Veterans and newcomers came together for the first time on Sunday morning practice, donning shells instead of only helmets and shorts which were the team’s attire for the first two days of practice.
“I was really pleased,” said coach Todd Graham about the team’s performance.
The offense was put into tough situations during practice.
“You’ve seen a lot of adversity for the offense,” he said. “We put them in bad situations, put them in long yard situations, blitzing about every which way we could possibly blitz.”
He said redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly looked poised on the field. He also said two freshman running backs stood out: Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard.
Ballage has versatility, having shown skills in the passing game. In high school, the four-star recruit caught 40 passes for 12 touchdowns to go with his 2,690 yards rushing with 35 TDs.
Kelly spoke highly of Ballage after the first practice of the season.
“He’s a big player,” Kelly said. “He’s very smart, (a) humble kid, works hard. I’m very excited to see what he can do with the football.
Richard carried for more than 4,200 yards as a high school, and pushed 63 rushes into the endzone.
On defense, Graham said freshman linebackers DJ Calhoun and Christian Sam stood out.
Sam won consecutive state championships at Allen High School, which was ranked as the second-best high school football program in the nation. He also won the Defensive MVP of the 2013 state championship game.
Calhoun, who was a team captain for the West in the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Game, comes to ASU as the No. 12 linebacker recruit in America.
“He lit some guys up. He looked really good,” Graham said. “DJ’s going to really do some great things.”
New players like these will make it easier for Graham to replace the graduated defensive athletes.
Graham said he had the old players’ skills figured out and was able to properly utilize them on the field. The challenge with the new players will be adjusting to scheme to fit their strengths. Graham said he isn’t completely ready to do that with the new system.
“I’m a little uncomfortable but I like that. It’s a great challenge,” he said. “I thought it looked pretty good today.”
The defense forced multiple turnovers during practice and Graham said he was pleased with their performance.
“The big story of today was takeaways,” Graham said. “We had five takeaways on defense. We had zero the first two days.”
While that’s a good sign for the defense, he also sees it as something the offense needs to work on.
“That’s the first day of pads,” he said. “Our number one objective was to make sure we don’t turn the football over.”
The defense has looked solid and the offense shows signs of very good play, but Graham said there’s something else that stands out in the team that’s been missing in the past.
“We come in in the morning at 7:10 and we have a team meeting,” he said. “As I’m coming down the hall, I hear the entire room singing the fight song. I like that. It means we’ve got some leadership in that room and guys are developing that brotherhood and that’s what it’s all about.”
He said that was the first time it had happened.
“I really believe this,” he said. “This will be the best football team that we’ve had just because of how they surrender every day to the team. It’s all about the unit, it’s all about the brotherhood.”
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