football Edit

Yellen making strides in preseason practices

ASU offensive coordinator Rob Likens was always transparent.

Around November, he had to offer Ethan Long and Joey Yellen -- both three-star quarterback commitments -- an update. He laid out the ASU’s quarterback situation -- how, aside from the pair, ASU only had one healthy quarterback, Dillon Sterling-Cole, on its roster. He described the current state of transfers in college football -- how a school can never have enough quarterbacks in this day and age.

Then he gave them the news. The Sun Devils were recruiting a third quarterback.

On Monday, that third quarterback, Jayden Daniels -- a former four-star star prospect from San Bernardino -- was handed the reigns to the Arizona State program named the Sun Devils’ starter two weeks out from their first game.

In between Likens’ first Daniels update and his latest, the Arizona State offensive coordinator was open and honest with his crop of battling quarterbacks.

After spring ball, when it looked as if Daniels and Sterling-Cole had separated themselves, Likens admitted two of the four quarterbacks were strides ahead. In the summer, he informed Long he probably wasn’t earning the starting gig, allowing the 6-foot-1, 205-pound athlete to transition to wide receiver, fullback and a multitude of special teams roles.

In a program that has prided itself on operating like an NFL organization, Arizona State treated its quarterback competition as a competent professional franchise would. The players involved learned of updates from their coaches, not Twitter. There was a decision deadline -- two weeks before the season -- that kept players off pins and needles.

The quarterbacks involved were grateful ASU’s coaches treated them as professionals.

“I think it would definitely be a lot worse situation if we had coaches that didn’t know how to handle this sort of thing,” Yellen said. “They have been completely upfront, completely honest with us the entire time letting us know exactly what they were thinking. We’re still with them.”

Yellen made up ground in the fall. He spent the summer training, growing acclimated with the playbook and shedding 20 pounds -- now at a leaner 215. With Likens help, Yellen tweaked his base and hip torque. When he showed up in the fall, there was more zip on his passes. He was far more accurate. He seemed adjusted to the speed of college.

“It all started with changing his body,” Likens said. “He lost some weight, he got in great shape. He had some throwing motion issues that he was going through that we kind of got fixed right before camp started. And you can see his arm, and he’s extremely smart.

“It’s almost like a golfer…you know you kind of you lose your stroke sometimes and then you’ve just got to kind of work to find it. I think he’s in a good place.”

Added coach Herm Edwards: “Joey’s come a long way from the spring now. He has really, really come a long way. And he was really quiet in the spring, his personality has kind of come out. They’re funny guys in the room.”

After a slow start in the spring, Yellen rallied, vaulting the redshirt junior Sterling-Cole and nabbing the backup gig.

Backup isn’t exactly what Yellen had in mind, even when the Sun Devils earned a commitment from the second-ranked dual-threat quarterback in his class. He’s always been confident. It’s why he told the ASU coaches he’s not afraid of competition when they informed him of their recruitment of Daniels.

“Coming into it obviously all of us wanted the starting job,” Yellen said. “I’m not going to sit here and say it’s completely ideal but I am excited they thought I was worthy of a No. 2 role. I’m going to approach every game like I’m a starter -- I know it’s cliché but I’m really going to live by that and be ready when my number is called.”

Yellen is a massive Peyton Manning fan. Obsessive even. He had all of his jerseys. He flew across the country to watch his favorite player complete in the Super Bowl. He also knows the future Hall of Famer wasn’t a starter his first year at Tennessee -- a third-stringer to Jerry Colquitt and future MLB All-Star Todd Helton.

By the fourth game, injuries threw Manning into the starting job.

Yellen has a hard time not looking at the story of Manning, of countless NFL starters who at some point in their journey weren’t the top guy on their own team.

“You look at the No. 1 draft pick from last year, (Kyler Murray), he didn’t start until his fourth or fifth year in college,” Yellen said. “Everyone has their own story, you just have to be confident that everything is going to work out and just keep working and keep your head down.”

No matter where he’s pegged, confidence will never be an issue for Yellen. For now, though, his story will start as an Arizona State backup.

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