TEMPE — The sound of whistles, plays being run and Todd Graham’s voice radiating from practice field speakers Tuesday signaled the beginning of spring practice for the 2017 Arizona State football team.
The Sun Devils are looking forward to a fresh start this season with changes to their coaching staff and the addition of touted quarterback Blake Barnett, who transferred from Alabama.
They are coming off a pair of disappointing seasons that resulted in sub .500 records and unfulfilled expectations.
The struggles occurred for a variety of reasons, including injuries. Offensive shortcomings played a role in last season’s disappointment as well, prompting changes to the coaching staff.
The Sun Devils turned to the powerhouse Crimson Tide for help and hired Alabama wide receivers coach Billy Napier to be their offensive coordinator.
Napier was excited to get out on the field with his new team and is happy with what he has seen.
“This is kind of the next phase, where we grow, we develop, where we acquire knowledge,” he said.
“I was pleased with the effort, pleased with the attitude (and) the approach. The execution (has) got to improve but pleased with where our players are at and excited about the next phase and moving forward.”
Napier is excited for the start of the season, but emphasized the importance of the Sun Devils finding an identity early.
“More than anything, what we want to do is establish how we’re going to play,” he said. “What is the 2017 Arizona State offensive unit going to be? What are we going to be known for? We talk about leading the league in finish. We want the effort to jump off the film. We want people to watch us play and admire the intangibles that we play with.”
For the 2017 Sun Devils, no position is deeper than quarterback.
The roster includes Manny Wilkins, who returns for his junior season after throwing for 2,329 yards in 10 games last year.
Also returning is sophomore Brady White, who appeared in two games last year, throwing two touchdowns and one interception before suffering an injury that ended his season.
Add to the mix Barnett, ranked by ESPN as the No. 1 pocket passer in the class of 2014.
With the depth at the quarterback and other positions up for grabs, Graham said “this is probably going to be one of the most competitive springs that we’ve had.”
With the time needed to evaluate players and only a limited amount of practices and reps available, the new offensive coordinator is relying on his recent history.
“I’m fortunate to have been through that the last couple years at Alabama,” Napier said. “We’ve got a blueprint that we’re using (here) that’s similar to what we went through the last couple of years. We’ve had a new starter each one of those years.
“Somebody’s got to take ownership. Somebody’s got to win the job, win the team and that’s certainly what we’re evaluating each and every day, but were a long way from that decision being made.”