Todd Graham: Arizona State looking for QB who ‘elevates everybody else’

Mar 7, 2016, 2:30 PM

Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins dives over California safety Luke Rubenzer after being forc...

Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins dives over California safety Luke Rubenzer after being forced out of bounds during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The biggest question facing Arizona State when it opens spring football practice one week from Monday is an obvious one: who is the starting quarterback.

It’s the same question head coach Todd Graham faced in 2012, his first in Tempe.

And just like four years ago there are three candidates vying for the job: Bryce Perkins, Brady White and Manny Wilkins.

“Everybody’s even,” said Graham, who made sure to include incoming freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole in the conversation when he recently met with a handful of reporters on the fifth floor of the Carson Student-Athlete Center.

Sterling-Cole will be added to the mix come the fall.

In the meantime, Perkins, White and Wilkins will battle it out over 15 practices, beginning March 14.

“We’re looking forward to seeing who that’s going to be; and I think we’ve got three great young men in the spring and another one coming in the fall. It’s exciting,” Graham said. “It’s a process that we’ll go through that is very simple. It’s, we’ve got to find the guy that separates himself that elevates everybody else on that field.”

In 2012 that player was Taylor Kelly.

Of course it didn’t start out that way.

When Graham arrived on campus, Brock Osweiler was the man expected to lead the Sun Devils under center.  However, rather than stick around for his senior season, Osweiler chose to enter the NFL Draft, where the Denver Broncos made him a second-round selection.

That left Kelly, Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank.

“It was a very wide open deal. But I would tell you that everybody, including me, thought it was between two guys that didn’t win it,” Graham said. “Remember, we came out of spring ball, I met with Taylor Kelly and I told him, you’re the third-team quarterback, after spring ball.”

Four months later all three quarterbacks returned for fall practice.

Immediately, Kelly impressed.

“As we assessed and we analyzed that, we started looking going like, wow man, he’s the third-team guy; he’s always out there with the second and third (teams) and he keeps scoring on the first-team defense,” Graham said, looking back.

Kelly was given a couple of days to run the first-team offense and was told, “You’ve got to do something,” Graham said. “He didn’t just go win it, and it was just clearly him, we talked and talked and talked and talked and talked.  We had not made a decision all the way up until the week of the game and we said, he’ll be the starter for this week and he never relinquished it.”

Graham is hoping there’s a Taylor Kelly lurking inside a Perkins, White, Wilkins or Sterling-Cole.

“One of the things we believe in is process and charting everything and going through all that, but it’s not about who can win the Elite 11. It’s about who can elevate the other 10 guys and the teammates on the field to win,” he said.

And if that process takes longer than spring practice, as it did in 2012, then Graham, as well as new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, is OK with that.

“Even if we knew who it was we wouldn’t tell you,” Graham said, smiling. “People always say, ‘well you need to select one so everybody knows.’  When you have one, everybody knows already. All you’re waiting to do is tell the media. Know what I’m saying?”

Added Lindsay about the three quarterbacks he’s had a chance to work with so far, “All three exemplify kind of what we want at that position. It’s going to be a lot of fun. They’re competitors you can tell. There’s no doubt in my mind they can play.”

Graham, too, has liked what he’s seen from Perkins, White and Wilkins.

“Really diverse in their talents,” he said. “I like that all three of them can extend plays. Obviously very physically gifted in different ways.”

Wilkins would appear to have a leg up on the competition based strictly on experience.

It was Wilkins who backed up starter Bercovici last season, appearing in four games, though not once did Wilkins attempt a pass.

“It’s going to boil down to who wants it the worst,” Graham said. “Obviously, it’s going to be three really talented guys going at it; and then the guy coming in the fall is pretty talented, too.”

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