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Arizona State held its eighth spring practice (out of 15) Wednesday and first scrimmage at Sun Devil Stadium.

My report

Coach Todd Graham opening statement: “We won.”

Attire: Pads.

Media viewing period: None.

RELATED: ASU football secondary under reconstruction

Personnel

Limited: QB Bryce Perkins, S/LB Marcus Ball, CB Kareem Orr, OL Cade Cote, RB Eno Benjamin.

Out: S Armand Perry, QB Brady White, WR Cam Smith, LB Drew McIntyre.

(Based off Monday’s practice, which was partially open to media).

MORE: ASU seeking linebacker depth

Defensive improvement 

Only Todd Graham was available the media after Wednesday’s scrimmage.

The sixth-year head coach said, “The defense won the scrimmage if I was declaring the winner,” basing that assessment on “marked improvement” in allowing big plays.

“Our big focus is the same thing we’ve had as far as the tackles for loss, the sacks and being aggressive and all that. They did a nice job. As far as what we wanted to get done to this point, we’re on target to reach where we want to be by the end of spring. Still got a lot of improvement, a lot of work to do, but we’re better because we’re giving up less big plays.”

Graham said all the defensive coaches were on the field during the scrimmage “to get a rep at really coaching their guys and going over how we do the sideline, things like that. The next scrimmage (April 7) we’ll make it as game like as possible,” with some defensive coaches in the press box. Graham expects new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett to be on the sideline during games.

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Offensive throwback 

The scrimmage consisted of 50 plays with the No. 1 offense going against the No. 2 defense, 50 plays for the second and roughly 20 plays for the third team.

“I liked how our guys competed, liked the energy,” Graham said. “I thought we did some nice things running the football.”

He said the offense is returning to more of how it operated under former offensive coordinator Mike Norvell from 2012-14 when ASU was a combined 28-12 with Taylor Kelly at quarterback. “A lot more 11 personnel (one back, one tight end, three wide receivers) and two-back sets” with an emphasis on the run and play-action passing.

The tempo was “a little bit slower than where we want it to be, but that’s expected,” Graham said given the amount of offensive and defensive play installation through the first half of spring practice. “Communication is a little bit slower whenever you’re the first time out there. A little bitty thing today, hand the ball to the official. The ball is not getting spotted because they’re letting the ball move around, guys that are newcomers that haven’t been here.”

Graham was pleased with a low number of penalties, always an emphasis of his.

RELATED: Danny White on ASU return: ‘It’s genetic with me’

QB update

Given almost no meaningful viewing opportunities of the quarterbacks and limited answers to questions about them, it is difficult to have a read on the competition between returning starter Manny Wilkins, Alabama transfer Blake Barnett and Dillon Sterling-Cole.

Graham’s comments Wednesday and earlier suggest Wilkins is ahead based on his experience in the system even given a new offensive coordinator, Billy Napier.

“Manny and Blake got the majority of the reps with the ones,” Graham said. “Both those guys did a good job. We had one turnover. I think Blake had an interception. Manny has such a command of what we’re doing, and he knows our offense and understands how to operate it and he just controls cadence. He does a lot of things. I liked how he operated. You can tell he’s a veteran.

“Blake did some nice things, had some nice throws. We had some explosive plays in there, and we were fairly clean. I thought Dillon did good when he was in there.”

The other quarterbacks — Bryce Perkins and Brady White — are returning from injuries and not full go this spring.

Wilkins started 10 games as a redshirt freshman but was not fully healthy after suffering an ankle injury in the fifth game against USC. He also missed a game against Oregon with a shoulder injury.

“Obviously it sucks to not be 100 percent and know you can do different things,” Wilkins said in an interview before spring practice started. “But I never let my teammates know that. They probably knew I was frustrated, but there was never a moment where I would tell them or show them because that’s not what a quarterback does. I came to this game knowing things like that could happen. You’ve just got to bounce back from it.

“Nothing is ever going to be good, not everything is going to be bad. It’s all about with the in between. We’ve just got to continue to better ourselves as a team and continue to mesh together and bond together. The teams that win are the teams that are closest. That’s all it’s about is being close together.”

PAC-12 FOOTBALL POWER RANKINGS: Arizona, ASU flip spots

Up next

The Sun Devils will practice again at Sun Devil Stadium at 8:30 a.m. Friday. All practices are closed to the public other than the spring game April 15.

Contact Jeff Metcalfe at 602-444-8053 or at jeff.metcalfe@arizonarepublic.com.

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