TEMPE, Ariz. — It’s fourth down in the third overtime and quarterback Taylor Kelly can’t find an open receiver in the end zone. He scrambles out of the pocket, outraces several defenders and dives towards the corner of the end zone.
“Everybody is going like ‘Ah man, be smart, be smart.’ No. Win. I like people that are competitive,” head coach Todd Graham said. “That was my favorite part of the day.”
With Thursday serving as almost like a walk-through ahead of the annual spring game Saturday, the Sun Devils held what Graham called their last spring practice with Kelly, the third-year starting quarterback, providing the play of the day.
After the 13th of 15 spring practices in the books, Graham sounded as optimistic as he’s ever been about his team.
“I told them after practice we have enough. We don’t have a lot, but we have enough,” he said. “I love the character. I love the attitude. We’re so much further along when it comes to discipline and the things that we’re doing. I’m really pleased with where we’re at.”
The defending Pac-12 South champions must replace nine starters on defense.
Offensively, not nearly as much was lost, but there are holes to fill at running back, tight end and along the offensive line.
“It’s obviously a work in progress,” deputy head coach and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. “Really trying to challenge some of the young guys to come in and compete and show that they’re ready to be on the big stage. We’ve seen growth, but still leaving a lot of plays on the field; we need to be more consistent.”
Asked who has stepped up in the spring, Norvell pointed to the receiver position.
“Ellis Jefferson has had some really good flashes this spring, and he’s had his ups and downs, he just needs to be more consistent,” he said. “Cameron Smith has shown some flashes and a guy that I’m really kind of pleased with, probably almost as much as anybody at receiver is Fred Gammage. He’s continued to show up and do some good things.”
Tight end Grant Martinez and linemen Stephon McCray and Evan Goodman have had their moments as well, according to Norvell, who added he plans to limit running back D.J. Foster and receiver Jaelen Strong in the spring game. Strong has been dealing with a sprained toe.
Norvell and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball will coach the Maroon Team while assistant head coach and offensive line coach Chris Thomsen and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson will coach the Gold Team.
“And whoever wins I’ll be on that team,” Graham joked. “We’re going to make this fun. Also for our fans, we want to make it fun. We’re going to have some breaks. We’re going to see if we can’t get some students down (on the field) and see maybe if they pass rush Jamil Douglas and maybe if they can catch a punt from Hawkeye (Matt Haack). We hopefully don’t get anybody hurt. We’re going to have fun with it.”
Yes, there is a lot of work that needs to be down between now and the season opener against Weber State on Aug. 28, “but we’ve got enough,” Graham said, “I believe in this team.”