TEMPE, Ariz. While the water-cooler loiterers debate who will win Arizona States quarterback battle to replace Brock Osweiler, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell offers one, cautionary piece of advice.
This will be an equal opportunity competition.
I told these guys when I came in that its a clean slate, Norvell said. Obviously, Ive watched a little film, but theres not much game experience, and I really didnt want to get into what happened last year or with the previous staff. Nobody has an edge.
Maybe you believe that. Maybe you dont. There are arguments to be made for and against each candidate.
Redshirt freshman Michael Eubank was the only one of the trio recruited by new coach Todd Graham and seems to possess the best skill-set to run Grahams zone-read offense. Hes also the youngest and rawest talent of the three.
Its a big step coming from scout team to being one of the contenders, but its a step Im willing to take, Eubank said. I think every part of my game can be enlightened. Everything about me can be raised up to another level.
Mike Bercovici wowed everyone last spring with his cannon arm and Norvell has noticed it, too. The sophomore even got limited game experience against UC-Davis and Colorado, but he might be the least suited of three candidates to Grahams offense, particularly the running aspects.
Im a pro-style quarterback. Im not a runner, but you see us running the ball a little more, Bercovici said. At first, with the zone read, I wasnt used to actually pulling it as much as we do, but Im just starting to get a real good comfort level, and I love to run the ball now.
Redshirt sophomore Taylor Kelly lost his place in line last spring. Former coach Dennis Erickson praised him early, but Bercovici quickly passed Kelly on the depth chart behind Osweiler when Kelly underwhelmed in multiple areas of the game.
On the flip side, Kelly's the oldest of the trio and Norvell said Kellys also the most advanced of the three at the fundamentals of the run.
Hes a balanced quarterback, Norvell said of Kelly. Hes precise in his run reads and brings a real threat of running the football.
The coaching staff will gets its first look at each candidate when live bullets are flying on Saturday, when the Sun Devils will stage a limited scrimmage at Sun Devil Stadium starting at 9 a.m.
Each has his strong suits, but outside observers expect the battle to come down to Eubank and Bercovici.
Eubank has that 6-foot-5, 242-pound NFL body that makes Sun Devils fans dream big. Bercovici has that arm and gunslingers mentality that has drawn audible oohs from the sideline at spring practices.
Norvell said the biggest question with Eubank is not his throwing.
I want to see him be more consistent with his decision-making when does pull the ball down, said Norvell, who added Eubank can throw the deep ball well and has a good grasp of the mental aspects of the game.
The coaching staff is also testing Eubank at every turn.
I like the fact that Im trying to strain him, and the first day, I could see that it bothered him, but today, he ignored it," Graham said at practice this week. "He ignored me. It didnt bother him. Im going to try (again) and see if I can get him.
Some analysts believe Bercovici has the best tools to pick apart a defense, giving Arizona State a necessary balance to what this staff insists will be a run-first mentality.
My comfort level and chemistry with my teammates is good, Bercovici said. The new offense and new coaches are a challenge, but I have a relationship with my guys, especially with that O-line. It all starts up front, and those guys trust me.
The Sun Devils will probably be well into fall camp by the time Norvell and Graham are ready to whittle down their list of contenders. Maybe Eubank will be ready by then. Maybe Bercovicis throws will be tough to ignore. Or maybe, as Kelly learned last spring, the landscape will alter dramatically.
"The hardest position out here is the quarterback position because everything out here theyve done is ... like warp speed, Graham said. Theyre having to call protections, theyre having to call the play, theyre having to get the signals.
There is a lot on their plate.
And whoever digests the most will earn the spot at the head of Graham's table.