PHOENIX — Arizona State is returning four starting quarterbacks for the 2017 season.
Well, sort of.
The Sun Devils have a quarterback conundrum that is unique. Four of the six listed on the roster started a game at the Division I level in 2016. Manny Wilkins started 10, while Brady White and Dillon Sterling-Cole started a game each for ASU. Blake Barnett took the first snaps for Alabama’s season opener against USC before being pulled at halftime and never secured another start that season.
Graham said that Wilkins is the returning starter and it is his job to lose, but made it clear it can change.
The way each of these players reached this point was not the way any expected. Both White and Sterling-Cole got their starts after Wilkins went down with injury. During White’s only start, he suffered a right foot injury that sidelined him for the rest of the 2016 season and may do the same in 2017. Barnett landed at ASU after a falling out with Alabama coach Nick Saban.
ASU’s football program is bringing in its third offensive coordinator in three years: Billy Napier, who, just like Barnett, came over from Alabama. Installing a new offensive system is not easy, but having quarterbacks with starting experience makes things smoother.
“We’ve got other guys that have experience. We got other guys that are very capable,” Napier said. “I think that competition and presenting that situation to that room and that unit makes every one of those guys better.”
Barnett’s familiarity with Napier does not guarantee Barnett will be the frontrunner early. Wilkins did a serviceable job for the Sun Devils, completing 63 percent of his passes for 2,329 yards,12 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. Wilkins has also been taking first team reps during Camp Tontozona practices so far.
Most perceive this as a two-man race between Wilkins and Barnett. While the two are in a battle, it does not mean one will try to hold down the other.
“If our football team would see that the quarterbacks who are supposed to be the leaders … that are supposed to be the guys that set the standard of the team, if they see us bickering or throwing shade at each other … it’s so negative in the energy that it brings. It’s pitiful,” Wilkins said.
On top of being deep in terms of starting experience, the Sun Devils added five-star recruit Ryan Kelly in their 2017 recruiting class. The mix of talent and experience could make the race a little more interesting.
Sterling-Cole and White may not see the field this season, but they plan on building from the starting experience. White believes that when he is fully healed from his injury, the start will give him an edge.
“It’s one thing to practice hard and study lots of film, but when you get that experience and you actually get to play in a game, it’s a different perspective,” White said.
The role of starting quarterback involves more than showing up to the stadium and lining up under center. Hours of preparation, from practice to studying film, are involve.
White feels he prepared well for his start. Sterling-Cole feels he did the same, but he would do things a little differently given the chance to start.
“I would make sure that I would hone in before I even get a start,” Sterling-Cole said. “Make sure I put in the time and the dedication and the work off the field even if I don’t get the start.”
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