TEMPE, Ariz. — For a first day, head coach Todd Graham could not have been more pleased, calling day one of fall practice “the best” start to camp since he arrived on campus.
Players were energetic, focused and running to the football “better than they ever have” both on offense and defense.
“I like the attitude of this team,” he said.
However, Graham, entering his third season in Tempe, was quick to point out his team was not in pads. That will come later, and here in the first two days, practice has been split — as he’s done before — with the veterans working out in the morning while the newcomers hit the field in the evening.
The expectations are high for the defending Pac-12 South champions. Picked to finish third in the division by the media, Arizona State cracked the preseason Amway Coaches Poll for the first time since 2008, coming in at No. 18.
“Coming into this year, what have we spent the most time on? Special teams,” Graham said to answer his own question. “Obviously, the thing defensively we’ve got to do is not just do what we did last year, and make sure that we adapt what we’re doing to the players’ skills that we have.”
ASU must replace nine starters on defense, including six who were either first-team or second-team All-Pac-12 performers.
“Our defense was flying to the ball like I’ve never seen before. I’m so excited to see what they do the rest of camp and on into the season,” quarterback Taylor Kelly said.
Offensively, the cupboard is hardly bare. With Kelly, running back D.J. Foster and wide receiver Jaelen Strong, ASU is the only Pac-12 school to return a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard receiver and two 500-plus-yard rushers.
It all made for a crisp practice with very few corrections to make, showing the players came in prepared, according to Graham.
“Man, this is fun,” he said. “Watching all of our coaches coach, everything about we did, we talk about that our standard is to be the best in the country. And I feel like today, after that first practice, you can check that one off. We couldn’t have been any better today than what it was today — as far as the effort and the focus.”