TEMPE, Ariz. — It should come as no surprise Arizona State’s second fall camp under coach Todd Graham opened with a different tone Tuesday morning. Graham isn’t trying to sell anyone on his plan or establishing rules and standards — that’s all been done.
The tone and atmosphere were ones of familiarity and continuity, with players on the same page working toward the same goal — a Rose Bowl — without the uncertainties of a regime change.
“It’s a different vibe this year,” junior quarterback Taylor Kelly said. “We have high expectations for ourselves, and to accomplish that we have to practice every day really hard.”
Added sophomore defensive lineman Jaxon Hood: “The expectations are through the roof, and there’s no room for slacking of or loafing or anything like that. It’s a whole new level.”
ASU is indeed in a different place than it was a year ago. Then, ASU was a transitioning program with modest expectations after luring Graham away from Pitt after one season. Now, following an 8-5 campaign that included ASU’s first bowl win since 2005, things have changed.
The Sun Devils were picked by Pac-12 media to finish just behind UCLA in the South Division, though they got plenty of first-place votes. They have an All-America defensive tackle returning in Will Sutton and a dangerous backfield trio in Kelly and running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster.
The players recognize what’s at stake, hence the different feeling as the season gets underway.
“It’s just the fire in everyone’s eyes,” Hood said. “As far as some of the star players coaching other players — I think that’s the big difference. And just the intensity.”
Kelly, separately, also mentioned players coaching their teammates.
“That’s our big thing this year,” Kelly said. “We’ll have Will Sutton coaching a rookie, or even Carl Bradford. I’m coaching receivers, receivers are coaching me.”
That kind of motivation to push each other could be the byproduct of a greater comfort level after one year together, but it would also seem to indicate a sense of ownership. The players know the opportunity in front of them and appear to have taken it upon themselves to push each other in order to achieve their goals.
Any first day of fall camp comes with excitement, optimism and high expectations, even for the worst of programs. But accountability to teammates from the get-go is not something you see in every team’s camp.
RIGHT INTO THE FIRE
Tuesday morning’s practice was for returning starters and veterans, with newcomers and some returners watching from the sidelines before their evening practice.
Kicker Zane Gonzalez and punter Matt Haack were the exceptions. The freshmen were dressed and participating from the start Tuesday, further indicating they are ASU’s first options at the positions.
“I thought that was really exciting to watch Zane,” Graham said. “I don’t think he missed a field goal today, so he was very impressive. And Matt’s got a big-time leg, and that left foot is a wicked punt. It’s hard to field.”
Graham has made it pretty clear the kicking job is Gonzalez’s to lose, with Alex Garoutte and Jon Mora still fighting for the job. Haack appears set to take over punting duties, though walk-on Dom Vizzare could challenge him.
Tuesday’s team periods, which were non-contact because ASU is not in pads yet, offered a first look at what the starting 11 on both sides could look like this season. A couple notes on the offense:
— Richard Smith, Kevin Ozier and Alonzo Agwuenu were the first-team receivers. That mix is all but certain to change once new receivers are practicing.
— The offensive line remained the same as the end of spring practice, with Vi Teofilo and Sil Ajawara at the right and left guard spots, respectively.
And a few notes on the defense:
— Gannon Conway remained the first team defensive end over 2012 starter Davon Coleman, who spent time backing up Hood at tackle.
— Boundary cornerback Osahon Irabor was absent due to a summer school class, so Rashad Wadood took his place. Wadood is competing for a starting job at field cornerback, where transfer Lloyd Carrington got first-team reps Tuesday.
— Laiu Moeakiola took first-team reps at field safety Tuesday, though newcomers Damarious Randall and Marcus Ball were not practicing.
— Anthony Jones was the first team Spur linebacker, but Carlos Mendoza, who is expected to get the first shot at the position, was not dressed because he is participating in the evening practice.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
— A few players will be limited by minor injuries early, but only wide receiver Kyle Middlebrooks wore a green “no-contact” jersey Tuesday as he continues to recover from a torn ACL.
— In addition to punting duties, Haack spent time working with receivers.
— Running back Deantre Lewis saw a few first-team reps. Coaches are looking for ways to make use of his explosiveness without taking too much away from Grice or Foster. Lewis impressed in the spring and hopes to have a bounce back year after a frustrating 2012.
— Junior Onyeali practiced with the team despite spending most of the summer working independently. Onyeali was investigated by police for a domestic incident in May but not arrested.
— H-back Chris Coyle seemed uncontainable in team periods, getting open often. He and Kelly connected a handful of times.
— Junior-college transfer Antonio Longino, a linebacker, watched from the sidelines like other newcomers, but unlike the rest he held a small notepad. Whether Longino was taking notes on the practice or reviewing what he already knows, that ought to indicate his desire to earn playing time at the Will linebacker spot.
— ASU comes to fall camp with a returning starting quarterback for the first time since 2008, Rudy Carpenter’s last season in Tempe. The Sun Devils have had five different starting quarterbacks at the start of the past five seasons.