CAMP TONTOZONA, Ariz. — While Arizona State football coach Todd Graham said last week that the battle for the starting quarterback position is still a competition, he offered a pair of strong hints that Manny Wilkins will be the man when ASU opens its season Aug. 31 against New Mexico State.
Graham noted that Wilkins is the starter until Blake Barnett beats him out. He also said that people familiar with the program had probably already sorted out the pecking order, just as they did last year when Wilkins beat out Brady White.
If you want a further read of the tea leaves, Wilkins took most, if not all of the first first-team reps on the first two days of practice at Camp Tontozona on Monday and Tuesday.
Neither Wilkins nor Barnett have admitted which way they think the competition is headed, but Wilkins came as close to doing so as possible at ASU Media Day on Saturday.
“The opportunity that I have to continue to be the starting quarterback for this football team has been here regardless of what anybody else says,” Wilkins said. “I know what goes on when these doors close here and what these coaches are thinking, what the organization of this program thinks and obviously what my teammates think. That’s all that matters to me.”
Barring something unexpected, expect Wilkins to open the season as ASU’s starter.
WHO’S THAT DB?
John Humphrey, the team’s speediest receiver and deep threat, was working with the defensive secondary on Tuesday. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said he recruited him as a DB when Bennett was at Baylor.
“As soon as he came here from Baylor, the first thing he told me is ‘you’re not playing receiver, you’re playing corner,'” Humphrey said.
The jury is still out on whether Humphrey will remain on defense. While it’s no secret the Sun Devils need help in their much maligned secondary, Graham has experimented with players on the other side of the ball before, only to pull the plug on that experiment. He did it last year with receiver Tim White.
“We were planning on doing that the whole time, but we didn’t want to mess with his install on offense so we got through the first six days,” Graham said. “We just let him go the whole day defensively to look at him a little bit and try and get him trained up.
“John’s a tremendous athlete with tremendous speed and he wants to help the team.”
Defensive backs coach T.J. Rushing smiled when talked turned to Humphrey’s audition.
“Nobody’s off limits,” Rushing said, laughing. “That’s why I love coach Graham. He’s a defensive minded guy. We’re going to figure out a way to get the best 11 guys on the grass.”
It’s tough to say where heralded freshman running back Eno Benjamin fits in the rotation this year. Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard figure to get the majority of the reps. Redshirt sophomore Nick Ralston is also ahead of Benjamin on the depth chart, but Graham likes what he has seen from his four-star recruit.
“Wow. That’s what I say about him,” Graham said. “I knew Eno was a good player coming in. He’s impressed me as much as any freshman has ever impressed me. When he’s running the ball, we’re fit up. There’s nowhere to run the ball. Most guys will just bounce the football (outside). He’s just so patient and then it will pop about that much (Graham held his hands a foot apart) and boom. He’s going to be special. I can’t watch him without getting excited.”
— Freshman corners Alex Perry and Langston Frederick moved to safety and took second-team reps together on Tuesday. Alex’s brother, Armand, played safety for ASU until injuries forced him into retirement this offseason. He has been offering his brother tips.
“He doesn’t know I moved to safety so after this I’m going to call him and let him know the deal and he’s going to be excited for that,” Alex Perry said. “I really like it a lot. I’ve just got to get the coverages down because we’re basically the quarterback of the defense so we call all the plays. I’ve got to know all the coverages.”
— Cade Cote worked with the first team at center early in practice ahead of A.J. McCollum.
— Defensive lineman Tyler Johnson was working with the offense.
— Although rain passed through Camp Tontozona late in Tuesday’s practice, the Sun Devils managed to get through a second straight full day at Camp T without having to relocate to Payson. The forecast for the rest of the week does not look as promising. ASU practices on Wednesday and Thursday, with an off-day on Friday before the Devils scrimmage on Saturday on their final day in the White Mountains.