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March 14, 2012

Graham turns up tempo in first practice

Practice fields are perfectly manicured, players create new goals for themselves and expectations are heightened.

Spring football begets a new season, as well as the first time newly hired head coaches can take the field with their players.

Arizona State was one of those programs Tuesday, with new ASU football coach Todd Graham walking, or metaphorically sprinting, onto Bill Kajikawa field for the first time with his team.

Graham is noted for being a hard-nosed, high-energy coach. Although the football team has been well aware of his demeanor, nothing could have prepared them for what transpired Tuesday.

But while players -- occasionally on a knee or worse, doubled over feeling queasy -- fans and media were struck by the remarkable tempo increase over the last regime's practices, ASU's new head man was unimpressed.

"To me, it's really, really slow today," Graham said after practice. "You can't relate to how fast it's going to be until you get out here."

Graham lived up to his "high-octane" mantra at practice Tuesday, having his players sprint on and off the field in between their turns. It seemed to be a rude awakening, and even shocking, for many players who had a difficult time acclimating to the increased intensity compared to prior seasons.

"We run to every single thing we do," Graham said. "It's the little things that make big things happen, so that's who we are. They've seen what the expectations are. Now, we've got to meet them, but today was good because they are embracing."

Conditioning is typically an area of needed improvement for all college football programs at the start of spring football and ASU is no exception. It may in fact have further to go than a typical program because of the demands of its no huddle high-tempo approach.

"We're a long way from being in the condition that we need to be in, especially mentally," Graham said. "The first fatigue's mental, and that's where most of the mistakes were made today."

The new style of practice comes welcomed for many players, however.

"We were too lackadaisical last year," redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Eubank said. "It's definitely the determination and the push that we need this year, and it's definitely what's going to make us excel and go higher."

Players saw a different side of Graham Tuesday after spending a bountiful amount of time developing relationships with him off the field during this offseason.

"These guys have never heard me raise my voice until today," Graham said. "But it's positive, there's nobody out here cussing, no filthy language, we're not belittling or demeaning players. But we've got to strain them, and they've got to want that."

After practice, Graham stressed the importance of straining his players and said it's an essential component to helping players push pass their imaginary, self-induced barriers.

"We coach them, and 90 percent is inspired and 10 percent is straining," he said. "They've got to be strained, you've got to push them."

After the culture shock that occurred, redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly, one of three quarterbacks competing for the starting job during spring ball, believes players will be better prepared in the coming practices after knowing what's expected.

"(Tuesday) was the introductory period, so hopefully guys tomorrow get it and they understand what practice is going to be like so it'll be a lot faster, the tempo will be faster," Kelly said.

Still, the biggest area Graham and his staff will work on during spring ball is making sure they teach their players at a decent pace how to play disciplined football.

"We've got to make sure we don't try to go A to Z, that we figure out where that's at because operating fast and making mistakes is not what we're about," he said.

Notes

  • Senior linebacker Brandon Magee, returning from a torn Achilles suffered last year, has yet to be cleared to participate in 7-on-7 drills. Magee will continue to be evaluated every Monday as he progresses.

    Magee said his range of motion and flexibility with his Achilles is about 80 percent and said he's getting back to full form.

    "If I run too much, if I cut too fast, it'll start burning," he said. "But it's a good burn; it means I'm working it. I'm just happy to be out here."

  • Sophomore running back Deantre Lewis, still recovering from a gunshot wound in his left leg suffered more than a year ago, practiced in non-contact drills Tuesday and looked much closer to the pre-shooting player athletically than he did in conditioning sessions last season.

    Lewis was knocked to the ground for the first time since the injury during 7-on-7 drills during practice. Unfazed, Lewis quickly sprang to his feet and ran 20 yards to finish the play.

    "It actually felt good just to be able to get up and run after," he said.

    Lewis said his body reacted well to practice Tuesday and said he only felt occasional discomfort.

    "It felt really good today," Lewis said. "Just a couple here and there where it started to feel like it was straining. But that's something I have to fight through. It's gotten better and better as we've been doing conditioning in the (bubble). I plan to be full go come fall camp."

    The redshirt sophomore running back said his explosiveness and speed are around 85 to 90 percent back to normal.

    "(The) only reason is because I'm not pushing myself to fully spring yet because some of the muscle isn't all the way there yet and I don't want to tear anything," he said. "So I'm taking it slowly but will be all the way there by the end of spring ball."


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