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ASU QB Jayden Daniels growing in more ways than 1 in new offense

Arizona State QB Jayden Daniels (Katie MacCrory/ASU Football)

Bringing a new offensive coordinator in and learning a different system is going to have its hurdles no matter how prepared one might think they are.

Throw in the coronavirus pandemic, and the subsequent shuttering of practices, and those hurdles look a whole lot more menacing.

While the Arizona State Sun Devils have gone the route of adding OC Zak Hill to the program’s ranks, the early returns from practice show an offense meshing around sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels. But even then, there’s still work to be done.

“It’s always a work in progress with a new offense and quarterback. Jayden’s doing a really good job of picking things up and picking up the operation of everything,” Hill told reporters via Zoom on Saturday. “Now, it’s just fine-tuning stuff. He knows the offense as far as what we’ve put in.

“We’ve gone through it multiple times and now it’s when to use certain things. … Now, it’s detailing that stuff up and showing him looks. It’s more just the fine details we’re trying to iron out and putting him in situations in practice.”

In his freshman year, Daniels proved he was the guy that could lead ASU’s offense, completing 60.7% (205-of-338) of his passes for 2,943 yards and 17 touchdowns. He threw just two interceptions and added another 355 yards and three scores on 125 carries in the ground game.

But this season is different. Former OC Rob Likens is no longer with the program, paving the way for Hill and the team’s new-look offense. Players and coaches haven’t let much slip on the new system, but from the sounds of it, they’re all champing at the bit to see it in action.

“He’s tailored this offense around me,” Daniels said. “He asks me what I like and what I want to run and he’s going back to the film to see what best works for me and what best fits for me. It’s just very exciting knowing that I’m able to go to somebody and talk to him about, ‘This is what I want to do or I like this but I don’t like this.’ That’s really the relationship we’re building.”

And while the pandemic threw in a massive kink in the team’s installation plans, Daniels and the rest of the offense used the down time to their advantage.

“We didn’t get to finish spring ball, finish practicing all the installs that he had, all the new concepts,” Daniels said. “But I feel like those couple months we had off due to Covid we’re back home just meeting and taking a more in-depth look of what we want to accomplish when the time comes.

“I feel like when we came back and we got together, everybody was on the same page. Everything’s clicking and now the whole offense has slowed down for everybody.”

His teammates have seen Daniels mastering of the offense firsthand, and have been gushing over the QB in more ways than one. Fullback and fellow captain Case Hatch said the QB has been “next level” since getting back to the practice field, as both a leader and an athlete.

Those couple of months not only helped Daniels get the new system down, it also aided the QB is bulking up for his sophomore year. Daniels said he took the time back home to put on more weight.

He doubled down the effort when he returned back to Tempe, working with strength and conditioning coaches to put on more muscle mass so he’s able to bounce back after taking a hit.

It’s certainly not business as usual for the Sun Devils, from the late start to the season to the daily COVID-19 testing protocols. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Games are scheduled and teams are practicing. There’s not much more you could ask for during this time.

“It’s been pretty difficult. By now we’re in season,” Daniels said of the change in this year’s order of operations. “Just off of last year, we started camp early August. Being in camp in October is very different, but I’d rather be in camp right now getting ready to play in a couple weeks than not playing this whole fall and postponing to next year and watching people on TV play.

“It’s kinda different. It’s been very hard, the transition. Everyone’s looking like we want to play, we’ve been off for so many months. We want to play, so just keeping our same focus on the main goals that we have.”

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