Graham sees many issues in ASU's scrimmage
TEMPE, Ariz. -- There were few conclusions to draw from Arizona State’s first spring scrimmage on Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium. But conclusions weren’t the plan.
“We’ve got a long ways to go,” said coach Todd Graham, who emphasized the need for more discipline. “Too many penalties, too many times putting the ball in jeopardy, things like that.”
Graham and his staff tried to simulate game situations, using the scoreboard and an announcer while simulating on-field scenarios such as a two-minute drill and overtime.
There were pluses. Linebacker Israel Marshall showed a consistent ability to make plays, linebacker Kipeli Koniseti had two sacks and receiver Kevin Ozier had a few touchdown grabs. The defensive line was consistently in the offensive backfield, and running back James Morrison continues to run and work hard even when it appears impossible that he will see the field since he's at a loaded position that includes Cameron Marshall, Deantre Lewis, Kyle Middlebrooks, Marion Grice and D.J. Foster.
But there were also six dropped interceptions, a rash of penalties, limited production from the passing game and a few turnovers.
“A lot of positive things and an awful lot of work to be done,” Graham said.
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said this week he was anxious to see what his young quarterbacks -- Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank and Taylor Kelly -- could do with live bullets flying.
Each threw an interception and each had moments where he moved the ball, but overall, the offense didn’t look particularly sharp.
It is clear the coaching staff is comfortable running Eubank more than the others. He has good field vision when he takes off and an ability to slip tackles in traffic. How well he can master the nuances of the passing game will determine how quickly Eubank can challenge Bercovici for the starting role.
Bercovici took the offensive reins first, Eubank was second and Kelly was third, perhaps an indication of the current pecking order. Bercovici still appears to have the most command of the passing game, but how will he adapt to the run portion of the game as an erstwhile pro-style quarterback? And how will any of the trio handle being thrust into the spotlight?
“The main bad thing is just inexperience,” Graham said. “They don’t have any experience, and what they have is in a different offense.”
YOU MUST BE SOUND IN THE KICKING GAME
Lost in this tumultuous offseason has been the state of ASU’s kicking game. Kicker Alex Garoutte had a season to forget in 2011: He made just 15 of 22 field goals (10 for 16 beyond 30 yards) and struggled in close games, missing key field goals in losses to Illinois (17-14) and UCLA (29-28).
He was erratic again on Saturday, missing a pair of field goals, having a PAT partially blocked and missing badly right on a few kicks during practice time.
Graham said his advice for the struggling kicker is simple.
“There’s nobody to fix you. Line up at a 90-degree angle and kick the ball between the goal posts,” Graham said. “I want to be aggressive. I want him to attack.”
Garoutte already has competition from redshirt sophomore Parker Flynn, but the Sun Devils will have two more kickers arriving in the fall, so Garoutte’s won't have a lot of time to rediscover the form that made him the state’s best kicker at Phoenix Brophy Prep. Arizona State can’t afford another season like last year’s from Garoutte.
Graham insists he’s not interested in changing Garoutte’s mechanics.
“It’s kind of like a golf swing,” he said. “You don’t start trying to adjust everything or you’ll be a mess.
“I’m coaching him a lot just on his alignment and what his demeanor is. You need to have confidence. When you roll on the field, you need to look like a guy who’s made every single field goal.”
PRAISE FOR LEWIS
Running back Deantre Lewis took his first significant snaps since being shot in the buttocks/hamstring area over winter break in 2011 and missing all of last season.
“I’m proud of him,” Graham said. “He’s had to retrain that leg, retrain himself mentally, and he just gets better and better and better. I’m proud of the courage with which he’s approached coming back. I was told when I got here he wouldn’t be able to go through spring, and he’s going through spring.”
MORE CONCERNS AT RECEIVER
Much has been made of ASU's inexperience at wide receiver and what it will mean for the passing game. But with inexperience at quarterback and obvious depth at running back, there is another element of the receivers’ games that concerns Graham.
"The biggest thing I’m concerned about right now is our blocking at wide receiver," he said. "We’re going to run the football. You can see today we’re pretty raw, a lot of missed blocks."
AHEAD OF SCHEDULE?
There will be some new faces along the offensive line, but Graham called that unit a bright spot so far this spring, singling out left tackle Evan Finkenberg and guard Andrew Sampson, a pair of veterans, for praise.
“I thought it would be a lot harder on them than it is,” he said. “None of these guys on this field are in shape to run the tempo we run, but they’re mentally tough up front on the offensive line.”