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March 15, 2012

Changes abound at spring practice

A message for Arizona State fans and others attending spring practices this week: When you see the guy running into the play holding a stick toward the sky with flags attached to it, don't worry, there's been no fundamental change to the game or how it is officiated.

"We grade and measure the things that win games," Sun Devils coach Todd Graham explained. "We measure every time we put the ball in jeopardy, every time we got the ball defensively - takeaways and ball security. We measure every bit of that every single rep.

"We measure effort every play and we expect spectacular effort on every play. You see the guy running around with flags, that's what he's doing. We can't hear the whistle on the film so we can see the whistle. We're showing them how to play to the end of the whistle."

From the sign greeting fans at the gate entering Kajikama Practice Facility declaring Arizona State's football mission statement to the one hanging over the period clock alerting viewers to the goals of becoming Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champs, there is a much different feel around the program this week.

But it's still football. And it's already starting to more closely resemble the brand of football that Graham prefers.

"When I went in last night it was better than I thought it was," he said. "I thought it was a good day but I felt today was a great day. I thought it appeared to be running our offense a little bit. We took care of the ball today, didn't turn the football over and that's the key. If we don't turn the ball over we'll score."

The breakneck pace of Tuesday's practice continued in the second session a day later, though it was a little less overwhelming as players were more prepared for what to expect. Fewer times were players observed struggling to keep up and establishing the ability to maintain that tempo throughout a game requires it to be successfully applied in practice settings.

"Instead of having 28-30 seconds to think about your alignment, assignment, your stance, responsibility, you've got 15 seconds," Graham said. "And it's really on both sides of the ball, and that's why it's so important the foundation of our program is about character and discipline because it doesn't do you any good to go fast and do it wrong. You've got to go fast and efficient.

"So that's the biggest learning curve and I was really pleased with them. I thought they really did a good job and we got markedly better today. And that's the key. I told them in Week 13 next year when we're getting ready for Week 14, we're going to be saying the same thing."

The next phase begins on Thursday, when ASU will look more like a football team after two NCAA mandated helmets-only practices.

"Tomorrow we put the pads on," Graham said. "You'll always feel better about things when you're in shorts and then you find out what we're really about when you put the pads on."

Notes

  • Suspended junior defensive end/linebacker Junior Onyeali attended practice after not being present Tuesday. Onyeali did some light stretching and observed the session. He looked to be in substantially better shape than he was late last season. After suffering a knee injury against Illinois in September, Onyeali gained significant weight and wasn't able to recapture his form when he returned late in the season.

    "He's just watching," Graham said. "Obviously like I said before he has a plan of improvement and we're very hopefully that he'll do what it takes to meet our standards but a long way to go on that so we'll see what happens."

  • Sophomore running back Marcus Washington worked with h-backs Wednesday for the first time. Now weighing in the 225 pound range - up from approximately 200 pounds when he arrived at ASU - Washington has the ability to be a lead blocker or catch the ball out of the backfield. The position will be strengthened once junior Christopher Coyle (shoulder) returns to action.

  • Junior Jarrid Bryant, standing 6-foot-4, has worked at cornerback this week instead of the receiver position where he's played to this point in his career. Wednesday he had an interception in a 2-on-2 drill against the receivers, breaking on the ball nicely after reading the quarterback. He has appeared to hold his own thus far, though it's too early to know what to expect in the long term.

  • Sophomore running back Deantre Lewis didn't wear the green jersey reserved for injured players he wore a day earlier. Lewis didn't appear to be quite as spry as he was a day earlier, perhaps an adjustment to practicing on back-to-back days.

  • Numerous high profile local recruits and their family members have been in attendance this week including Brophy Prep receiver Devon Allen and quarterback Tyler Bruggman, Chaparral tight end Jake Roh, Notre Dame Prep tight end Grant Martinez and the stepfather of Marcos de Niza defensive back Priest Willis on Wednesday. Mountain Pointe offensive linemen Kenny Lacy was there with several younger teammates Tuesday.


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