Coach Edwards Previews Spring Football
"There's a chemistry, I do believe, just being around these guys for the last two months, there's a different chemistry. It's just a different football team. You can feel it."
Sun Devil Football Head Coach Herm Edwards had his first media availability of the Spring following his team's opening practice and provided an outlook on the team. Arizona State is using the Spring to break in a pair of new coordinators, assess the state of the quarterback competition, and acclimate more than two dozen new players that have joined the team. Coach Edwards feels that these changes have ushered in new energy and he's excited to see how things will develop moving forward.
"I thought for the first day, with all the new guys practicing and trying to figure out which way to go especially on offense, it was a pretty competitive practice," said Edwards. "They had a lot of energy, which is good. It's kind of fun to watch the new guys that we have."
Arizona State brought in several talented players as part of the 2022 Signing Class, adding high school prospects with high potential while also utilizing the Transfer Portal to immediately fill the needs of the team.
"Twenty-six new players on the roster. That's kind of interesting when you start looking at the different position groups. And obviously the competition at a lot of the groups… QB1 being one. Obviously, that's one that you look at and go, okay, what are we going to do?"
That's the million-dollar question for the Sun Devil football team this upcoming season. Who is going to be leading the offense? Coach Edwards isn't too stressed about the situation. For him, the answer is clear, whoever proves that they can take care of the ball and move the offense down the field will be the one at the helm.
"I got five quarterbacks and I have to figure out who the guy is. So that's where that is at," said Edwards when asked about the quarterback competition. "For the quarterback, it's who can run the offense? How do you move the offense?"
Paul Tyson, Trenton Bourget, Finn Collins, Daylin McLemore, and Bennett Meredith have all been competing for reps, pushing each other to be better not only on the field, but in the film room learning the new offense. Although the system has changed under offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas, the key philosophies have not wavered.
"One key is to not turn the ball over. That was a little bit of our Achilles heel last year. We turned the ball over, along with fouls. We got to get that corrected. It's going to be fun to watch. We got some guys with some talent. So we will just let it play it out and see where its at."
As for the rest of the offense, Edwards feels that there is plenty of competition. There are a lot of young players on the roster that are looking to make a name for themselves.
This includes the offensive line, who is replacing three starters from last season. Isaia Glass and Spencer Lovell have emerged as starting candidates, while Penn State transfer Des Holmes has impressed coaches with his physicality. The versatility and flexibility of Ben Scott allow everything to come together, as he makes the move from right tackle to center. The anchor of the whole unit remains LaDarius Henderson, who has made his way onto draft boards after a dominant 2021 campaign.
After losing several impact players from the 2021 team, many of whom will hear their name called in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft, there are multiple positions that need to be filled. One of those areas is at the skill positions, a point of emphasis in the offseason for the Sun Devils.
"We have some young receivers that we think have potential. Ricky Pearsall is probably the guy that's been on the big stage the most. The tight ends, we have a good group. Probably the best group that we've had. (Curtis) Hodges had a great year for us last year and he will be hard to replace, but we have some physicality and size." said Edwards.
As for the backfield, Edwards knows that replacing 2nd Team All-Pac 12 running back Rachaad White won't be easy.
"The running back situation is interesting. There's some talent there. You lose Rachaad White, and as you know, he was a big part of our offense. He helped us out a lot in the run game and in the pass game. It is only the first day of practice, we will see where it goes. But it's fun to watch the guys compete, I do know that. They're a very competitive group."
Those in the competition include returner Daniyel Ngata and two newcomers, Wyoming transfer Xazavian Valladay and true freshman Tevin White.
Defensively, the Sun Devils are losing several key pieces from last year. Edwards noted that while there is experience at almost every defensive position, they are still looking to improve that side of the ball and the competition will be fierce throughout spring ball.
"We feel like we have some young guys (defensively) that have some talent, so it will be fun to watch," said Edwards.
Starting with the secondary, which is filled with capable bodies, with a pecking order still to be determined. The options are plentiful, as several defensive backs return after gaining valuable experience last season. Jordan Clark, Kejuan Markham, Keon Markham, Macen Williams, and Ed Woods are a few of the returners that have stepped up in the Spring.
"Corners have played some. As you guys know, we play a lot of man-to-man. We put our corners under a lot of stress. We anticipate the two safeties coming in and battling for positions as well."
Linebackers Eric Gentry, Will Shaffer, Caleb McCullough, and Connor Soelle continued their improvement from last season, competing for playing time. Under new Defensive Coordinator Donnie Henderson, the front seven will be counted on to establish the line of scrimmage and impact the quarterback. Luckily, Henderson will be well equipped with an arsenal of pass rushers, with the return of Travez Moore, Michael Matus, Joe Moore, Stanley Lambert, and Anthonie Cooper, as well as T.J. Pesefea and Omarr Norman-Lott on the inside.
"The linebacker position, we got some veteran guys coming in, which is good. Defensive lineman, we brought in some new d-lineman, we're probably in the market cause we have some flexibility to still go out and get some players after spring ball."
Despite the infusion of youth and fresh faces, it has been veterans on the defensive side of the ball have been setting the tone. Jermayne Lole, Merlin Robertson, and Kyle Soelle have provided valuable leadership and wisdom for the young front seven. In the secondary, Timarcus Davis has assumed a more vocal role, as ASU looks to replace several members of last year's back end.
Much remains to be seen for Coach Edwards and his staff before the season kicks off in September, but Sun Devil fans have a lot to be excited about as it relates to the potential of the team. For now, the focus remains on the guys in the locker room and the energy that they are bringing to the table every day. Edwards is confident that the current players are going to be the ones that take the program to new heights.
"You can see it. You can feel it. I see these guys on Saturdays working out (from my office). There hasn't been a Saturday where a group of guys has not been out on this turf, working out on their own. That's interesting. No coaches out there, because they can't be out there. They've done that for the last month and a half. It's interesting."
Accountability and confidence have been two themes prevalent at practice so far, a sign of a renewed optimism and belief in the program.
"We got the makings," said Edwards. "It's going to be fun to see it develop."
Fans will have their first chance to check out the 2022 team when Sun Devil Football hosts its 2022 Spring Showcase presented by AAA Insurance on Saturday, April 9 at Sun Devil Stadium. Stadium gates will open at 6:00 p.m. MST and fans will get the chance to observe the 2022 Sun Devil Football roster for the first time beginning at 7 p.m. MST. Make sure to stay in Sun Devil Stadium until the conclusion of practice to watch the post-event fireworks overhead.