they await clearance. Strong and Randall were present Tuesday night, but Florence was not.
— Wide receiver Joseph Morris missed the first newcomers practice as expected while he recovers from minor foot surgery.
— Freshman Marcus Ball, whose listed position on ASU’s roster is “athlete,” worked his first practice at field safety, where he’s likely to compete for the starting job.
— Graham said Wednesday redshirt junior Lloyd Carrington has taken an early lead in the competition for the open field cornerback spot after a strong summer and start to fall camp. “Carrington is the one that’s been a standout,” Graham said.
Carrington, a transfer from Pitt, is competing with redshirt sophomore Rashad Wadood and senior Robert Nelson.
— A handful of veterans returned for Tuesday night’s newcomers practice simply to watch. Among those present were Kelly, Foster, Darby, defensive lineman Davon Coleman, tight end Darwin Rogers and quarterback Mike Bercovici.
— Former ASU quarterback and current Arizona congressional candidate Andrew Walter attended part of Wednesday morning’s practice, as did former punter Josh Hubner, who is still trying to land a job in the NFL after going undrafted and unsigned last April.