football Edit

Let the games begin: Daniels, Long and Yellen excited for 2019 QB competition

Offensive coordinator will need to sort out the pecking order of the freshmen quarterbacks in spring practice
Offensive coordinator will need to sort out the pecking order of the freshmen quarterbacks in spring practice

Just over six months ago, Arizona State had a quarterback problem.

The Sun Devils, knowing they were losing redshirt senior quarterback Manny Wilkins after the season, had just two other scholarship quarterbacks -- redshirt sophomore Dillon Sterling-Cole and redshirt freshman Ryan Kelley -- on the roster.

That wasn’t going to cut it.

But as head coach Herm Edwards and his staff were growing acclimated to the recruiting scene, the Sun Devils were behind on the 2019 class. Chandler quarterback Jacob Conover chose BYU over the maroon and gold and all the sudden it was June and ASU didn’t have one quarterback commit.

Heck, it didn’t have one public commit at any position. Those who opposed the Herm Edwards hire rejoiced.

But then things started falling into place. West Linn, Oregon quarterback Ethan Long became ASU’s first public 2019 commit on June 4. Less than a week later, signal-caller Joey Yellen, out of Mission Viejo, California, joined the ranks.

At long last, ASU was on the board. It’s the biggest question (replacing Wilkins) finally had an answer. Edwards now had two options for the future.

But, you know what’s better than two options for the future? Three. So just a few months after celebrating, the Sun Devil coaches informed both Long and Yellen that they would be looking to add a third quarterback to their 2019 class. One that would ensure a full quarterback room.

Yellen recalls the coaching staff explaining the Devils’ current quarterback situation, mapping out why a third quarterback would be necessary, and then asking the high school senior, ‘Would this affect your recruitment?’

“No,” Yellen told them. “I’m not afraid of competition.”

(Yellen didn’t go into details about the quarterback-situation conversation but it is well known that Sterling-Cole’s passing and accuracy issues have not been solved and Kelley still isn’t fully recovered after shoulder surgery he had in the offseason.)

Like Yellen, Long understood ASU’s situation, even applauding its transparency through the whole process. But he did admit the news brought along some selfish thoughts.

“I was a little frustrated,” Long said. “It’s also a little disheartening in, ‘Well, does he not trust Joey or I enough to run the show that they need to be looking for another guy?’ And I don’t think that’s it.”

Then a week ago, ASU locked down its third 2019 quarterback: Jayden Daniels, a four-star dual threat quarterback out of Cajon High School in San Bernardino, California. Beating out Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and others for Daniels’ commitment, the news struck a national cord that ASU had yet to truly enjoy.

For good reason, too. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Daniels racked up over 14,000 passing and 3,500 rushing yards in his four years at Cajon, coming in as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback and the 107th-overall player in the country.

On top of that, his December 13 announcement vaulted ASU to No. 35 in Rivals’ Team Recruiting Rankings.

“I deleted the Twitter app the day he committed,” Yellen said. “I already knew what my feed was going to be that whole day anyway, It was clout like no other.”

Twitter or not, Yellen’s phone blew up. A bevy of college coaches flocked to the Mission Viejo native. They wanted to gauge his interest after the Daniels’ news, trying to pry his commitment away from Tempe.

Talking about it through the phone, Yellen almost seemed offended. Do coaches really think that little of him that they expect him to run from a challenge and reevaluate his entire decision because one guy committed?

“They’re like, ‘Oh, do you know who’s going there?’ (and I was like) ‘No, I had no idea,’” Yellen said in a very sarcastic tone. “At first it was insulting, ‘You don’t think I can go battle this guy? They’re trying to take advantage of me being younger and panicking maybe.”

Long was contacted as well. At times from “pretty good program,” he said, and at times from just observers of the situation. The latter seemed perplexed that Long was staying committed to a program with two other incoming freshman quarterbacks instead of moving to a school that doesn't have a quarterback signed.

The questions are valid. They also seem valid for Daniels, who just about had his pick of any school in the country and chose an ASU program that already had two quarterbacks signed.

“If it was really a hesitation for me I wouldn’t have committed there,” Daniels said. “People can’t go off experience. Just being able to compete against people that the same age as me … we’re all on the same playing field going in. The whole recruiting pitch was, ‘The best player plays.’”

Quarterback problems come in different ways. Teams can be limited with short depth or have too many and not know who to play. In the last week, ASU may have set itself up for the latter … and that’s not a bad thing.

This is what Edwards and Co. want: Competition. No matter how it comes or who’s in it, the Sun Devils want everyone fighting for a spot. Need proof? At times this season, the Sun Devils started six freshmen on defense, some highly-touted out of high school and others perhaps not so much. They beat out former starters and upperclassmen all the same.

In this crop, the stars and notoriety belong to Daniels. And yet, Long and Yellen garner the same shot in a quarterback competition slated to kick off this spring when the trio early enrolls at ASU.

Perhaps that’s why both weren’t eager to scrap their plans in a hurry like most expected; they think they’re better than the other two and if they’re right, the starting job is theirs.

“I know one way or another it’s going to benefit the team,” Yellen said. “Whether it benefits me or not, I’m not sure. But it will benefit the team because one way or another we’re going to push each other to get better, all four of us, and it’ll make our team better because of it.”

Daniels has friends, like Texas A&M defensive end Jeremiah Martin and Wyoming defensive back Rome Weber, who he played with at Cajon and kept in touch with after they went on to college.

They’ve given Daniels advice he already knew: The star ratings and high-school hype don’t mean squat in college. It’s about how your game translates to the next level.

“It’s nice but I can’t let that get to my head,” Daniels said of the notoriety surrounding him. “I haven’t proven anything yet at the next level. There’s some pressure coming with it but (I’m trying) to stay the same kid I am today.”

Speaking about a quarterback competition that won’t start for a month and a half, the trio all come off with genuine excitement and eagerness. For Long and Yellen, they’ve already started preparing for the competition, sizing up the other two.

The similarities are scarce.

As mentioned before, Daniels is a prototypical dual-threat quarterback with video-game numbers to back it up. He did, however, mention that he may have to modify his game because, as he said, “I’m not going to be able to run 200 yards.”

Yellen is a pro-style gunslinger who threw for over 3,500 yards in his senior season at Mission Viejo, adding 27 touchdowns and committing only three interceptions.

Though they both went to high school in Southern California, Yellen and Daniels never played against each other. Their only interaction came this August, long before anyone predicted they’d be teammates. The pair was invited to a Los Angeles Chargers’ preseason game as the halftime entertainment, throwing balls at nets in front of the StubHub Center crowd.

“I got to meet him through there,” Yellen said. “He seemed pretty cool.”

Long, on the other hand, is a pro-style quarterback while the ability to break out the wheels. In his senior season at West Linn High School, Long threw for over 3,500 yards and tallied just over 350 rushing yards on 86 carries -- putting up similar stats to what Wilkins had for ASU this season.

“I’m excited because the style of offense (ASU runs,)” Long said. “I’m not sure if they want to go to a different offense with Joey, a pro-style of just staying in the pocket. Or if they want to keep the dual-threat or if they want to go to like a Lamar Jackson-type system of just running the read option.”

Long broke down the competition like this: There’s a true pocket passer (Yellen.) There’s a true running quarterback (Daniels.) And then there’s someone who kind of in the middle and does both (himself.)

“It’ll be really interesting to see,” Long said.

Heading into the spring, that may be the only certainty.

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