April 22, 2012

QB battle heats up in Spring Game

Played on the year's first triple-digit temperature day, Arizona State's offense was hot in Saturday's Spring Game, scoring on half of its 16 possessions led by its three scholarship quarterbacks.

With most of the 5,142 fans in attendance sitting in the top rows of the west and east lower bowl, where they were covered in shade, ASU defensive coordinator Paul Randolph kept most of his blitz pressures in his back pocket Saturday, and it enabled the offense to get into an impressive rhythm and hit on a number of big plays downfield.

Sophomores Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank shared first-team reps throughout the spring and each saw an abundance of action Saturday. Bercovici completed 11 of 21 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns while Eubank went 9 of 14 for 171 yards with three touchdowns and Kelly completed 10 of 12 for 116 yards and one touchdown with one interception.

Where there was significant separation between the three was on the ground, which has been the case consistently over the last six weeks. Bercovici, the least mobile of the three, had one carry for two yards while Kelly had eight carries for 90 yards and a touchdown and Eubank had five carries for 68 yards and a touchdown.

Sun Devil coach Todd Graham said following the session he loved the day's heat, so media members turned it up another couple notches, peppering him with questions about how the quarterback competition looks moving forward.

"All of them have great character," Graham said. "All are great human beings and understand the importance of leadership but I'm telling you, we need a leader. It's hard when you've got three guys rotating. Those guys are all great people but they don't have three head coaches, they have one. That isn't to say we can't use two quarterbacks but we've got to have a leader emerge there. I think we're well on the way to doing that but I'll keep you [media members] at bay on that."

Graham said he hadn't totally decided on a starter but said he's starting to develop a sense of what he's likely to do at the position.

"I don't know for sure," Graham said. "I've got a pretty good idea of what I think the potential of the guys that we have are. I'm pretty certain, one of them, I know is going to play and we might play with two, but we'll see what happens."

The question may come down to whether ASU is ready to sacrifice to some degree in the short term in order to get the player in place who has the highest ceiling long term. While Kelly may have managed the offense as well as any of the three over the spring's 15 practices, Eubank has the best combination of arm strength, size and mobility and Bercovici the best arm and is perhaps the purest quarterback.

"We're looking for the best guy to put us in the best position to win football games," offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. "My whole thing is we want a guy that obviously can manage the offense. Every game, every year that we've ever had this offense, the best thing about it is that it's adaptive. We're going to adapt to the skills and talents of the guy that's running the show, and these guys have done a really good job at learning what we're doing. We want to put the best guy out there that gives us the best chance to win football games and manage this offense."

Morrison continues to impress

One of the players who unquestionably took great advantage of his opportunity this spring, senior running back James Morrison, had another impressive showing Saturday with 80 rushing yards on 13 carries with one touchdown.

Things have lined up almost perfectly for Morrison, a player who hasn't had a lot go his way over the course of his ASU career. In 2008, Morrison walked on to the ASU team and was the talk of fall camp before breaking his ankle on a horse collar tackle several weeks before the start of what would have been his first season.

It took nearly 18 months for Morrison to return to his pre-injury form only to find himself in a loaded backfield. This spring, starter Cameron Marshall and backup Kyle Middlebrooks have been injured and with Deantre Lewis still rounding back into form, Morrison received the most carries of anyone in the backfield to rave reviews from Graham, who has nicknamed Morrison "Tank" for his physical running style.

"I do see him, no question, as a power back," Graham said. "I see him as a second back in the backfield. Cam Marshall, in my opinion, if we can get him trained and where he needs to be, he can be as good as there is in this conference and one of the best in the country. He fits our style of downhill running. But I think Tank is a guy who is going to contribute no doubt about it and there's some others coming in we're excited about.

"I guarantee you, [Morrison is] a guy who exemplifies what it's about. He likes the physicalness of the game, he likes to run that ball downhill, he takes care of the ball, he's very coachable. He's tough. There's no way to keep that guy off the field. I see him right now coming out of the spring as a guy who is going to be a major contributor for us. Whether that's as a second back in the backfield, that's what we'll have to evaluate."

Notes

  • Senior receiver Jamal Miles may have been the day's Most Valuable Player, with seven catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns and a 92 yard kickoff return for a touchdown early in the session. Miles has worked on being a more complete receiver, with better vertical routes and ball skills and it's starting to pay dividends.

  • Graham was one of the many thousands who participated in Pat's Run earlier Saturday in honor of former Sun Devil Pat Tillman despite having an arthritic knee and being a few dozen pounds heavier than his playing days.

    "I think you should run in that to honor Pat" Graham said. "I think the head coaches should participate in that every year so I did. I'm not very well trained but what was great, when I came through the finish line I heard the kids yelling, 'Coach, that's bad body language. Get your hands off your hips. Quit bending over.' I though that's pretty good, that's progress."

  • Penalties have plagued the Sun Devils throughout the spring and Graham even went as far as to stop play in order to make reshirt freshman cornerback Joe Eason retrieve a ball he didn't deliver to an official after stepping out of bounds following an interception.

    'I'm not accustomed to that many penalties," Graham said. "There was a lot of penalties today, especially when we got tired. We've got a lot of work to do."


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