After 11 days of practice that have mostly been spent inside the Dickey Dome, Arizona State junior quarterback Steven Threet said the team was thrilled to strap on the pads, get outside and see how much it has improved with opening kickoff three weeks away.
During Saturday's scrimmage, the first of fall camp, coach Dennis Erickson believes the Sun Devils answered the bell.
"Since I've been here it was probably the best overall [first fall] scrimmage that we've had," Erickson said.
While the offense still lacked consistency against a defense aiming to be among the nation's best, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's new quick-strike scheme illustrated creativity that kept its counterparts guessing during several stretches, testing the defense more than an in the recent past.
Threet followed up his best practice of fall camp with a solid performance in the team's opening scrimmage and was singled out by Erickson as the signal-caller who had the best day.
Threet was, unofficially, 7-of-11 for 93 yards and and one touchdown, which came on a 15-yard strike on the run to junior tight end Trevor Kohl.
"We did a good job of picking the tempo up," Threet said. "[The offense was] just having positive plays and picking up first downs."
After a 12-play drive ended with Threet running into the end zone himself from three yards out, the transfer from Michigan conducted the session's most efficient series in his next turn under center, needing just seven plays to march the Sun Devil offense on a 65-yard scoring drive that was capped by the pass to Kohl.
The drive was highlighted by a 36-yard pass by Threet to junior wide receiver T.J. Simpson, who corralled in the throw along the sideline despite blanket coverage by freshman cornerback Alden Darby.
The other quarterbacks had their moments, too.
Sophomore Brock Osweiler (unofficially 10-of-20, 93 yards) was effective in getting the ball on target into the flat, allowing players like freshman Deantre Lewis, the top rusher on the day, and sophomores Jamal Miles and James Morrison to make moves in open space.
"We missed some tackles in space, which is kind of what this offense is about," Erickson said. "Get the ball to your playmakers in space and let them make plays, and we were able to do that some."
Taking his snaps behind the second-team offensive line, junior quarterback Samson Szakacsy was harassed constantly during his time directing the offense. During one stretch in Szakacsy's first series, the line yielded four sacks (In the scrimmage quarterbacks aren't actually tackled) in seven plays, twice by sophomore defensive tackle William Sutton.
Szakacsy was responsible for the day's biggest play, finding sophomore wide receiver J.J. Holliday down the sideline for a 45-yard gain, but the junior quarterback also threw the only interception, a pass over the middle picked off by senior linebacker Gerald Munns.
On defense, the front four led the charge, with both the first- and second-team units wreaking havoc throughout the steamy morning session.
Sutton, who was dancing and hollering with vigor during the team's warmup period, was particularly impressive, notching two sacks and applying heavy pressure on several other occasions. Junior defensive end James Brooks, who had missed the previous two practices with a hyper-extended knee, and senior end Jamarr Robinson also stood out.
Tons of targets
One thing Saturday's scrimmage made clear: There is a wealth of depth at wide receiver.
Fourteen different players caught passes from four different quarterbacks, a stockpile of weapons that will make for some tough decisions to be made by Erickson and wide receivers coach Steve Broussard in terms of playing time.
"We go fast and guys get tired, so it's good to have depth at the wideout position," Threet said. "I feel like we have that."
Junior Gerell Robinson missed the scrimmage with a hamstring injury that has hampered him out since the fourth day of camp. The leading receiver on the day was sophomore running back Jamal Miles (four receptions, 44 yards), all of his catches coming on quick throws out of the backfield.
Simpson said that even with all the depth at the position, the receivers don't spend too much time worrying about their standing on the depth chart.
"We just all go out there and play our role and do what we've got to do," Simpson said. "Make the blocks, make the catches and just see where the cards fall. … The way the ball gets moved around, I think everybody has the chance to be the leading receiver and score touchdowns."
Lewis wasn't the only freshman running back who stood out Saturday. Marcus Washington, a local product out of Desert Vista High in Ahwatukee, hasn't received many reps during team drills so far in camp, but made the most of his chances during the scrimmage.
Washington carried three times for 17 yards and also scored on a nifty 16-yard catch and run from freshman quarterback Taylor Kelly.
Speaking of nifty runs, Kelly fooled the defense and gained about 20 yards on a run around the end that had junior cornerback Omar Bolden and sophomore linebacker Vontaze Burfict asking, "Is that Tim Tebow?"
Darby continued an impressive fall camp with a solid effort in Saturday's session, demonstrating a knack for open-tackling in addition to air-tight coverage he applied to Sun Devil receivers.
Looking more and more like the kicker who captured the Lou Groza Award as a freshman in 2007, Thomas Weber connected on 4-of-5 field goals, including a final one from 52 yards out that had plenty of distance. His only miss was wide left on a 29-yard attempt.
Senior punter Trevor Hankins averaged 48 yards on four punts.