Questions abound as Graham, Sun Devils look to rebound from disappointing season

Jul 28, 2016, 4:41 PM
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham speaks at the Pac-12 NCAA college football media day in Los An...

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham speaks at the Pac-12 NCAA college football media day in Los Angeles Friday, July 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Todd Graham didn’t need long to detail what conclusions he reached during an offseason of introspection.

“It is pretty easy in this profession,” he said. “It is Ws and Ls. That is how it works … We haven’t met the standards that we set for ourselves.”

The Sun Devils will try to recapture the mojo they lost in last season’s 6-7 campaign when they travel to Camp Tontozona on Tuesday and open fall camp on Wednesday in their traditional training ground. Before departing, Graham addressed the local media in a wide-ranging, season-opening press conference on Thursday at the Dutson Theater in the Carson Student-Athlete Center.

Here is a sampling of his responses.

When asked about this year’s team being less vocal than last year’s team, Graham expressed no concern:

“I want guys to be genuinely who they are and I think last year was just an exception. Different people lead in different ways. Some of our leaders on our team like Laiu (Moeakiola) are guys that are naturally quiet. The personality of our team is a little less external. I look at the leaders on the team, you don’t have a returning quarterback so that impacts that a little. Our guys are just a little bit quieter. Some of them, we have to twist their arm to come in and talk to you guys.”

On the factors that resulted in ASU giving up big plays last year:

“It depends on the situation and what game you’re looking at. We did not have many big issues with it until the end of the season. I think injuries really contributed to it and what happens with the injuries is about how you adapt to it. Depth and personnel play a lot into it and the main thing is being adaptive to the guys that we have and what we can do with their skills and talents. It’s a really explosive league and there are going to be some bombs going down the field and you have to be able to knock those down and not let those things happen.”

On Kareem Orr moving from safety to corner:

“When we recruit our defensive backs, a lot of those guys can play corner and safety. Orr played safety last year and he did a solid job for us as a freshman. We really like some of the things we see in him at corner and right now that’s where we feel like we are going to look at him. It is a clean slate right now and we will figure it out further as we go through camp. Getting our guys in the right positions is really critical to us, and the offensive line and the secondary will have the most newcomers. We feel good about the guys we have. We just need to get them in the right spots.”

On needing to simplify things this season with four new offensive linemen, a new quarterback and a revamped secondary:

“I think that is probably one of the biggest things we need to adapt to. We need to figure out that line of being able to execute but still keeping things simple. At the end of the day, what is important is to design a scheme that fits your players.”

On what he looks for when choosing a starting quarterback between Manny Wilkins, Brady White and Bryce Perkins:

“Obviously, (offensive coordinator Chip) Lindsey and all of our talented coaches on offense will have a big input in that. Performance will have a lot to do with it, but at the end of the day, it comes down to the guy who will be able to elevate the other 10 guys on the field. It will be the guy who can take his team down and score. The number one factor going into who will quarterback our team will be the guy who can activate the others on the team and lead them. That is something you can see visually and you can see the respect. That is not something that is built in one day or one scrimmage. It is collectively what you do in your entire body of work. That is why I have a lot of confidence. I think the grown men we have at that position are very well respected because of their work ethic and their character on and off the field. It is going to be fun to watch.”

On Laiu Moeakiola moving from spur linebacker to free safety:

“He’s a very smart player, a very instinctive player. He has done a great job for us. Character, smarts and discipline — tough — is what we’re looking for from our guys. Laiu is an example of what our program is all about: a young man that I know when he moves forward, I know what he is going to do. He’s going to win every day. I’m not talking about scoring points or winning contests, but how he lives his life. What an example. When I think about Laiu I think about our values and how blessed I am to be coaching.”

On offensive line coach Chris Thomsen’s challenge working with four new starters:

“The biggest thing that gives me confidence is that he is one of the finest people I have ever been around. I tell people, including pastors, he would be in the top three best people I know on this planet. That’s what I think of him. You have to be around him to understand what I’m talking about. He’s a master teacher. Who he’s the most like, it would be (former Cowboys coach) Tom Landry. He doesn’t get very animated very often; he just does a tremendous job.”

On the possibility of eliminating kickoffs in college football (like the NFL) due to injuries:

“I don’t make the rules. I let them make the rules. One of the things we focus a lot on is the safety of our players, and it is important how we go about teaching the game. I am somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to the game, but I am not a traditionalist in doing something that hurts our players. This is a very physical and tough sport. I am for anything that can make it safer for our players and preserve what I think is the greatest game on earth. One of the coaches asked that me the other day about it, and I said if they make that a rule I will go by it.”

On the reasons for starting camp at Tontozona this season:

“Academically is one of the reasons why because of where the calendar ends. I think we are going to have technology up there. We need to do our schoolwork so hopefully, we have that worked out. I would have probably always preferred to start there. I love getting away and getting out of here and getting those guys up there. I wish we could spend two weeks up there. In this day in age, I think it’s a great tradition and something that we should honor. I love Camp Tontozona, and that is why we are starting up there. It is out of preference really.”

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