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Second-year QB Taylor Kelly returns as Sun Devils leader

TEMPE, Ariz. — For the first time in five seasons, the Sun Devils opened fall practice with familiarity under center.

Taylor Kelly, who won a three-man battle for the job a year ago, beating out Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank, returns as the team’s starting quarterback.

“It’s a big deal (that) you’re not trying to rep three guys as the starter,” head coach Todd Graham said. “Taylor is the guy. It’s his job to lose.”

So long as he doesn’t lose the job, Kelly will become the first ASU quarterback to start back-to-back season openers since Rudy Carpenter in 2008.

“It’s very settling to know you got a guy that’s very, very dependable; that’s very solid, and the experience of knowing how to run the offense and what he’s doing,” Graham said following practice Tuesday.

Kelly put up better than expected numbers last season. As a redshirt sophomore, he set school records in completion percentage (67.1) and passing efficiency (159.9, second in Pac-12/ ninth nationally) while throwing for 3,039 yards and 29 touchdowns — one shy of the school record.

Now, with a year under his belt, Kelly is expecting more.

“I feel more comfortable in the offense,” he said. “I know what Coach Graham and Coach (Mike) Norvell expect out of me, this team, how the practice is going to go; and just my knowledge of the offense and my guys, my teammates. It’s a lot different than last year.”

Also different, aside from the five pounds he added in the offseason (he now tips the scales at 203 pounds), Kelly, as the No. 1 QB, is asserting himself more as a leader.

“I think guys respect me and I respect them; for everybody to just get on the same page this year and grind and have fun with each other,” he said.

Added senior defensive end Davon Coleman, “I can tell he has a lot more confidence. He’s really leading the team now. Last year, he was — I wouldn’t say he was holding back, I don’t think he had enough confidence to really lead the team. I think he has a lot more confidence this year.”

Kelly said he worked on improving his footwork and strengthening his core over the summer. The other area he wants to improve upon: protecting the football. As the coaches have constantly reminded him, every one of his nine interceptions came in games in which the Sun Devils lost.

“We’ve just got to protect the football. That’s a big thing for us this year,” he said.

Once that’s accomplished, the rest, according to Kelly, is simple.

“Get the ball to our playmakers: Marion Grice, D.J. Foster, just our receivers that we got coming in, so we’ve just got to get them the ball and take care of the football.”