'Different' arrives at Arizona State

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Amanda Pettas, daughter of former Washington offensive coordinator John Pettas, dashes into the middle of the Arizona State scrimmage. You wonder: Is she possessed by the ghost of former Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict, determined to do something completely nuts?

The whistle blows, and immediately Pettas raises a pair of flags -- maroon and gold, of course.

The reporter on the sideline, widely known for being phenomenally observant and preternaturally insightful, is given three ultimately futile guesses as to what the heck Pettas is doing.

Sports information director Mark Brand then explains that Pettas is charged with running to the ball and raising the flags so coaches, watching film later, can know for sure which players are running full-go until the whistle is blown and which, thinking they are away from the play and can relax, might slow down a second or two before the whistle.

New coach Todd Graham doesn't like that. To him, it's loafing. The Sun Devils over the past few seasons did a lot of that.

That phenomenally observant and preternaturally insightful reporter saw little loafing on Tuesday. Also, his ears are ringing. Graham has enlisted a crew of assistants who aren't shy about making a point colorfully.

"The first couple of weeks were a little rough," offensive tackle Evan Finkenberg said.

It's a seeming requisite when observing a new coaching staff for folks -- fans and media -- to paint a "There's a new sheriff in town!" picture. Everything the fired coach did becomes inferior and everything the new coach changes becomes brilliant and inspiring. These, naturally, are superficial judgments made before games are played.

But this is different. Everybody dresses the same -- there are no fashion statements at practice. Walking on the field is verboten. While former coach Dennis Erickson mostly observed practice, Graham is active at just about every moment. He barks, instructs and jokes with his players incessantly. And so do his assistants.

Different, of course, guarantees only change, not success. And the players Graham inherited -- a roster with many questions -- might not be capable of winning more than six games next fall, as they did in 2011, even with a dramatic change in culture.

But six wins with fewer penalties, more consistent effort and a more disciplined, mature locker room likely would be embraced by the Sun Devils' frustrated fan base. And would bode well for the future.

Some observations:

  • Quarterback competition? It's interesting because Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank and Taylor Kelly are so different, something that won't be the case going forward when Graham and his staff recruit specifically for their offense. No question Bercovici is the best passer by a wide margin. Graham wants to throw downfield aggressively, and Bercovici -- big arm, quick release -- has the potential to do that as well as anyone in the conference. But Bercovici isn't a runner, and QB runs are a staple of Graham's offense. The general consensus is Eubank is the future. He's got a nice arm and his 6-foot-5, 242-pound frame makes him a physical, if not terribly speedy runner. On Tuesday, however, Eubank seemed reluctant to throw, even when guys were open. Kelly is likely in third place, but he can run and he also throws fairly well, though he seems to aim the ball in a way that defenses will be able to pick up.

  • The Sun Devils are deep at running back, particularly if Deantre Lewis gets back up to speed after missing last year with a gun shot wound that left him with nerve damage in his upper leg. There's starter Cameron Marshall and James Morrison -- a couple of bangers -- touted incoming players, Marion Grice, a JC transfer, and freshman D.J. Foster, as well as hybrid WR/RB Kyle Middlebrooks and Jamal Miles.

  • The offensive line has looked better than expected and the defensive line is solid, though it will be much better if suspended end Junior Onyeali gets reinstated.

  • Areas of concern: linebacker, receiver and safety. There are intriguing players at each spot, but experience -- particularly at linebacker and wide receiver -- is an issue.

  • Last year, the Sun Devils played an up-tempo, no-huddle, spread offense. They needed roughly 20 to 22 seconds between plays. Graham's goal is 16 to 18 seconds. That's really fast, perhaps not even doable on a consistent basis. But the effort to get there certainly increases the pace at practice.