While the Sun Devils are preparing for their upcoming bowl game, it’s the perfect time to examine some important off-the-field business that lies ahead for ASU.
Backup quarterback Michael Eubank is looking to play elsewhere. This is probably not much of a surprise. Actually, the case can be made that it was a surprise that this didn’t happen earlier, either with Eubank or fellow QB Mike Bercovici. Transfers occur in every program, especially among quarterbacks.
Nobody is happy being a second-teamer. There is a constant, unspoken, yet understood tension between coaches and the backups. In the off-season, every program can expect a few dissatisfied backups to jump ship (ASU might even experience a couple more).
Eubank’s career here did not go as planned. He feels he can play somewhere immediately — and he’s probably right. Eubank appeared to have the skill set to be an excellent dual threat quarterback. But he got beat out by starting QB Taylor Kelly and hasn’t really sniffed the field since, other than some goal line packages.
The coaches have taken the high road with Eubank’s departure. And they should. No staff wants to lose players, but in the grand scheme of things, this move is somewhat understandable. Sun Devil Nation should wish Michael Eubank the best wherever he ends up.
The bowl season has some important windows for recruiting. The ASU staff has been working hard to put together a quality class for 2014. The consensus among recruiting services is the Sun Devils have a top 20 class right now.
A couple of commits that jump out immediately are defensive players Derik Calhoun, Connor Humphreys and Tashon Smallwood. These are 4-star recruits who were ranked very high among the major recruiting services. They might be able to play right away.
Recruiting can be tricky. There are some coaches who go after what their team needs. Some go after the best players out there, no matter what position they play. But the reality in recruiting is that you try to sign the most talented and accomplished players at every position that you can get your hands on.
But it’s still “hit and miss” when it comes to recruiting. Some kids just can’t handle the college stage. Some don’t mesh with the system used or the coaches’ personalities. Others have physically plateaued in high school. A few players get distracted in college and/or lose their love of football and just never reach their potential.
And then there’s the flip side to that coin. Some 2- and 3-star recruits that are not highly touted can flourish. They work hard, are coachable and buy into the system. Every year, there are stories of former college walk-ons making NFL rosters. And speaking of NFL rosters, if you look at any NFL team, you’ll see players that come from small schools that nobody’s ever heard of. These are players that no Division I program wanted. You just never know how a kid is going to grow and develop between the ages of 18 and 22.
Coaching has a lot to do with that. New Washington coach Chris Petersen is credited with being a genius at developing players. He has routinely taken individuals with marginal talent and molded them to compete with players in the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12.
Player development is the challenge of every coaching staff. Todd Graham and his staff are no different. Whoever they sign in February will have to be developed, challenged and put in a position to succeed. This is just another facet of coaching in the college ranks.
Hand in hand with recruiting is the rebuilding/reloading process that occurs when a team loses its seniors. ASU is losing quite a bit. The entire starting defensive line is graduating and moving on. Will Sutton, Gannon Conway and Davon Coleman are playing their last game as Sun Devils in the Holiday Bowl (Junior Onyeali is leaving, too.) The loss of LB Chris Young and DBs Alden Darby, Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor will sting as well. That’s a lot of defense to find on your bench.
On the offensive side of the ball, ASU isn’t losing as much, but what it is losing is significant; namely, an important part of the offensive line. OL Evan Finkenberg, Kody Koebensky and TE Chris Coyle were big time leaders for this squad.
And, of course, don’t forget about RB Marion Grice. He may not have been missed a whole lot in the Territorial Cup victory over Arizona, but his shoes will be hard to fill.
Losing this many impact players may be unsettling for die-hard Sun Devil fans. However, it surely is nothing to panic about. It’s the natural process of college football. After all, you knew they were leaving someday, right? But now it is the challenge for Todd Graham and his staff to really earn their stripes. They have to take relatively unknown/untested players and make them into solid players.
This might be the true test for coach Graham: winning with his own guys.
As for next year’s defense, here’s hoping that Jaxon Hood, Marcus Hardison, Demetrius Cherry and newcomers Smallwood and Humphreys can pick up the slack for the outgoing D-line. The same goes for Christian Westerman on the offensive line.
The real question mark will be leadership. It’s impossible to predict chemistry and “natural” leadership for a team in the future. If junior LB Carl Bradford returns instead of going to the NFL, it would be easy to assume that his leadership will help in this major transition. But one never knows. It will be coach Graham’s responsibility to mold this player culture in the months leading up to next season.
Topics: "Kody Koebensky", Alden Darby, Arizona State Sun Devils, ASU Football, Carl Bradford, Chris Coyle, Chris Young, Christian Westerman, Connor Humphreys, D.j. Calhoun, Davon Coleman, Demetrius Cherry, Evan Finkenberg, Football, Gannon Conway, Jaxon Hood, Junior Onyeali, Marcus Hardison, Marion Grice, Michael Eubank, Mike Bercovici, Osahon Irabor, Pac12 Conference, Robert Nelson, Taylor Kelly, Tayshon Smallwood, Todd Graham, Will Sutton