If there was one running themes to Arizona State coach Todd Graham's post-scrimmage media comments Saturday, it was this: There is a lot of work to be done.
With players who aren't physically prepared for the pace they'll be asked to play or familiar with the terminology, there are no major surprises though. Graham said the team is right where he expected.
A crowd of perhaps 1000 fans saw a handful of exciting plays overrun by a number of blown assignments, missed turnover opportunities, spotty quarterback play and some kicking inconsistency, but the first-year coaching staff is starting anew with some of the basics, starting with its approach to the game.
"We wanted to come out here today and take care of the football," Graham said. "We wanted to come out here and be disciplined about what we were doing. We did come out here and everyone had the same socks on, same shoes, same everything. So we came out and at least looked like we knew what we were doing, but we've just got a lot of work to do from where we're at right now...Exactly where I thought we'd be.
"It was a first scrimmage is what I would tell you. Obviously there's a lot to work on. We'll evaluate things. The biggest thing we were trying to get was first of all come out here with discipline. We have a ways to go. Too many penalties, too many times putting the ball in jeopardy, things like that...A lot of positive things, but an awful lot of work to be done. I was really proud of the effort today."
The defense outshined the offense to some degree but it could have been downright ugly had it capitalized on all the chances it had to turn the football over. There were at least five throws that could have resulted in interception not being hauled in, including two by junior spur linebacker Matthew Tucker.
"My thoughts on those are we should have had them," junior linebacker Anthony Jones said said. "Our No. 1 goal is to lead the nation in takeaway explosive plays and we missed those opportunities. When you give up those types of plays it's just a dagger to the heart."
With a number of sacks and other plays for loss on the day, it seemed like the ASU offense, which wore its all white uniforms while the defense was in all black, faced a lot of third and long and fourth and long situations, but wasn't able to capitalize on too many, other than interceptions by junior corner Osahon Irabor and sophomore safety Alden Darby.
"When we get those opportunities we have to take advantage of it," redshirt freshman linebacker Isreal Marshall said. "Scoop and score, we didn't take advantage of it this time. We had eight [tackles for loss] but didn't turn them over so we have to work on that."
Marshall said even though the defense has a long way to go, he believes the potential of the group is very high due to its athleticism.
"Best in the nation for sure," Marshall said of the group's goal. "Best in the nation by far. We have the size, we have the speed so we're rolling, trying to get ready for fall."
Others agree there is a long way to go, but are encouraged by the amount of progress made in a short period of time.
"It was fun, there's a lot of things we could have done better," Jones said. "We left a lot of turnovers out there, at least five of them. But we've improved a lot already since the first day and it's a process so we've just got to continue it. I made a couple mistakes, as a whole there were some missed gaps, ends not crashing, things like that, but we can fix that over time. From where we started it's going pretty good."
A big part of the challenge is getting accustomed to how new everything is that is being asked of them on both sides of the ball.
"We've got a long way to go in that regard," Graham said. "That's one of the big challenges there is: it's all new terminology and things. This the first time the coaches are all on the sidelines and (the players) are by themselves, so obviously there's going to be a lot of things we're going to want to correct. But I was very pleased with our players. They're buying into how we want to do things and working hard at it."
Sophomore running back Deantre Lewis started at running back, his first live scrimmage action since being shot in the upper leg more than a year ago. Conditioning was an issue for Lewis, who struggled on a lengthy drive and was clearly not feeling well on the sidelines after coming off. Odds are pretty good though it was a bad feeling he enjoyed. Graham said after the scrimmage he was initially told that Lewis wouldn't be available for the spring, and he's been impressed with his effort. In terms of his explosiveness and speed, there is still quite a ways to go.
Sophomore kicker Alex Garoutte had a PAT blocked but still got it through the uprights. He missed a 38 yard field goal wide left and had a 30 yard field goal attempt hit the left upright before going through. He made two other attempts. Backup Parker Flynn, a redshirt sophomore, hit from 42 yards with plenty of room to spare. Regarding Garoutte, Graham said his message was to forget last year and go make kicks. "There's nobody to fix you," Graham said he told Garoutte. "Line up at a 90 degree angle and kick the ball between the goalposts. I want to be aggressive, I want him to attack."
Junior running back Kyle Middlebrooks appeared to ding his left shoulder late in the session and did not return.