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Sunday, August 10, 2014 @ 8:20am

A day with Ray

By: Doug Franz
Arizona State football had a closed scrimmage Saturday morning. Coach Todd Graham doesn't mind if I watch the scrimmage as long as I don't say anything about what I see or hear.

Those restrictions do not extend to filling you in on whom I get to talk to while I'm there. I had met Ray Anderson only twice before. We met once at his press conference, and there's no way he could remember one face and name among the sea of people he met that day. The second time was a quick conversation at a luncheon. Despite only two handshakes, he walked by me at practice and said, "Hi, Doug. Good to see you out here."

Obviously a simple greeting, but you have to assume he's done that to a lot of people. I watched him interact with some others. He said, "You guys are welcome back anytime. Let me know if there's anything I can do for you."

Very few people have his level of dignity and professionalism yet bring an inclusive personality to the fold. Anderson does that.

"When you run a disciplined program, of course it helps the good players to become great, but it does a lot more for the undrafted guys. There's going to be times where a team is deciding between two guys to sign. If word gets around that ASU produces hard-working, smart kids, our players will get the benefit of the doubt. I want pro scouts around the program to see what we do."

In the seven-and-a-half years I've lived here, I don't remember an ASU athletic director concerned about giving his football players on the NFL bubble an edge. He talked to me about the intangibles NFL scouts look for when making final decisions. Name an AD in all of college sports who knows more about the NFL than the one running Arizona State athletics. You can't.

So that would let you know he's a football AD. Then I talked to another member of the athletic department who told me about a parent in an Olympic sport who told him the difference for the parent's child between other schools and ASU was the amount of time Anderson spent with the family during recruiting. So he's more than a football AD.

Of course there's going to be a decision Anderson makes that I disagree with, and I'll say it on air or blog about why I thought he was wrong. It was only a few years ago that ASU had one of the worst director of athletics in the Pac-12. Now, it might have one of the best.

Thursday, August 7, 2014 @ 10:25pm

Good seats still available

By: Doug Franz
If you don't mind, would you help me if the question comes up again? If Todd Graham asks me, "What will it take for us to get the fans to support the program," what should I say?

I know of three people, and there might be more, at Arizona State who left seven-figure salaries to take a significant pay cut to build ASU athletics. Notice I didn't say "re-build," because something has to be built in the first place in order to be "re-built."

In Graham's first year, ASU was a field goal versus UCLA away from going to the first ever Pac-12 Championship game. In his second year, ASU won the Pac-12 South Championship.

The university completely broke through its own ceilings and gave an enormous raise to offensive coordinator Mike Norvell. Norvell has received a number of offers to leave for much higher jobs that would normally have led to ASU giving up on keeping a talented, young coach. Not anymore. Arizona State didn't blow away some of the offers, but it went well above and beyond its track history to prove it is willing to pay to succeed.

Arizona State's newest commitment is hiring one of the leading stadium architectural firms to run the Sun Devil Stadium renovation. The athletic director that has already stated doing something with the arena is on the agenda.

Every aspect of Arizona State athletics seems to be moving forward. The only thing not moving forward: fan support. One member of the athletic department told me ticket sales to the first game were "abysmal." "Disappointing" and "not good" were other words and phrases used by two other people with ASU Athletics. It takes 1.2 percent of Maricopa County residents to sell out Sun Devil Stadium.

I'll never forget last year when Coach Todd Graham asked me what it would take for fans to support the program. I told him to just win, because this was a bandwagon town. I was wrong. Winning hasn't changed the lack of fan support. Hopefully something changes in the next three weeks.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 @ 11:22pm

Wednesday observations from Cardinals Camp

By: Doug Franz
Here are my observations from Wednesday at Arizona Cardinals camp:

TERRY MCDONOUGH

I got the chance to talk to the Cardinals assistant GM for an extended period of time. Smart yet personable. So strange is the personality of a good scout. You have to own amazing confidence because it is a job that includes colossal failures along with the striking successes. He's got that ability to balance both.

MICHAEL FLOYD/ CARSON PALMER

Two seconds left in the game. Cards down by more than 3 but less than 9. We don't know the real score because they don't use a scoreboard. We just know the lead was more than 3 because the field goal unit wasn't hurrying onto the field.

Floyd ran into the end zone from the six starting from the right slot. He tried a "Z" cut and then wanted to sit down. Palmer threw a lob intending for Floyd to fight for the alley-oop. Floyd was ready for the bullet pass when he turned around. Pass falls incomplete.

The Cardinals lost the game. Palmer and Floyd talked about the play for the next 10 minutes. I have no idea what they said but the hand gestures were wild. There wasn't anger as much as there was expectations. Floyd did not communicate like a lost rookie. He knew what he wanted. Palmer knew what he saw. Executing the play would have been better but watching the interaction makes one believe failure will be confined, more often, to practice.

DARREN FELLS VS. ANDRE HARDY

Jake Ballard retired Wednesday morning. With the great camp Fells is having, it seemed natural that a great story was beginning. A 28-year-old basketball player had the door opened. He didn't walk through.

Fells lost Wednesday to Andre Hardy. All eyes were on Fells and he dropped two passes while Hardy keeps improving. Every practice, Logan Thomas throws to Hardy and both players are the last men off the practice field. Wednesday, Thomas did not stay. Hardy did. He caught passes from the jugs machine and was still there 20 minutes after practice.

In the two minute drill, Hardy caught two passes, one for a touchdown.

ANTONIO CROMARTIE

Wow! What a privilege to be standing so close to a great display of intelligence and athleticism. It happened so fast, I didn't even catch the number of who he was covering. After the play, I didn't bother to look at the receiver since I was so amazed at what I saw.

Palmer dropped back to throw a fade to the back left corner of the end zone. Cromartie's back was to the quarterback. As the receiver leaped for the ball, Cromartie jumped as well. Cromartie shot his left arm up through the gap between the receiver's outstretched arms and the rest of his body. As he reached, Cromartie turned his arm so the palm of his hand was facing the quarterback and the oncoming ball. Close to becoming a touchdown, Cromartie's hand reacted like a Venus fly-trap as the ball hit his palm. Instantaneously, Cromartie's palm felt the ball, his fingers closed around the ball. The football appeared to freeze in place.

The receiver looked for the deflected pass which was a fruitless wish. As he stared upward waiting for the ball to come down, the other defenders mobbed Cromartie. The receiver quickly realized they were celebrating Cromartie's interception and not a deflection.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 @ 11:22pm

Wednesday observations from Cardinals Camp

By: Doug Franz
Here are my observations from Wednesday at Arizona Cardinals camp:

TERRY MCDONOUGH

I got the chance to talk to the Cardinals assistant GM for an extended period of time. Smart yet personable. So strange is the personality of a good scout. You have to own amazing confidence because it is a job that includes colossal failures along with the striking successes. He's got that ability to balance both.

MICHAEL FLOYD/ CARSON PALMER

Two seconds left in the game. Cards down by more than 3 but less than 9. We don't know the real score because they don't use a scoreboard. We just know the lead was more than 3 because the field goal unit wasn't hurrying onto the field.

Floyd ran into the end zone from the six starting from the right slot. He tried a "Z" cut and then wanted to sit down. Palmer threw a lob intending for Floyd to fight for the alley-oop. Floyd was ready for the bullet pass when he turned around. Pass falls incomplete.

The Cardinals lost the game. Palmer and Floyd talked about the play for the next 10 minutes. I have no idea what they said but the hand gestures were wild. There wasn't anger as much as there was expectations. Floyd did not communicate like a lost rookie. He knew what he wanted. Palmer knew what he saw. Executing the play would have been better but watching the interaction makes one believe failure will be confined, more often, to practice.

DARREN FELLS VS. ANDRE HARDY

Jake Ballard retired Wednesday morning. With the great camp Fells is having, it seemed natural that a great story was beginning. A 28-year-old basketball player had the door opened. He didn't walk through.

Fells lost Wednesday to Andre Hardy. All eyes were on Fells and he dropped two passes while Hardy keeps improving. Every practice, Logan Thomas throws to Hardy and both players are the last men off the practice field. Wednesday, Thomas did not stay. Hardy did. He caught passes from the jugs machine and was still there 20 minutes after practice.

In the two minute drill, Hardy caught two passes, one for a touchdown.

ANTONIO CROMARTIE

Wow! What a privilege to be standing so close to a great display of intelligence and athleticism. It happened so fast, I didn't even catch the number of who he was covering. After the play, I didn't bother to look at the receiver since I was so amazed at what I saw.

Palmer dropped back to throw a fade to the back left corner of the end zone. Cromartie's back was to the quarterback. As the receiver leaped for the ball, Cromartie jumped as well. Cromartie shot his left arm up through the gap between the receiver's outstretched arms and the rest of his body. As he reached, Cromartie turned his arm so the palm of his hand was facing the quarterback and the oncoming ball. Close to becoming a touchdown, Cromartie's hand reacted like a Venus fly-trap as the ball hit his palm. Instantaneously, Cromartie's palm felt the ball, his fingers closed around the ball. The football appeared to freeze in place.

The receiver looked for the deflected pass which was a fruitless wish. As he stared upward waiting for the ball to come down, the other defenders mobbed Cromartie. The receiver quickly realized they were celebrating Cromartie's interception and not a deflection.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 @ 10:33am

The anatomy of a long shot

By: Ron Wolfley
When you talk about surprises in training camp, start with John Brown. Nobody expected a third-round receiver from Pittsburg St. to come in and absorb the offense the way he did. He's the talk of camp, still; which speaks to how rare it is to come into the NFL from a small school and do what he's done.

But then there's Bruce Gaston. Gaston is an undrafted rookie free agent from Purdue. He's 6-2, 310-pounds, and he is explosive. Gaston is quick off the ball and has a speed to power ratio that belies his draft status. Gaston has flashed ever since the Cards put the pads on and popped in the mouth guard. He's done well in 1-on-1 drills working against the O-lineman. But he really showed up in the goal line scrum at Fan Fest.

This is how rookies make teams -- especially undrafted rookies. You have to "pop;" you have to get the coaches' attention and make them notice you. And many times rookies get the attention they need only to have it drift away when the preseason games start -- unless they have unearthed a key discovery about themselves.

Gaston is Exhibit "A" when it comes to rookies making the transition, mentally, from college to the NFL. In order to get the most out of your ability you need to be confident and you get confident by doing and having success while you're DOING. Having success while doing carries an epiphany for many players: I can play with these guys…I belong here…I can do this.

Every player, from first-round pick Deone Buccannon to undrafted free agent rookie Bruce Gaston, has got to have that football epiphany. You have to say at night, when you lie down and it's you and the pillow, I belong here.

I think Gaston has had that moment. Let's see if it translates this Saturday.

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