As football programs around the nation prepare for spring drills, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham gave a preview of the 2014 version of his team Friday on The Dan Bickley Show with Vince Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
“Offensively, I think we’ll be the best we’ve ever been,” Graham said.
Pretty bold proclamation considering the offensive unit had a strong showing last year: The Sun Devils put up the the 17th-most yards of total offense in the nation.
Graham proceeded to name off some of the players that give him confidence in such a prediction, including running backs D.J. Foster and Deantre Lewis, receivers Kyle Middlebrooks and Jaelen Strong and offensive lineman Christian Westerman, among others.
“We’re going to be extremely explosive, extremely talented on offense,” the coach said. “Obviously, we’ve got our quarterback back. We’ve got two of the best quarterbacks, I think, in the country.”
The two quarterbacks he’s referring to are Mike Bercovici and starter Taylor Kelly. In the backfield, Foster — whom Graham said is a “dynamic playmaker” — looks to become the No. 1 rush option since Marion Grice, last year’s leading rusher, will graduate in this spring.
“In Pac-12 play last year — just looking at Pac-12 games — we had the No. 1 scoring offense. And I think the expectations will be as good or better than that,” Graham added.
Kelly, who will return as a senior, had career highs in completions (302), attempts (484) and yards (3,635) in 2013 — and his 28 touchdown passes were one shy of his best mark.
The 6-foot-2 quarterback has already had two prolific years behind center for the Sun Devils, and Graham said that Kelly’s best may be yet to come.
“You know, he’s improved his arm strength each year,” the coach said. “We want to be able to push the ball more vertically downfield and become more explosive as an offense. And I think you’ll see that this next year. I do think that he’s stronger now.
“And I think having a guy behind him like Bercovici that’s so good, it really pushes him. Because I really, really think that we’ve got two of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and maybe in the country.”
Graham added that he thinks Kelly is one of the top two returning quarterbacks in the Pac-12 — along with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
“(I’ve) got a lot of confidence in Taylor,” Graham said. “And I think (his return is) big, because you’ve got to have a championship quarterback to win a championship.”