We’re going to combine our story and practice report into one big ol’ post tonight. On the link you’ll find the unedited version of my story about Arizona State quarterback Danny Sullivan and the quarterback situation in Tempe. Then I’ll fill you in on what happened on the practice field. Read on.
• Here’s the story …
PULLMAN – Arizona State quarterback Danny Sullivan waited patiently for three years.
He did the things people ask of a backup, holding on placements, protecting the fort when there were injuries, not complaining.
This was to be his year. Three-year starter Rudy Carpenter had graduated. It was Sullivan’s time.
And yet …
Four games into the 2009 season, Sullivan’s play is under fire. After ASU’s 28-17 loss to Oregon State, Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley, among others, called for a change at quarterback.
What’s surprising is neither ASU nor Sullivan are doing that bad.
The Sun Devils are 2-2, 0-1 in the Pac-10. They won their first two games easily, went down to Georgia and lost in the final minute, then were stunned early and fell to Oregon State.
Through it all, Sullivan’s play, while not spectacular, was at least competent. The senior is completing better than 50 percent of his passes. He’s thrown three touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’s averaging more than 200 yards passing per game.
And yet …
“This is not the way I want to be playing right now,” Sullivan said this week, “and it’s not the way I intended it to be. I need to get myself better and help this team.”
The calls for a switch to freshman Brock Osweiler, the 6-foot-8 former Gonzaga basketball commit from Kalispell, Mont., escalated after the OSU defeat, despite what was, statistically, Sullivan’s most productive game.
Forced to throw on nearly every down – after jumping out to a 14-0 lead with help from Arizona State, the Beavers shut down ASU’s running game, holding the Devils to 68 yards – Sullivan finished 32 of 58 for 338 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
It wasn’t enough. To win, or to quiet the critics.
“While Sullivan isn’t bad, turnover prone or susceptible to brain cramps, he doesn’t make the plays that seem to gush from great quarterbacks,” Bickley wrote.
And head coach Dennis Erickson seemed to agree, saying after the game the quarterback position would be re-evaluated.
Monday, Erickson came down in Sullivan’s camp.
“As you re-evaluate and study the tape,” Erickson said at his press conference, “Danny did some awfully good things for us. He threw it pretty successfully, he managed the game pretty well and he turned it over one time, which he has not done before.
“He will start this game against Washington State.”
And yet …
“Does that mean Brock won’t play?” Erickson added, referring to Saturday’s game in Pullman. “No. I have not decided that yet, and I won’t make that decision until the end of the week.”
For his part, Sullivan is trying to keep above the fray.
“It’s tough dealing with the whole situation this past Saturday,” he said. “I didn’t expect anything like that to happen. … In the last 48 hours, I have had time to relax and get support from family and friends. I just need to continue what I have been doing.”
And the criticism?
“I don’t bother reading it,” Sullivan said. “I need to worry about me, and what my family, friends and teammates say. That’s all I care about.”
That, and the support of Erickson, the guy making the decisions.
“Danny Sullivan did not lose the football game by any means,” Erickson said. “Everyone was involved in that. Everybody on our football team.
“(Sullivan) did some awfully good things.”
“It means a lot … to say he’s going to back me through thick and thin,” Sullivan said of Erickson. “I respect that, and if things don’t go my way, I’m still going to respect coach to the fullest.”
• Now on to the practice. I missed the first part because I was watching the basketball team work out. With practice beginning next week, had to do some interviews for the advance. But we got out to football practice in time to see Jeff Tuel run the No. 1 offense for the team segments. Tuel was able to go with the help of a special pad constructed by equipment manager Josh Pietz and trainer Brian Oelke. It protected his hip and ensured that Tuel could continue to heal for Saturday. … The news wasn’t as good for receiver Jared Karstetter, who wore a yellow, non-contact, jersey at practice. Whether his hip injury will allow him to be 100 percent for Saturday is debatable. … Linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis is still dealing with the after effects of the staph infection on his arm and was not at practice. He’s extremely doubtful for Saturday. … Brian Danaher wore a yellow jersey but still played guard with the No. 2 group. Right now the starting offensive line is the same as last week’s. … With all the injuries, coach Paul Wulff was asked after practice if the bye could come quick enough for him. “We’ll be ready for a bye,” he said.
• Wednesday practices end with field goal work, usually a handful from about 40 yards. Today Nico Grasu was the only healthy kicker, so he did all the attempts. And he struggled, hitting just a couple, missing a bunch and having a few blocked. I asked Wulff afterward how much it was bothering him. “It bothers everybody and Nico,” he said. “He’s struggling right now. You know how guys struggled at times at the plate in baseball? He’s just got to get out of it. He can. He’s proven to all of us he can kick well. He’s just got to break out of it.” Grasu is the only option this week because backup Patrick Rooney is out. Rooney suffered a hip flexor injury against Hawaii, tried to play through it and it finally got so bad he had to sit.
• Wulff was asked how much he wanted to use Carl Winston. “We want to get him in the game and play him fairly early,” Wulff said. Winston, a freshman, seemed to take a majority of the snaps with the ones, though Dwight Tardy was out of the yellow jersey and running well. With Winston moving up the ladder, Logwone Mitz has seen his playing time cut. He’s healthy, but is now third on the depth chart.
• One last thing. Ran into Kevin Norrell on the elevator today and we chatted for a while. He’s staying in school, working to make sure his grades are at a level that will allow him to be reinstated. He also expressed remorse over what happened. He would rather not talk for publication right now, but might later. He knows he won’t play this year, but wants to be part of the team next.
• That’s it for now. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …