Quarterback depth presents challenge for Sun Devils

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said last season he believed the Sun Devils had the best quarterback depth in the nation. He believes that even more a year later.

“I think we have three guys that can definitely win football games for us,” Norvell said. “And they’ve all improved. They’re getting better each and every day.”

With each passing day, though, the challenge of keeping two talented backups happy behind a starter on the rise gets more and more difficult.

As junior Taylor Kelly enters his second season as ASU’s starter, redshirt sophomores Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank await their chances, but with what might be dwindling patience.

Asked Monday where ASU stood on the depth chart behind Kelly, coach Todd Graham deferred to Norvell but leaned toward Bercovici.

“From an operational standpoint I think Bercovici’s the guy,” Graham said. “Obviously, I think Mike Eubank will have his package, and I think they’re competing pretty closely there, but I think, and you need to ask Mike this, I imagine right now if we went with a (No.) 2, it would be Bercovici.”

Norvell was slightly less definitive but similarly leaned toward Bercovici while noting Eubank’s role in certain packages.

“Bercovici’s a guy I have total confidence could come in and run the offense and put us in a position to win football games,” Norvell said. “If something was to happen, we definitely have a plan moving forward, and those guys are competing for how much they’re going to have that. Whether it’s Taylor or Bercovici, Eubank’s going to have a package.”

That’s a change from last season, when Bercovici was first to fall out of the three-man competition. Bercovici had ball security issues and ended up redshirting the season. Now, he’s lost around 20 pounds, he’s becoming more mobile and he understands the offense better.

“He’s got a tremendous understanding of the offense,” Norvell said. “He’s really developed himself as a guy that can be a run threat. He’s always had a great arm and been able to put the ball in a lot of different spots, but (mobility) is something he’s definitely improved on.”

But with Kelly coming off an outstanding 2012 season, Bercovici’s improvement would seem just a depth bonus, security in the event something happened to Kelly.

That’s not how Bercovici sees it. Coaches encourage players to compete every day as if they were trying to win a starting job, and that’s Bercovici story.

“I feel like I’m competing for the starting job,” he said. “That’s what coach said during the offseason, and that’s what I plan to do.
“I know I can step into a game right now and win every game on that schedule. I feel like I’m ready to do that.”

Eubank would obviously like to be the starter as well but approaches it with a less aggressive mindset. He believes he has earned more playing time but isn’t vocal about the issue.

“I feel like I’ve earned a little more than situational packages, but that’s what the coaches feel, and they’re going to do whatever they feel is right for the team,” Eubank said. “Whatever’s coming to me, whatever blessings God sees my way, I’m just going to take full advantage of it and keep myself on the field this year.”

Norvell said the extent of Eubank’s use in situational packages has potential to grow based on productivity. But even so, barring injury it seems unlikely he’ll get more snaps than he did a year ago, considering Kelly’s development.
With both players so eager for an increased role, coaches must find ways to satisfy their hunger for playing time. As with any Division I program, quarterback depth is a tricky thing to handle.

Both Bercovici and Eubank admit friends and even teammates have told them they should consider transferring for a quicker opportunity.

“That’s the popular thing that everybody wants to do,” Bercovici said. “But that’s stuff I don’t let affect me too much. I know they’re trying to look out for me, they’re seeing the situation from a third-party perspective, but I’m in it right now, I know what I can do, and I know I’m going to get a chance this year, and when I do I’m not going to let this team down.”

Said Eubank: “Of course you have little people in your ear here and there. That just comes with the territory, but I’m just here, and I’m working. That obstacle hasn’t come up just yet, but if it does, it does, and we’ll deal with it then. Right now I’m just working to get better.”

Bercovici is on track to graduate in May, but he says that has nothing to do with a future elsewhere (as a graduate student, he could potentially play immediately with two years of eligibility). He started classes early at ASU and is simply following his academic timeline.
Eubank has expressed numerous times his continued desire to be at ASU but craves more playing time.

“I’m here, I’m still practicing, I’m in camp,” Eubank said. “I’m just going to take that bridge if it ever comes. I hope it doesn’t, but if it does, I’m going to have to cross it.”

Graham has expressed his frustration with the quarterback transfer trend more than once. “What if every position were that way?” he has asked.

Norvell and Graham preach a philosophy of opportunity — that the opportunity to contribute could come at any moment.

“We talk about all the time ‘It’s always one play away,” so you can’t worry about what everyone else is saying, you can’t worry about what the outside world is saying about our competition,” Norvell said.
“You just have to be ready for your time, because when your time comes, it’s going to be on you.”

As much as such quarterback depth presents a challenge, it also fosters competition on a daily basis, with all three quarterbacks pushing each other. Kelly might not be hearing footsteps, but he at least knows he has two talented players behind him eager to take his job and must keep pushing himself accordingly.

If he doesn’t, there are two guys who are certain — and coaches share their belief — they can step in and lead ASU to wins on a weekly basis.

“I feel like when my opportunity comes I’m going to make the most of it,” Bercovici said. “And like I’ve said to everyone else, once I get on the field, I don’t plan on coming off for three years.”