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August 19, 2012

Graham likely to use two quarterbacks in opener

PAYSON -- If clarity was what Arizona State coach Todd Graham wanted at the quarterback position at the conclusion of Camp Tontozona, he got it, but not in the traditional sense of the word.

With less than two weeks until the Sun Devils kick off their season against Northern Arizona on August 30, it's nearly certain that two signal-callers will receive meaningful snaps in the opener.

As sophomore Mike Bercovici fell off the pace of his competitors, freshman Michael Eubank and sophomore Taylor Kelly battled up north this week, both turning in solid performances in Saturday's scrimmage and earning themselves at least a look at the quarterback position when the snaps count for real.

"I can't see a situation where we don't use two quarterbacks," Graham said Saturday. "I think it's a process for all of them and each one has picked it up at a different pace. The key is that we design a key package for each one that is specific to them."

So while one quarterback, Bercovici appears to be set for the third spot on the depth chart, both Kelly and Eubank will almost certainly take their competition into the regular season. The only thing left to determine before then, however, is who will be under center for the first offensive snap.

Graham said he will wait until Monday to make that announcement, after he and his coaching staff have time to watch the film and analyze the two suitors.

The decision won't be an easy one. Both quarterbacks stood out Saturday with Kelly completing 6 of 10 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns while Eubank connected on 12 of his 16 attempts for 96 yards and one score. On the ground, Eubank added 106 yards and a touchdown on 15 rushes.

Throughout the week, Kelly was the only one of the two who threw an interception in a team period, when ASU junior defensive end Junior Onyeali picked him off on a screen pass.

"The guy that is going to be our starting quarterback Week 1 has got to be the guy who can run and manage the offense without turning the ball over," Graham said. "I'm going to evaluate that and we'll make a decision."

While the decision for who will start the NAU game is still up in the air, according to Eubank, it might be already decided who will get the majority of the reps.

"Coach (Mike) Norvell told me I'll be at least getting 50-60 snaps on the field a game, so I would love to start but again I'm counting my blessings and thanking God," he said. "I feel like I helped myself greatly. I didn't stand in the pocket (too long) and I made sure I ran out of the pocket every chance I had to. I think I showcased my legs and showcased what I can do for this offense."

Kelly, on the other hand, was also pleased with his showing at Camp Tontozona. Coming into camp as the presumptive third quarterback on the depth chart, he felt he's surprised some people with his play, but not himself.

"I have high expectations of myself so I've just come out every day with a great focus," he said. "I've just been more comfortable with the offense. Instead of thinking about my reads, I know where they are going to be. I'm feeling very comfortable and I moved the ball up and down the field so I think I did a good job today."

Ross' big day

Even though the quarterback competition stole the show during Saturday's scrimmage, it was ASU senior wide receiver Rashad Ross who put up the most impressive stat line of the day.

The deep threat caught five passes for 193 yards throughout his highlight reel of an afternoon. Three of his catches went for touchdowns, one for 20 yards, one for 37 and another for 92.

Even though Ross struggled with more intricate routes during Camp Tontozona, his high-end speed proved too much to handle for the Sun Devil secondary.

"I'm trying to prove that I can be a real wide receiver and run routes," he said. "At first I didn't know what to expect but when I came up here but I liked it because I got to bond with my teammates and there were no distractions and we were all just having fun."

Ross' 92 yard score came on a play came on a play that was very successful this week, ending in touchdowns multiple times.

"I think they changed the play because when I looked at the board it changed and I had a bang post, and when I banged it, it was wide open in the middle so I just sat," Ross said. "I only had a safety to beat so I just turned on my burners."

Morrison receives a heavy workload

With ASU junior running back Marion Grice leaving Saturday's scrimmage with turf toe after just the second play of the day, senior tailback James Morrison stepped in and received a majority of the snaps with the first team offense.

He ended his afternoon with 75 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He also caught three passes for 18 yards.

A trio of ASU running backs, senior Cameron Marshall, junior Kyle Middlebrooks and sophomore Deantre Lewis, sat the entire day while freshman D.J. Foster was limited as planned to rest up for the season.

Morrison took advantage of the opportunity and continued to prove himself as a valuable piece for the Sun Devils moving forward.

"That was my goal, to show that I could be the physical back," he said. "With a few guys banged up, I found today as a big chance for me today to answer the call and open peoples' eyes and ears."

With so many carries, most of which came up the middle, Morrison took quite a few hits Saturday but was more than okay with it.

"I'm used to it," he said. "I'm one of the backs that looks to give punishment. I'm a little banged up but you're going to feel like that after a contact sport."

For Morrison as a fifth-year senior, he was one of the few Sun Devils to have scrimmaged at Camp Tontozona before this year. His emotions got the best of him Friday night as he began to think about his journey throughout his time at ASU.

"We were all in the dining hall as team doing the fight song and that's when it hit me that I started here and now I'm ending here," he said. "I'm looking forward to it a lot. Having a new coaching staff that wants to be physical with the ball and has a run first approach, I feel like that my running style fits the scheme well and I'm going to take advantage of every opportunity I can get."

Young catching on quick

Not arriving on campus until weeks after most of his fellow newcomers, ASU junior college transfer Chris Young has made up for the late start and more throughout his time at Camp Tontozona. The spur linebacker has consistently made plays in the backfield, recording multiple sacks this week.

"From day one to now, I've improved a lot," Young said. "With getting the whole defense down and flying to the ball like I used to, for the most part I feel like I improved a lot."

Young was initially worried about not making as big of an impact as he expected when he first came to Tempe because he was getting a late start. But those fears have quickly gone away.

"Growing up and being able to take on responsibilities, they put me back on track with being in condition," Young said. "Everything you want in life isn't easy. So I took it in and embraced it, I knew it would be a tough road but I just had to keep my head in it."

Graham to extend Camp T

While this year was the first season the Sun Devils returned to Camp Tontozona since 2008, Graham made it clear it won't be a onetime thing for his program.

In fact, he wants to make the trip at minimum a week-long event, instead of four days like this week.

"I would like to be here 10 days but the least we'll do is Sunday to Saturday is what I'd anticipate," Graham said. "I'd like to start off here and that way you have time to do some things after but we can't do that with the (summer school) schedule. But as long as I'm the head coach, we're going to come here."


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