Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona
By TYLER LOCKMAN  |  Last updated 9/3/13
TEMPE, Ariz. -- At a recent Arizona State practice, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell got all over second-year starting quarterback Taylor Kelly. Kelly had made a mistake, and Norvell let him have it. But that wasn't enough. Norvell got on Kelly again a few minutes later for his passive reaction to the previous criticism, demanding he instead use it motivation to improve. Harsh as it may seem, it's all tough love aimed at making Kelly better. Coaches have pushed Kelly at a different level this fall as he tries to take the next step as the Sun Devils' quarterback and leader in a season marked by high expectations. "I'm coaching him as hard as anybody on that offense because when you step on that field as a quarterback, you've got to be the man," Norvell said. "I'm not looking for the same Taylor Kelly that I had last year. I want the new and improved version, and I'm pushing him to get there." The idea of a new and improved Kelly has to have coaches even more fired up than it does the fans. Kelly set ASU records for completion percentage and passing efficiency last season while throwing for 3,039 yards and 29 touchdowns. He was the nation's ninth most efficient quarterback. Improve on all that and Kelly could very well be one of the top two or three quarterbacks in the Pac-12, if not the nation. Either way, he's exactly the guy ASU wants under center. "I wouldn't trade him for anybody," coach Todd Graham said. "If you ask me my opinion, who I think are the best quarterbacks in (the Pac-12), I'd say (Marcus) Mariota at Oregon and Taylor. "Then you've got to talk about the kid from Stanford (Kevin Hogan) and (Brett) Hundley at UCLA. I think those are probably the four top guys if I was looking at quarterbacks, and I wouldn't trade our guy for any of them." The thought of Kelly taking another certainly inspires excitement, but Kelly has to actually go out and do it. The proverbial next step does not just happen. That's where the extra coaching comes in. "Every day he asks me to coach him harder," Norvell said. "Every day he wants to continue to hit on the little things. That's all going to do nothing but make him a better quarterback." As most of his teammates file out of practice each day, Kelly can typically be seen staying after, getting in extra work or doing conditioning to atone for a mistake in practice. One mistake in particular continues to dog Kelly here and there. "The big thing for me is turnovers," Kelly admits. "If we don't stop ourselves, it's very hard for a defense to stop what we're doing offensively." Kelly threw nine interceptions last season -- not an overly egregious number, but not where Kelly or his coaches want it to be. Norvell cites Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, who led the Crimson Tide to a national championship last season while throwing just three interceptions. The challenge for Kelly when it comes to turnovers is fighting his playmaking instinct. He can run well to keep plays alive but also takes the occasional risk at the wrong time, putting the ball in danger at an especially inopportune moment, such as just before halftime in a loss to UCLA last season. "If the situation of the game is fourth down and 10 and we need to have that, that's a time you can kind of force it," Kelly said. "If it's first and 10 and we're in the middle of the field, we have another down, so don't force it." Separate of football adjustments, though, Kelly has already taken the next step. He has not just embraced but bear-hugged the leadership role that comes with being a team's quarterback. Talk to Kelly now, as opposed to a season ago, and it's "my offense," not "the offense." The 10 other players on offense are "my guys." This is Kelly's team, and he knows it. "Guys look at me to be an example and lead and don't look tired or get rattled," Kelly said. "For me to take that leadership role on and keep pushing our offense is so important. "Sometimes you just get tired of hearing a coach say things over and over and over. Our coaches want players to push each other." Added Graham: "His leadership has been at a different level. We have a quarterback that I think everybody out here respects, and that's not a one-day evaluation, not a one-time evaluation. That's an every-day evaluation. He's earned that, no doubt." While Kelly took that step on his own, ASU has given Kelly the tools to take the next step on the field. Kelly has been surrounded with weapons that were unavailable a year ago. The Sun Devils added five new receivers, including big-play threat Jaelen Strong and tight end3-back De'Marieya Nelson. Add those pieces to returning ones like tight end Chris Coyle and running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster and it seems logical that Kelly's numbers will get a boost this year. It's up to Kelly to make use of those weapons, though, and he appears to be doing what it takes. Outside working constantly with Norvell, Kelly talks with his high school coaches frequently. He studies film with receivers, often quizzing them on routes. He watches film of NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady and Colin Kapernick, looking for ways he can get better. "My standard is a lot higher than last year," Kelly said. "I want to be the best quarterback in the nation this year, and I've got to work like that. "I haven't accomplished anything really to my standards. I have to keep pushing myself and try to be perfect every day." Kelly can't be perfect, but that won't stop him from trying, and his coaches from pushing him to be. If ASU is to achieve its goal of winning the Pac-12 and reaching the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1996, Kelly will undoubtedly have a heavy hand in it. "He's a guy that has all the intangibles you want to win a championship," Graham said. "That's what gives us a chance is we have a real quarterback."
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