Though his first season in the Arizona State record books looked like a success at 8-5, Todd Graham is far from content. He spent the tail end of last year and early portion of the off-season lamenting how close his team was to reaching the Pac-12 title game -- a couple plays here or there in a loss to UCLA -- and reiterated how much work there is to be done in order to accomplish the goals he's set for 2013 following the team's first spring practice Tuesday.
"The biggest thing for us is to look forward, we did not have a great season," Graham said. "We had a little above average season, we just hung in there. We've got to win six more ball games to win fourteen games, win five more conference games to win the conference championship. We've got to win six games to win the Rose Bowl, we have to win five more conference games and one more win, to win the Rose Bowl. That's what I want them to understand."
In order to hammer his point home, Graham had the customary photo of the Rose Bowl Trophy that adorns the practice facility moved from its normal location to mid-field as he addressed his team following practice. He is perpetually bombarding his players with expectations of excellence and what it will take to achieve to their potential.
"It's out there every day," sophomore running back D.J. Foster said of the picture. "If we don't see it we hear it. Coach Graham is preaching it every day."
Graham's message, which started as soon as he got off the plane to take the ASU job, it seems, is to impress upon everyone connected to ASU football that there's no time to waste.
"I mean you only get so many days, you only get so many reps, every single rep you have to be inspired," Graham said. "At the end of 170 days there is only one group of people that can keep us from accomplishing our goals, and that's us."
Plainly evident Tuesday in contrast from Graham's first spring a year ago was the pace players were able to maintain due to conditioning improvements and a better understanding of what is expected. This was an adjustment only for a handful of scholarship newcomers, including former Chandler standout Kisima Jagne, a freshman defensive lineman who was singled out by Graham for not getting off the field fast enough following a play.
But those examples were few and far between in stark contrast to last March, when Graham repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction to his assistants and players throughout early spring practices with what he perceived as substandard displays of hustle and lackluster demeanor.
"We had a pretty good day for no pads on, we will put pads on [Thursday] and get to work," Graham said. "But it was a good day, I'm really pleased with how the guys worked, loved the attitude.
"I think it went well, pads will be a little bit different. You can tell how lean they look, we're in a lot better shape to handle the tempo. The tempo on both sides of the football. It was a great first day I liked the tempo."
Spring is an opportunity for players to perform their way into good favor with coaches. Nowhere is this perhaps more important this year than at receiver, where the team has a dearth of returning talent and will be significantly boosted with the addition of two junior college players and three high school standouts in the fall.
"I can't wait to get the five guys we signed in here," Graham said. "We don't have very many. Kevin Ozier and Alonzo (Agwuenu), Rick Smith, I thought are guys that stuck out today. But we don't have very many scholarship receivers in here."
On offense, Graham said quarterback, running back and tight end were strengths and the offensive line continues to develop. Defensively, he's most concerned about replacing Keelan Johnson at the free safety position. The Sun Devils return a number of safeties but none with experience at the position and none who athletically are Johnson's equal.
New coaches abound
Atypical for a program in the second year of a head coach's tenure, ASU is breaking in three new assistant coaches: Running backs coach Bo Graham, offensive line coach Chris Thomsen and defensive line coach Jackie Shipp.
Graham, Todd's son, coached running backs under his father at Tulsa in 2007 and 2008 and last year was ASU's Director of on Campus Recruiting. The elder Graham said the transition should be relatively seamless as Graham is well versed with the program's offensive philosophy.
Thomsen, who previously coached ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, has extensive head coaching experience, including seven seasons at the helm of Division I Abilene Christian.
Shipp, a former NFL linebacker who played for the Miami Dolphins in the 1985 Super Bowl, spent the last 14 years coaching at Oklahoma.
Replacing Bo Graham in the recruiting role is Sherman Morris, who left LSU to fill a newly created title of Assistant Athletics Director for recruiting.
Sophomore running back D.J. Foster said he currently weighs 205 pounds after playing last season as light as 180 pounds, and he'd like to carry that weight into this season in order to be ready for the punishing nature of the game, as well as provide the ability to be an every down back.
"I put on a lot of weight and my body is getting better, to where I need it to be and I'm excited," Foster said.
Foster's classmate Jaxon Hood also made physical strides during his first winter conditioning with the program. He's dropped eight pounds, but more importantly, streamlined his physique.
"I've lost four percent body fat," Hood said. "I just feel a little quicker out there, more explosive. It should help with endurance too."