Pac-12: Arizona State Sun Devils

Four more spring games are set for Saturday, at which point more than half the Pac-12 will be done with spring ball. You know what that means ... the countdown to fall camp begins!

Here is quick peek at the four games being played this weekend:

Arizona State

Where: Sun Devil Stadium
Kickoff: 11 a.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Arizona (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: When there are steaks on the line, like there will be in this one, you can pretty much guarantee a competitive atmosphere. Instead of an offense vs. defense scoring system, coach Todd Graham broke up the team with a good amount of starters on each side. Starting quarterback Taylor Kelly will lead the maroon team and Mike Bercovici will quarterback the gold team, but the with nine starters departed off last season's defense, it's that side of the ball that will be worth paying attention to. Running back D.J. Foster, who has battled a minor toe sprain throughout the spring, will see limited action despite a clean bill of health. Former Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer will serve as the analyst on the Pac-12 Arizona broadcast.

USC

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Kickoff: 3 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: It would have been a lot more fun if coach Steve Sarkisian waited until after the spring game to announce Cody Kessler as the starting quarterback. That way everyone could have overanalyzed the competition based on one meaningless game. But really, who are we kidding? The overanalyzation will go on regardless -- and Sarkisian did leave the door open for Max Browne to work his way back into the mix. It'll be interesting to watch both Kessler and Browne operate the up-tempo offense Sarkisian brought with him from Washington and how a rebuilt offensive line stacks up against a talented defensive front. The guys from WeAreSC kick around much more to pay attention to in this roundtable discussion.

Utah

Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. MT
TV: Pac-12 Mountain (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: It'll be good to see quarterback Travis Wilson back under center in a game-like situation again, and even more intriguing because he'll be running new coordinator Dave Christensen's offense against the Utes' base defense. While the setting won't showcase the depths of the playbook, the Cliffs Notes version should provide enough to develop a better understanding of how things will be different next season. The clock will operate as it would in a regular game during a pair of 10-minute quarters in the first half and will use a running clock in the second half after an eight-minute halftime. If you're planning on attending, a food competition and MUSS football game will be held at 11 a.m. MT, with an alumni football game to follow at noon.

Washington

Where: Husky Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Washington (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: Is Shaq Thompson the new Myles Jack? It has been a major storyline in Seattle throughout the spring how the talented linebacker -- and former minor-league baseball player -- is working with the offense. And after watching his some of his high school highlights, it's understandable why new coach Chris Petersen is intrigued by letting him go both ways. Any time there's a brand new coaching staff, the spring game carries a little extra sizzle, but it should also be noted those games aren't necessarily always as telling due to the lack of time the players have spent with the staff. It's a lot of fundamentals, a lot of evaluation, and the scope of what is accomplished is different when compared with schools with established staffs that are familiar with their rosters. Petersen has installed about 50 percent of the playbook. With Cyler Miles still suspended, quarterbacks Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams top the depth chart and will make their cases to replace the departed Keith Price.
Happy Friday!
A week ago, the official trailer for When the Game Stands Tall, a movie inspired by Bay Area football powerhouse De La Salle High was released.

It stars Jim Caviezel as legendary coach Bob Ladouceur, who guided the Concord, Calif., school to a famed 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2004. The movie is based on the book of the same name written by Neil Hayes, who had unrestricted access to the team in 2002 -- the senior year of future UCLA and NFL star Maurice Jones-Drew.

[+] EnlargeBob Ladouceur
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Bob Ladouceur coached De La Salle High to a 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2004.
I grew up 20 minutes from De La Salle and have followed the program since elementary school, so it was an especially intriguing trailer for me, but the storyline should have mass appeal for Pac-12 fans, especially those at Oregon.

What jumped out quickly from the trailer was that the movie does not depict the year in which Hayes, then a Contra Costa Times sports columnist, spent with the team. Instead, it will focus heavily on the circumstances around the 2004 death of linebacker/running back Terrance Kelly, who was shot two days before he was set to leave to begin his college career -- along with De La Salle teammates Cameron Colvin, Jackie Bates and Willie Glasper -- at Oregon.

"It starts with the championship game in 2003 with T.K. and those guys as seniors," said Hayes, who served as an official consultant on the movie. "Then it goes into the offseason, [Ladouceur's] heart attack, T.K.'s death -- it was crushing for the community -- and then goes into the 2004 season."

For more worthwhile reading about Kelly's lasting impact, go here, here and here. His final game was the last of De La Salle's streak.

The Spartans opened the next season with a 39-20 loss to Washington state power Bellevue at CenturyLink Field. I was a sophomore at Washington State at the time, had read Hayes' book, and so had several of my friends. For them -- some from Hawaii, some from the Seattle area -- De La Salle was some sort of mythical creature, and at their urging we made the Pullman-to-Seattle road trip to see the game.

Nearly 300 miles to see a high school football game. As college students. That's the kind of allure De La Salle had.

Seven players currently on Pac-12 rosters attended De La Salle: Cal's Michael Barton and Austin Harper (freshman year only); Oregon State's Tyler Anderson, Terron Ward and Dylan Wynn; Stanford's Austin Hooper; and USC's Michael Hutchings. Three more will join the conference for fall camp: Sumner Houston (Oregon State), Kevin Griffin (Washington State) and Dasmond Tautalatasi (Arizona State).

As with any inspired-by-real-life movie, there are some creative liberties that don't follow reality.

For example, the movie will feature a game between De La Salle and Southern California's Long Beach Poly, the supposed No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, which actually took place in 2001. Jones-Drew, then sans the Jones, had a game people still talk about, and, of course, re-live on YouTube.

"It's done for dramatic purposes and there are some new characters ... not every character comes from De La Salles," Hayes said. "But those liberties that were taken were done so with pure motives."

The football scenes were orchestrated by stunt coordinator Allan Graf, a starter on the offensive line for the 1972 USC national championship team that finished 12-0. Graf is a fixture in the industry and has been a stunt coordinator on several other football films including Friday Night Lights, Any Given Sunday, Gridiron Gang, The Replacements, The Waterboy, Jerry Maguire and The Program.

"This was some of his best work," said Hayes, in terms of how realistic the football scenes are.

At one point during filming, Ladouceur and longtime defensive coordinator Terry Eidson, portrayed by Michael Chiklis, traveled to Louisiana, where the movie was shot.

"You have all these movie stars there, but when those guys got there, they were the celebs," Hayes said.

Ladouceur retired following the 2012 season after 34 seasons with a career record of 399-25-3, but remains on staff as an assistant to Justin Alumbaugh, a UCLA graduate. Before deciding to remain on staff as an assistant, Ladouceur drew interest from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to serve in a consulting role.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian and LSU coach Les Miles have cameos in the movie, which includes some shots at Isidore Newman School, which produced Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.
I remember the stupid things, the mood rings, the bracelets and the beads, the nickels and dimes, yours and mine. Did you cash in all your dreams?
And I said "What about Breakfast at Tiffany's?" … Well, that's the one thing we've got.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
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If I owned the Twins, I wouldn't even show up here. I'd just hire a bunch of scientists to do my homework. I mean, if you're rich you don't have to be smart. That's the whole beauty of this country.

The ball is tipped and there you are. You're running for your life. You're a shooting star.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- What you already know about the 2014 Arizona State offense is impressive. Seven returning starters are led by third-year starting QB Taylor Kelly, owner of 57 career touchdown passes. There's imposing receiver Jaelen Strong, an All-American candidate. There's versatile veteran running back D.J. Foster and a physically impressive offensive line that could be the Sun Devils' best in recent memory.

But what you see at spring practices is often unfamiliar or new. Or a name that opens up the "Whatever happened to him?" file.

As in: Hey, that was a great catch by Strong.

[+] EnlargeDe'Marieya Nelson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsDe'Marieya Nelson, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound tight end, will be an added weapon to Arizona State's offense next season.
No, that was redshirt freshman Ellis Jefferson. It's easy to mistake the two because both are 6-foot-4 and solidly built.

Or: Boy, Foster sure is elusive.

No, that was Kyle Middlebrooks or Deantre Lewis, players whose careers had been waylaid by injuries.

The loss of play-making tight end Chris Coyle doesn't seem to worry anyone because of the emergence of De'Marieya Nelson, who inspired coach Todd Graham to observe, "We can't cover him."

Returning starting guard Vi Teofilo is battling Auburn transfer Christian Westerman to hold onto his job. Or maybe both will start. There has been plenty of shuffling on the line in order to figure out where talented players like Jamil Douglas, second-team All-Pac-12 last year, and Evan Goodman should end up.

While most of the questions for the Sun Devils in 2014 center on their rebuilding defense, there's also intrigue on offense. Most of it dealing with how good the unit can be, not whether it will be good enough to defend the Pac-12's South Division crown.

Graham has, well, high expectations.

"Our offense should score every time they have the ball," he said.

Graham likes to be demanding, and he's excited about his offense, so setting a goal for offensive perfection probably makes sense to him. Yet Kelly, not a demonstrative sort who casually wields hyperbole, also gushes about what the offense is doing this spring and has the potential to do in the fall.

"We're deadly," Kelly said. "Our offensive line is doing a tremendous job up front. We're running the football better than we ever have before."

Of course, one shouldn't put too much stock into the vagaries of spring practices. A day after Kelly and Graham tossed bouquets to their offense, the rebuilding defense controlled the action during a weekend scrimmage.

Still, the potential for something special is obviously there. Further, the Sun Devils have a luxury that few teams in the nation or Pac-12 can boast: An A-list veteran backup quarterback. Junior Mike Bercovici doesn't look like a backup during practices. After deciding not to transfer when Kelly beat him out two years ago, he's almost certain to be the starter next year, and his live arm might make him a better NFL prospect than Kelly.

"The best thing about it is how they push each other in practice," offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. "Bercovici is creating his future based off every rep he gets today even though he's not the first-team guy. When he gets an opportunity, I'm 100 percent confident he's going to be successful because of the way he's prepared every day the last two years. He's not wasting days. He's ready to lead this team."

That also means Norvell doesn't have to use kid gloves with Kelly, who is a good and aggressive runner, who had 608 yards and nine TDs last year. That's a security blanket that UCLA and Oregon do not have with their dual-threat QBs.

It's pretty safe to say that Arizona State, barring major injury woes, is going to have one of the best offenses in the Pac-12 and nation next year. But there's still plenty of intrigue on the depth chart, which is a good thing -- depth! competition! -- for Graham, Kelly and company.

Video: Arizona State DT Marcus Hardison

April, 7, 2014
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Arizona State DT Marcus Hardison talks about the Sun Devils rebuilding defense and his improvement this spring.
Happy Friday!
video
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona State offense is cruising along, owning the line of scrimmage and making plays. Taylor Kelly and company are efficient and dominant, even with a couple of negative outcomes here and there. Hard-to-satisify Sun Devils coach Todd Graham says later, "Our offense should score every time it has the ball."

But who are these guys getting gashed? This isn't the Arizona State defense, is it? Where's Will Sutton? Where's Carl Bradford? Where's Alden Darby and Chris Young?

Here's a guess that unless you're a regular on Sun Devils football message boards, you can't name a single guy who will be starting on defense for Arizona State next year.

Not only did Arizona State lose nine starters, it lost all of its defensive stars. Six of those guys were first-team or second-team All-Pac-12. Two others were honorable mention.

"Every year you've got to hit the restart button," defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "Some years more than others."

That's for sure. Not only are just about all the players new -- several top backups also finished their eligibility -- so is Patterson, who was hired away from West Virginia to coach with Graham, his college roommate.

Yet things aren't dire. Only uncertain. Of course, the Sun Devils probably will play some barn burners next fall, particularly with 10 starting quarterbacks returning in the Pac-12. The measure of whether they can repeat as South Division champions, however, probably will come down to how quickly folks stop calling the defense inexperienced and start calling it surprisingly good.

The two returning starters are linebacker Salamo Fiso and safety Damarious Randall. Nose guard Jaxon Hood and DB/LB Laiu Moeakiola, part-time starters in 2013, also are back. You can pencil in Lloyd Carrington at one corner. Marcus Hardison will take on a spot on the defensive line. After that, things are pretty fluid and figure to remain that way until a bevy of first-year players arrive in the fall, including several juco transfers who are expected to immediately be in the starting mix, such as linebacker Darrius Caldwell.

[+] EnlargeWill Sutton
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAll-conference DT Will Sutton is one of nine starters the Sun Devils must replace on defense.
That, in fact, is one of the challenges this spring. While the focus is on the present, there is some forward thinking in terms of what an eventual pecking order and rotation might be.

"No doubt. We spend an enormous amount of time talking about personnel, people who aren't even here," Patterson said. "But the focus right now, in the middle of spring ball, is more to the people on campus."

It's clear the coaches are excited about several young players. Safeties James Johnson and Marcus Ball, both redshirt freshmen, have been impressive. True freshman linebacker D.J. Calhoun, an early enrollee, seems certain to earn playing time, if not a starting role.

Still, there are a lot of questions, particularly with the front seven. It's pretty clear that the production of individual players won't match the past two seasons.

"We are not going to replace Carl Bradford and his production," Patterson said. "I don't think we'll have that type of individual player. We're not going to replace those guys. We'll play more as a unit, play more team defense."

Last season, the Sun Devils ranked 18th in the nation and second in the Pac-12 with 7.21 tackles for a loss per game. They ranked 18th in the nation and third in the Pac-12 with 2.86 sacks per game. They were sixth in the nation and first in the conference with 1.5 interceptions per game.

Graham's defense, which Patterson will run, is predicated on negative plays. It doesn't matter if no one on the 2014 defense picks up 19 tackles for a loss, as Bradford did, or grabs six interceptions, as Robert Nelson did, but it does matter if the Sun Devils are close to their 2013 team averages next fall.

Even though the Sun Devils will be young, they will continue to use an aggressive scheme. Said Patterson, "That's the core of who we are. We're not going to change that."

That also means taking chances. Another issue beyond piling up negative plays will be how often aggression ends up yielding an explosion play by the opposing offense.

The good news is Arizona State's defense might not face a better offense than the one it scrimmages against in practice. If the defense starts forcing a few three-and-outs against Kelly & Co., then it would be perfectly reasonable to imagine the Sun Devils again making a run in the South Division.

Video: Arizona State coach Todd Graham

April, 4, 2014
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video Arizona State coach Todd Graham talks about spring practices, his veteran offense and his rebuilding defense.

Video: Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly

April, 3, 2014
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Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly talks about spring practice and defending their Pac-12 South crown.
I saw the sign and it opened up my mind.
On Monday, we took a look at how the Pac-12's offensive players stack up as NFL prospects in the eyes of ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. Tuesday, it's the defense's turn.

Defensive line

  • DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State: No. 4 (Kiper), No. 5 (McShay)
  • DT Will Sutton, Arizona State: No. 8 (Kiper), No. 10 (McShay)

If you've been following along since the end of the season, Sutton's spot isn't all too surprising. He didn't have a good showing at the combine and has taken heat about his physical condition, dating to before last season. Even with the concerns, it's hard to imagine he won't eventually find his way in the NFL. After all, he's only the second player in conference history to be a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Washington's Steve Emtman (1990-91) was the other. That's not by accident.

Coincidentally, the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam, isn't ranked in the top 10 by either. See the list here. Insider

Other Pac-12 defensive linemen who figure to be in the mix in the draft are Cassius Marsh (UCLA), Taylor Hart (Oregon), Deandre Coleman (Cal), George Uko (USC), Tenny Palepoi (Utah), Morgan Breslin (USC), Ben Gardner (Stanford) and Josh Mauro (Stanford).

Linebacker

  • [+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
    Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFormer UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr could be the first Pac-12 player to be drafted this year.
    OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA: No. 2 (both)
  • OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford: No. 6 (Kiper), No. 9 (McShay)
  • ILB Shayne Skov, Stanford: No. 3 (both)
  • ILB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: No. 8 (Kiper)

Barr is widely considered the Pac-12's best hope at landing in the first 10 picks, but if McShay was drafting, that wouldn't be the case. On drafting Barr, McShay wrote:
[Barr] of UCLA is a speed-rusher who stalls out when attempting to convert speed to power, and there is too much finesse to his game for me to pay a top-15 price for him. He looks like he's on skates when he attempts to set the edge.

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for the same player Stanford coach David Shaw compared to Jevon Kearse. Shaw called Barr called the best (defensive) player the conference has had in the "last few years."

Murphy is in a similar boat to Sutton in that his college production isn't necessarily being viewed as a lock to translate to the NFL. He still figures to be a good fit for a 3-4 team and should be expected to contribute right away.

Outside of the four listed, it wasn't a very deep year for linebackers in the conference. Utah's Trevor Reilly, who can play both OLB and DE, Arizona State OLB Carl Bradford and USC's Devon Kennard headline the rest of the NFL hopefuls.

Defensive back

McGill should send a thank you card in Pete Carroll's direction. It's largely because of Seattle's use of big-bodied corners en route to a Super Bowl victory that the league appears to be trending in that direction. At 6-foot-4, McGill's size -- in addition to his solid showing at the combine -- is a rare asset among the group of corners.

Bucannon looks like he'll be the first defensive back off the board, but will he be a first-round pick? That's unlikely, but it would be a surprise if he lasts into the third round.

Another storyline to watch is where the three defensive backs who left early -- safety Ed Reynolds (Stanford), cornerback Terrance Mitchell (Oregon) and cornerback Kameron Jackson (Cal) -- wind up.

See the lists for linebackers and defensive backs here.Insider

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