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With 2019 recruiting class, ASU welcomes a quarterback competition

Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards pauses while speaking at the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day in Los Angeles, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State fans have a lot to be excited about right now.

The Sun Devils just notched a winning season in year one of the Herm Edwards Era, and they did so with an extremely young defense that should only be better in 2019. N’Keal Harry is off to the NFL, a likely first-round pick who should represent the program well at the next level. And while his departure will certainly impact the passing game, ASU should still be fine on offense with Pac-12 leading rusher Eno Benjamin back to pace the running attack.

There is still one giant void to fill though: quarterback.

Love him or hate him, Manny Wilkins brought leadership, passion and experience to the position. Now that he’s graduated, the most important spot on the field is the Devils’ biggest question mark. But they’ve already taken major strides towards finding an answer in recruiting.

Jayden Daniels (San Bernadino, Calif./Cajon), Joey Yellen (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo) and Ethan Long (West Linn, Ore./West Linn) have all signed on with Arizona State, giving Edwards and his coaching staff quite the haul at the position.

Daniels and Yellen are both considered four-star talents, while Long is a three-star recruit. Throw in returning quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole, and the Devils have a full-blown quarterback competition on their hands. And that’s probably a good thing.

“The way I look at it, you can’t create enough competition at that position,” Edwards explained at the school’s press conference on Wednesday. Then he looked over at offensive coordinator Rob Likens and noted: “It’s wide open. That’s coach’s problem now. He’s got to figure out the reps.”

It’s a nice problem to have. Edwards has preached all along that he’s willing to play whichever guys prove to be the best, regardless of age or experience. It’s a lesson he learned from Dick Vermeil when he was first breaking into the NFL as a player, and it has stuck with him to this day.

Those aren’t just empty words either. Edwards backed them up with his actions this season, as true freshmen like Merlin Robertson, Darien Butler and Aashari Crosswell all logged significant playing time right out of the gate. That’s not always the case at most programs, and it’s definitely a selling point that incoming recruits are taking notice of.

“If you’re looking at this program as a football player,” Edwards pointed out, “you’re going ‘their words and actions actually match up. If I’m the best player, I’m going to get to play’.”

That’s a good precedent to set, particularly when those players reward the coaching staff right away, the way Roberston did. But there’s a different dynamic at the quarterback position.

“They’re going to leave. Some are going to leave,” Likens acknowledged. “That’s one thing about quarterbacks – only one of them can play. And most of the time, they’re the most competitive guys out on the field. So they’re never happy unless they’re playing. And now, with the way rules are set up, they’re starting to leave now. Probably ten years ago, signing three quarterbacks would’ve been unheard of. But now I don’t see it that way. I see it as you’re protecting yourself and trying to have enough players.”

So now the question is who will ultimately be the starter when ASU takes the field against Kent State on Aug. 29? We obviously won’t have an answer for a while, but Likens did offer a brief description of what each of the incoming freshmen brings to the position.

“I went all across the country looking at quarterbacks and watching them practice in the spring,” he noted. “And I thought Joey Yellon was the best pure passer, decision-maker and accurate guy – all rolled into one – that I saw out there. So that’s what he brings to the table.”

“Jayden Daniels kind of can do everything,” he continued. “He will get upset if you call him… he doesn’t like the term ‘dual-threat quarterback’. Which I love that. He’s a quarterback that can just make some things happen with his feet better than a lot of people. And that’s what we want.”

“Ethan Long is kind of a mixture of the two,” Likens added. “But his leadership skills – I’m serious, the first thing it reminded me of talking to the kid, I sat down, I was just looking around going ‘man I feel like I’m talking to Tim Tebow here’, the way that he talks. The way that he’s unashamed to talk about his faith, the things that he wants in life. He can articulate and he can look you in the eye and he shakes your hand and about rips your hand off.”

So those are the contenders, along with Sterling-Cole. And they all know going in that they’re stepping into a pretty heated competition to be the signal caller for a major program that appears to be on the rise. Edwards likes that mindset, saying it tells him something about each of them that they’d knowingly sign up for that level of competition just to be able to play. Especially since they’re all highly touted recruits that could probably have gone somewhere else and had a much clearer path to a starting job.

As Edwards has said since his first day on the job, that mentality fits the DNA that the Sun Devils are looking for.

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