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ASU football’s offense enduring wealth of change entering spring

Quarterback Jayden Daniels #5 of the Arizona State Sun Devils is congratulated by Brandon Aiyuk #3 after scoring on a 17 yard rushing touchdown against the Washington State Cougars late in the second half of the NCAAF game at Sun Devil Stadium on October 12, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the Cougars 38-34. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The reviews are in from season one of Jayden Daniels being ASU football’s starting quarterback. He’s their guy.

After that, continuity is few and far between. Even for Daniels, who is obviously a key piece of the offense now going into his second college season, might have to be a new version of himself.

“Last year, he wasn’t asked to do anything. Just play quarterback,” head coach Herm Edwards said. “You’re a freshman quarterback. Just don’t turn the ball over. He did a pretty good job of not doing that. This year, he knows that all of a sudden, when you look at our team, it’s only nine seniors. So who else is going to lead? You don’t have a choice if you’re a quarterback.

“Now, what’s good for him, he’s in an offense that’s different, but he’s a quick study. He likes it, he gets it, and now he has to do that along with being the quarterback. He has to lead and be the quarterback, which he’s ready to do.”

He’ll try that new leadership role while under the tutelage of a new offensive coordinator, Zak Hill, who comes over from Boise State to replace the outgoing Rob Likens. As Edwards said, though, Daniels may be quick to learn the new offense. That could easily be change for the better.

“[Daniels is] a guy that’s always seeking knowledge,” Edwards said. “This offense is interesting to him because he’s going to have the ability now at the line of scrimmage and the way Zak runs it, you can check out of the play. If you get a certain look, you have the ability to go, ‘Hey, we’re doing this.’ So every quarterback wants to be able to do that rather than look to the sideline and figure out what the signals are, because now he’s playing quarterback.”

Daniels always finds himself in the head coach’s office, Edwards said, just hanging out and spending part of his day there. He describes their relationship as “really good,” but elsewhere within the coaching staff, there’s a new rapport to be developed.

“From what I heard, he was cool, calm and collected and all of that stuff, but it truly is. He’s just his own person,” Hill said of Daniels. “He’s not very vocal off the field, but just kind of has his own way about him, and guys love him.

“Jayden’s one of those guys that’s a true playmaker. Once he gets out on the field, that’s when he really feels comfortable. And so he’s got the ability to extend plays, he can make throws from the pocket, but from a defensive coordinator standpoint now, that’s a tough thing to plan for. Jayden Daniels brings a lot of different things that you’ve got to plan for as a DC. And so just the athleticism and his ability to make plays is what I’m looking forward to.”

What’s more, former ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici, an offensive assistant from the coaching staff last year, is reportedly moving on to join the Cardinals coaching staff. Bercovici was in Daniels’ ear often after drives and plays.

“I appreciate the coaches out here that recruited me first here. But I trust Coach Herm and them,” Daniels said. “They’re trying to build the program the right way so the pieces that they bring in, that’s who they’re going to bring in. So I’m just here to learn from them, gain as much knowledge as I can and go out there and win games.”

Meanwhile, ASU’s leader in total yards from last year, Brandon Aiyuk, and leader in rushing yards, Eno Benjamin, have both gone on to pursue NFL careers. An influx of new recruits will have to take on a lot of the outgoing production, as will the top receiver last year among returning players, Frank Darby. At running back, newcomers Daniyel Ngata and Deamonte Trayanum ought to vie for Benjamin’s old snaps. Both were already on campus on Thursday.

“I think it’s going to be a really good challenge for the young guys coming in. It’s good for the room to provide more competition,” Hill said. “And I know those guys in that room right now are hungry to show what they’ve got, they’re hungry to prepare, they’re hungry to get out there and prove who’s going to be the playmakers in that room, and knowing that they’ve got four wide receivers coming in in the near future.”

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