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August 13, 2012
Even though Arizona State won't run out of the Pat Tillman tunnel to face Northern Arizona for more than two weeks still, first-year coach Todd Graham admitted Monday who would start at the quarterback position if the season began today.
"Just being honest with you, right now if we played today Taylor (Kelly) would be the guy," Graham said. "I'm not naming the starting quarterback so don't say that but right now he's the guy we put in there and let's see how this week goes. He's definitely got two guys nipping at his heels."
Graham singling out Kelly isn't a shocker at this point despite the sophomore entering fall camp behind his competitors, freshman Michael Eubank and sophomore Mike Bercovici. For the last week, Kelly has taken the first snaps at quarterback during team sessions for the vast majority of the practices.
That was the case Monday too as Kelly came out of the huddle first followed by Eubank with the second team and Becovici taking the leftovers.
"Taylor is the guy who's managed the ball the best," Graham said. "I'll be real honest with you, coming in he wasn't."
Bercovici was the presumptive favorite at the beginning of camp with Eubank close behind and Kelly third. It appears the two sophomores have switched spots, however, as Kelly has flourished and Bercovici has struggled with turnovers, especially early in camp.
Graham had hoped he'd be able to narrow the competition down to two as soon as possible to get best prepared for the season opener.
"By no means do we think that anybody is out of the competition," Graham said. "I think we've got this week and next Saturday's scrimmage is going to be big there. I do think all three of those guys are still viable and we'll also know more once the season starts."
As for Monday's practice, Kelly said he gave away a couple rare turnovers but that they were more of a communication problem than bad throws.
"We have to get our offense lot crisper, I think reps will even that out," he said. "But I have to come out better than today. I have to own the ball a lot better. I have to improve every day and stay even more focused than I have been. Keep that fire in my eye and compete."
Even though Kelly is in the lead at this point, Graham stayed with his belief that Eubank will play this season even if he doesn't win the starting job. His dual-threat abilities will be used in a package no matter what.
"It's a blessing to know I'm going to be able to get some reps and play," Eubank said. "Last season I was sitting on the bench. I've made incredibly large strides since when I got here to ASU, just a lot of hard work and focus and prayer and it's all a blessing and I'm going to continue with it."
Bercovici, on the other hand, won't be as fortunate as Eubank if he doesn't make a comeback in the next week or so to win the position he was once favored for.
Turnovers have been his biggest problem during fall camp. He didn't want to make excuses for the poor execution, but Bercovici hinted that the split reps have hurt him find a rhythm.
"It's tough, especially in crunch time," he said. "You throw a flat route and it goes off the wide receiver's finger tips, you're being judged off that pass because you weren't accurate with it. But you know if you get another shot at it, you're going to make that pass. It's definitely tough when you get off the field for so long then have to come right back. But it's our job to make the throws, there's no excuses, there's been opportunities that I've had and missed."
Monday was a step in the right direction for Becovici's slimming hopes. He said he led two touchdown drives during team sessions, one of which lasted one play on a deep pass.
"I feel like that's what they expected from me in this fall camp and I didn't show that early on," he said. "I didn't show the consistency and that's what they want to see day in and day out. Today I got limited reps, I didn't get as many as I did in practice last week but that is no depiction of who is going to be the starter. I hadn't been performing but today I came out and performed and I'm happy with that."
Graham said a number of players who hadn't caught his eye prior to Saturday's scrimmage made an impression under the lights at Sun Devil Stadium, including sophomore defensive end Jordan McDonald, walk-on junior linebackers Grandville Taylor and Brandon Johnson, junior safety Shane McCullen, redshirt freshman safety Ezekiel Bishop, freshman running back/receiver D.J. Foster and freshman receiver Richard Smith.
"It was probably the best first scrimmage defensively that I've been around," Graham said. "From where these guys were, which I would tell you we had a lot of work to do coming out of spring, to where we are now, we've made great improvement."
It's no secret Foster came to Tempe with an extraordinary amount of hype to live up to as a Rivals100 national recruit. But perhaps more so than fans, the person with the highest expectations for Foster is none other than himself.
The running back said he was just okay with his results from Saturday's closed scrimmage at Sun Devil Stadium even though he also noted he scored a 10 yard touchdown and made a couple other lengthy runs.
"It went alright, I was a little lethargic at first but then I got going," Foster said. "It was good though to get in a game day feeling and to put on the uniform and see how we do that. That was my first time and I definitely learned a lot. I got a little more comfortable with the all college level and it felt good."
To follow up Saturday's performance, Foster caught another touchdown pass on Monday from Eubank on a post route over the middle. Again though, he didn't take any credit for the play.
"He's throwing really good," Foster said of Eubank. "He's throwing the deep ball on target. He's leading me perfectly."
Even though he appears to be flourishing anyways, Foster admitted he's excited for when the quarterback competition gets down to one so he can develop a better rapport.
"It'll make things a lot better and smoother and things will move faster," Foster said. "Getting to know their techniques and how they run the offense. Everybody is different. All three of them are great leaders but you have to learn how to read them when you're out there."