Spring-cleaning for Arizona State has almost been completed. However, instead of dusting furniture and throwing out unused items, the football team has familiarized itself with the new high-octane tempo and launched a new beginning.
With Saturday's spring game marking the end of organized football until August, ASU head coach Todd Graham said he's been pleased with the improvements his team has made. Still, Graham knows much has to be accomplished before the start of next season.
"I think we've made great strides this spring," Graham said. "I think it's been difficult on them, I think it's been hard at times, but I do think that they understand the method. That's really a giant step. But the reality is we've got a lot of work to do, but I'm proud of where we're at."
One area that has caused concern, but has improved recently, is ASU's kicking game. Sophomore kicker Alex Garoutte -- who struggled last season and connected on 14 of his 21 field goals, as well as missing several key kicks -- has had a roller coaster of a spring. After starting out slow and missing kicks early on during spring, Garoutte has been hot this past week of practice and has gained confidence.
"I think I just progressively got a lot better throughout (spring)," Garoutte said. "We've been getting more comfortable, we've got a new snapper coming in and we switched holders this spring. It all takes getting used to, but they're doing a fantastic job. I'm getting more comfortable."
After Garoutte's mediocre start to spring ball, Graham had redshirt sophomore kicker Parker Flynn share first team reps to create competition for the job. Garoutte responded well to the pressure, though, which has helped his prospects for earning the starting nod.
"If that was his intention (to light a fire under me), which it might have been, then I would say it worked," Garoutte said. "I've always been a competitive guy. That's kind of what I live for.
"I went out this offseason and worked harder than I think anyone in the country has worked. I worked as hard as I knew I could do. I was out there five days a week, I worked with some people, changed a lot of my form up. I feel like I got a ton better. I know if I keep working, hard work pays off. I'm just going to keep doing that and keep working, and I think it will work out."
Garoutte said experiencing the negativity he received from ASU fans after last season's performance has not only made him more of a mentally tough player, but person as well.
"There's very few people in the world that can say they've been through what I've been through," he said. "After that, there's nowhere to go but up. It made me a rock upstairs. If I could get through that, I could get through anything. It just shapes you, it really does."
To help Garoutte be successful at the end of games when his services are called upon, Graham has the sophomore kicker attempt simulated game-winning field goals every day during practice with his teammates huddled around him making noise.
"I feel more pressure to my teammates than I do to the fans," Garoutte said. "Not in a bad way, but I'm with these guys every single day, and I want to come through for them more than I do for anybody. Earning their trust back, I've had a huge opportunity to do that all spring. When they have more confidence in me, I have more confidence in myself just through finding success in practice and those game-winning field goals every day."
Senior punter Josh Hubner has also been stressed by coaches this off-season, asked to change his footwork to expedite how quickly he gets the ball off as well as adjust his trajectory.
"For me it was more or less coming to terms with it," Hubner said. "They wanted me to do something I didn't want to do and that's part of football and part of coaching. I feel like I significantly shortened my steps and get off time. They chart everything, the hang-times and distances and everything so I can see exactly how I'm doing.
"I feel like I finally caught my groove at the end of spring. They like me to punt the ball with more air under it so instead of 65 yards, maybe 50 or 45 yards with five seconds of air under it consistently so that's been a focus and something I'm trying to get used to as well."
Senior safety Kevin Ayers and sophomore wide receiver Kevin Anderson did not practice Thursday due to thumb surgery and a thigh contusion, respectively.
Redshirt sophomore Taylor Kelly was limited during practice Thursday due to what Graham called "some bumps and bruises." It's uncertain how much playing time Kelly will receive during Saturday's spring game, however Graham said he's planning as though all three quarterbacks will get the same amount of work.
ASU's offense practiced situations when it had the ball and the lead with four minutes on the clock. Graham said it was awkward for players to practice those situations because they're so used to the up-tempo speed and in that scenario there was a desire to be deliberate.
The offense also worked on its two-minute drill, which Graham said is essentially redundant because it's the same offensive flow they run normally.
Converted junior cornerback Jarrid Bryant had one of the best days of any player at the position all spring, with three interceptions Thursday. Bryant showed off his ball skills by anticipating and adjusting to several back shoulder throws better than the intended receiver.