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Five things to watch at ASU’s spring football game

(YouTube screencapture courtesy of SunDevilSource.com)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona State football team will conclude its spring practices with its annual spring game at the Sun Devil Soccer Stadium at 7 p.m. on Friday. The Pac-12 Networks will televise the game live.

There are depth questions that must be sorted out before training camp ends in the fall, including who will be Manny Wilkins primary backup at quarterback, but here are five more immediate things to watch as the Sun Devils take the field for the last time until Aug. 3.

1. New-look offense

New coach Herm Edwards insists he will run more. He also plans to have quarterback Manny Wilkins line up under center more often. Edwards said he likes that approach because it’s a look college defenses are not used to seeing. He believes it gives the offense more versatility. Wilkins said he can read defenses better by being closer to the line of scrimmage. It also brings play-action into play, but the Devils will have to run well in order to open up play-action.

The Sun Devils will also huddle more. Edwards spoke at length about how this allows his leaders to lead by talking more frequently with the other players while looking them in the eye to calm them down. Wilkins likes the change in approach.

2. Is the defense running to the ball consistently?

New defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales hasn’t been happy with many of his players this spring on a largely revamped unit. On separate occasions, he has complained about the effort, he has complained about the lack of discipline and he has complained about the unit’s inconsistency in running to the ball.

“We’ve got enough talent to be good if they’ll buy in and play hard,” Gonzales said. “We’re getting closer to how hard we want them to play but when I say we’re getting closer we’re still so far away from our expectations.

“I told them if they want to be great and we don’t have to waste time learning the fundamentals, then start running to the ball. That stuff becomes a habit. Right now, we just don’t have that habit.”

3. The troublesome secondary

ASU’s passing defense has been among the nation’s worst, statistically, for three straight years. A cast of new faces will try to change that with precious little experience.

Redshirt sophomore Terin Adams and junior Kobe Williams have been taking first-team snaps at cornerback with expected starter Chase Lucas nursing a knee injury. Sophomores Langston Frederick and Evan Fields have been the safeties.

4. Position battles

Middle linebacker: Redshirt junior Khaylan Thomas and former running back Nick Ralston have taken most of the first-team reps. Ralston, who played running back for two years, is a natural linebacker. Both players may have to fend off four-star recruit Merlin Robertson when he arrives in the fall.

Third receiver: Juniors N’Keal Harry and Kyle Williams have all but locked down starting spots but the battle for the third spot is likely between redshirt junior Terrell Chatman, redshirt senior Ryan Jenkins and redshirt sophomore Frank Darby, with sophomore Curtis Hodges potentially in the mix.

Left guard: Redshirt junior Zach Robertson has been working at left tackle but when graduate transfer Casey Tucker (Stanford) arrives in the fall, he is expected to man that spot. Robertson has starting left guard experience and could battle with redshirt junior Alex LoSoya or perhaps USC transfer Roy Hemsley for the only starting spot on the line that appears open.

5. Execution

The Sun Devils have had the entire spring to install plays and get reps in those plays, but the ability to react without thinking too much is a critical part of the transition from the old coaching staff’s playbook to the new coaching staff’s playbook.

The players that can take that step are the players who could gain a leg up as the team heads into summer workouts and, eventually, training camp.

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