Coach Todd Graham was very blunt when he described the third practice at Camp Tontozona.
"As a whole it was average compared to where we've been practicing," Graham said. "I obviously challenged them with that. We've got to do better than that. It was disappointing that we had an average practice. A good practice won't get it done. A good practice gets you eight or nine wins. You can talk about it all you want, you have to come out and do it. That's what we talked about today."
Graham was frustrated for one major reason, ball security.
During practice, there were two missed snaps. Junior running back Deantre Lewis fumbled the ball. Junior quarterback Taylor Kelly threw an interception to freshman safety Marcus Ball inside the red zone. Sophomore running back D.J. Foster caught a pass over the middle which would have gone for a touchdown but senior safety Alden Darby punched it out of his hands.
Up until this practice turnovers have not been an issue in fall camp.
"Our practice standards are pretty high and we practice pretty well as far as our tempo and how we do things," Graham said. "But you fumble two snaps, you put the ball on the ground twice, that's four turnovers in one game. That's losing football. We were one of the worst teams in the country last year at doing that. 77th in turnover ratio, 99th in TFLs and one of the best scoring teams in the country. We have been outstanding up to this point with ball security. We had our best day yesterday and worst day today. That's part of coaching and coming out here and being consistent every day."
The term, "Own the ball," has been a mantra of the Graham coaching staff ever since he arrived at ASU last season.
There is a sign with the words, "Own the ball," written on it stationed on the practice field at all times and both the offense and defense will break the huddle yelling out the phrase.
Despite the posters and chants, the team did not put up the ball security numbers they wanted last year as every game ASU lost Kelly threw an interception.
This season, the coaching staff has put an even bigger stress on ball security.
There are "ball drills" at the beginning and end of every practice.
Running backs have to run through a gauntlet with coaches and equipment mangers slapping their arms with pads. Defensive linemen practice stripping the ball from an opponent, falling on it and then covering it up in the fetal position.
The silver lining for ASU is it was the first average practice. It shows how much the standards have gone up and how much the team has improved as a whole.
"Last year I would have come over and said that was a pretty good day," Graham said. "But not this year."
Graham held the team leaders after practice and challenged them to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Junior college transfer sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong had one of the best catches on Wednesday. On Thursday he topped it.
On a fade route down the sidelines Strong timed the ball thrown by Kelly perfectly, jumped up above senior cornerback Osahon Irabor, reached over Irabor's head, grabbed the ball in the air while almost wrapping his arms around Irabor, pulled the ball in, landed and took off for a touchdown.
"Heck of a catch over Irabor who had outstanding coverage," Graham said. "[Strong] has those kinds of playmaking abilities. He's starting to see a sign or two but it's going to take a while now. He's going to get better every day and hopefully within 21 days he'll be ready to go."
Strong gave credit to wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander for his quick improvement. He said he has been working on small technical details to adjust to the college level.
"The biggest thing is depth," Strong said. "My routes have to be exact because football now is about timing. You can't be there too early. You can't be there too late. So everything is about timing. So I have to listen to what the coaches say about depth because I trust them a lot. I have to keep working on that, stop making mental mistakes out here on the field and be ready to go."
Junior college transfer junior defensive lineman Marcus Hardison has had tough transition to Division I college football.
Thursday's practice may indicate he is catching up with his teammates. Graham for sure hopes he has more practices like he did on Thursday.
"Marcus Hardison really had a good day," Graham said. "The first day's he's stepped it up."
Hardison got some first team reps at the 3-technique spot on defense.
The starting 3-technique, senior defensive lineman Will Sutton, stepped away to the sidelines about halfway through practice because he was feeling ill.
Like Graham said, Hardison took advantage of the reps and had his best practice so far.
The 6-foot-5, 290 pound newcomer attributes his improvement and his movement up the depth chart to a change in his stance by defensive line coach Jackie Shipp.
"From the beginning of the season, like the first three, four practices, I had my own little 'JUCO' stance," Hardison said. "[Shipp] got tired of that stance. I wasn't staying low enough. So he changed up my stance and it showed up today. I really like it and I just got to get comfortable with it a little more."
Almost every day after practice he has worked with Shipp exclusively on his stance. They worked on getting his feet farther back, leaning forward and getting his arms underneath his shoulders.
During his first team reps, Hardison was knocked to ground a couple times by offensive double teams. He said what he has to work on most after moving inside is controlling and splitting those types of blocks.
Shipp talked about how important the depth at defensive line will be this season. Shipp needs players to come in play physical so the starting defensive line won't have to play 90 snaps a game.
If Hardison keeps playing like he did Thursday, he might be the guy Shipp has been looking for.
There were some player movements at the linebacker positions Thursday.
Despite playing the spur position well to end spring ball, redshirt freshman linebacker Carlos Mendoza has lost some of his agility in space after the knee surgery. He split second team reps at the WILL with senior linebacker Grandville Taylor.
With senior linebacker Chris Young, Taylor and now Mendoza practicing at the WILL, coaches decided to let junior college transfer sophomore linebacker Antonio Longino move from the WILL to the spur. Longino got second team reps at the position.
Longino was okay with the switch.
"It feels good because I played strong side at junior college out in Kansas," Longino said. "So I'm kind of used to in it. But in a way it's kind of different because it's a totally different scheme. I'm just getting adjusted to it. I guess I'm going to be a pretty good fit though at the end of the day."
He will have to increase his conditioning because transferred from junior college and he is playing the new position.
To work on his conditioning Longino runs a hundred yards and does an up-down every five yards with a grad assistant watching after practice. He said no coach has asked him to do it. He started doing it on his own accord.
There may be a bug going around Camp T. Besides Sutton, senior linebacker Junior Onyeali also went to the sidelines feeling sick Thursday and senior tight end Chris Coyle was dressed for practice but did not fully participate in individual and team drills.
Small changes to the green jersey list. Freshman wide receiver Cameron Smith, junior college transfer junior wide receiver Joseph Morris, junior college transfer junior safety Damarious Randall and sophomore running back Matthew Reidhead were all wearing green jerseys not participating in practice. Senior running back Kyle Middlebrooks was wearing a green shirt and participating in practice. Sophomore running back Dante Alexander did not have a green jersey on today.
Sophomore tackle Evan Goodman took some first team reps at left tackle to spell out senior tackle Evan Finkenberg. Goodman has been way more consistent blocking and with his motor compared to the first week of practice.
Junior guard Sil Ajawara has dropped down to the third offensive line in the last week. Sophomore guard Devin Goodman and redshirt freshman guard Stephon McCray have been taking the second team reps instead of Ajawara.
Freshman linebacker Chans Cox was back on defense playing devil.
The defense practiced their dime package Thursday where they have two extra cornerbacks on the field. Senior cornerback Robert Nelson played the nickel, junior cornerback Lloyd Carrington played the dime and redshirt sophomore Rashad Wadood played the other corner opposite Irabor. The defensive line was a three man front with no 1 or 3 techniques. Sutton was head up on the center and junior linebacker Carl Bradford and Onyeali were in 5-techniques.
Senior cornerback Marlon Pollard took second team reps in favor of Wadood for part of Thursday's practice.
Ball got the first team reps at free safety. Surprisingly freshman safety James Johnson got the second team reps at the position instead of redshirt freshman Laiu Moeakiola. During defensive walk through Randall was right behind Ball asking him questions.
Freshman punter Matt Haack showed a little bit more consistency today and had three solid punts in a row Thursday.