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Graham finds success in first season at ASU

Graham finds success in first season at ASU

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Sitting in a sparse office that still had pictures leaning against the wall, coach Todd Graham spoke about changing the culture at Arizona State, of adding discipline to a program in need of a healthy dose.

That was in April, just after his first spring game as the Sun Devils' coach.

Nine months later, Graham's office looked more like an entertainment lounge, with a huge TV hanging in the corner, massive leather recliners and colorful photos hanging on the walls.

After an eight-win season that included a comeback over rival Arizona and a bowl blowout, the program he took over has that new and improved look, too.

``I think, no doubt, we have laid a solid foundation,'' Graham said. ``I don't think it's dry yet, so by no means have we arrived yet, but I am very proud of where we're at.''

Graham was faced with a daunting task when he arrived in the desert, taking over a program with a history of mediocrity on the field and apathy from its fan base.

Stumping like a politician, Graham spoke to anyone who would listen to pump up interest in the Sun Devils, promoting his plan to turn them into winners with an exciting but disciplined brand of football.

He backed it up once the season started.

Led by dynamic sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly, the Sun Devils rode Graham's high-octane offense to a 5-1 start and rallied from a four-game losing streak to win their final three games, including two big punctuation marks to end the season.

The first came against Arizona in the regular-season finale, when Arizona State rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Wildcats 41-34 and capture the Territorial Cup, one of Graham's top priorities for the season.

The Sun Devils capped that emotional victory with a momentum-for-next-year win at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco by steamrolling Navy 62-28 for their first bowl victory since the 2005 Insight Bowl.

``We go on that four-game losing streak and you hear Arizona State football is cratering again, but I never once saw any bad body language from our players,'' Graham said. ``I never saw any of our guys flinch, question anything that we were asking them to do, and that's how I know we got to their hearts, really built some trust. I was impressed by that.''

That trust might be Graham's biggest accomplishment, not what his team did in the standings.

Under previous coach Dennis Erickson, the Sun Devils were known as a loosely reined bunch waiting to commit the next personal foul.

Once Graham arrived, he turned it into a yes-sir, no-sir operation, installing a dress code, a prohibition on cursing, no hats, earrings or headphones allowed in the football offices.

Graham's players bought into it wholeheartedly, going from worst in the Pac-12 in penalties to best with 30 fewer penalties than the next closest team, Stanford.

``If you would have come in here screaming, `Sit down, shut up, take your earring out,' I think you would have had a lot of pushback,'' Graham said. ``Our philosophy is not that. We treat these guys like young men. You act like a 13-year-old, we're going to treat you like a 13-year-old. But we asked them, `When you come into the building, would you take that earring out?' as a physical gesture that this isn't about you, it's about team.''

Even with success, Graham couldn't escape questions about his loyalty to the program.

After short stints in previous coaching stops, particularly his one-year run at Pittsburgh, the perception was that Graham was a coach who wouldn't stick around for the long haul, someone who would bolt if a better opportunity presented itself.

Graham assuaged concerns in the months after getting the job with his whirlwind tour and built the program in his own image, yet when the season ended and job openings cropped up, the rumblings started up again.

Not that he cared.

``I'm committed to be here. It doesn't bother me,'' Graham said. ``I can tell you my wife and I bought our dream house, we're paying it off in the next three years and win, lose or draw I'm going to be living out there at the base of the McDowell mountain range.''

The future doesn't look too bad for the Sun Devils, either.

Kelly will be back after setting a school record by completing 67.1 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,039 yards and 29 touchdowns. Leading rusher Marion Grice will be back, as will talented freshman running back D.J. Foster.

The Sun Devils also got a big boost when defensive lineman Will Sutton, the first ASU player to earn consensus All-America honors since Terrell Suggs in 2002, announced he will return for his senior season rather than head to the NFL.

Graham had a solid first recruiting class in 2012 despite having just a few months to work on it and has been busy scouring the country for talent leading up to signing day next month.

``It's been going pretty well so far,'' Graham said. ``We're well on our way to 2013.''

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Lamar Jackson is his own biggest critic

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Lamar Jackson is his own biggest critic

Kick off your Friday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news including how quarterback Lamar Jackson has fared during OTAs.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. Following a January surgery on his left ankle, safety Tony Jefferson remains sidelined after the first week of OTAs. Originally, Jefferson was expected to return 4-6 weeks after surgery. However, now that it's 5 months later, his return timetable is becoming more and more concerning. 

2. Quarterback Lamar Jackson spoke with Ravens media Thursday about his progress not only learning the new offense implemented by Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman, but learning the names of his new teammates as well. After another day of OTAs, Jackson was his biggest critic despite a solid day of running plays namely passing drills. “I’d say my first day, I sucked,” Jackson said to Ravens media. “Second day, I did better. Today was alright, but it could have been better. I always try to be perfect in practice. It was alright for the first week.”

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Rotoworld and Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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Here's a small example of Dwayne Haskins' leadership, as told by Matthew Berry

Here's a small example of Dwayne Haskins' leadership, as told by Matthew Berry

ESPN Fantasy Football expert Matthew Berry was at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere last weekend in Los Angeles, where he got the chance to interview the three Redskins rookies in attendance: Dwayne Haskins, Terry McLaurin, and Bryce Love. 

Berry, who was a guest of JP Finlay's on the Redskins Talk podcast on Thursday, has been a fan of the Burgundy and Gold since he was a kid, so he was eager to talk to three of the team's newest players and learn more about them.

It was during those interviews where Berry got a quick glimpse of a side of Haskins that now has Berry really excited.

"I thought what was really cool was... When I was interviewing McLaurin, Dwayne Haskins came in and interrupted the interview to give him some crap," he told Finlay. "It was really a wonderful moment to see. Obviously, they know each other very well from Ohio State, but just the fact that they felt comfortable enough and he wanted to come over and mess with him a little bit and have some fun, I was impressed with that."

Once Haskins left, Berry explained how he asked McLaurin about the interaction. Redskins fans will like McLaurin's answer.

"That's Dwayne, Dwayne is being a leader," McLaurin said, per Berry. 

Haskins did something similar to Love during Love's interview as well. Berry even caught up with Colts receiver Parris Campbell, who also played with the QB at Ohio State, to inquire about the 15th overall pick. 

"I asked him, 'Listen, I'm a diehard Redskins fan, what am I getting?'" Berry said. "He couldn't have been more effusive. 'You're not only getting a guy who puts the ball where you want it, but you're getting a leader. You're getting a guy who makes sure everyone in the huddle is included.'"

You can be skeptical of how much these little moments mean, and that's fair. Ultimately, how quickly Haskins picks up Jay Gruden's playbook and how accurate his arm turns out to be will factor more into his success in the NFL than being able to joke around a bit with some of his guys.

But you can also hope that these little moments are hints of a bigger personality and approach, a look into an athlete who can get a football team to buy into him. That's the side Berry is on.

"I thought that was really cool, and just showed somebody who's very comfortable in the leadership position and who's trying to be inclusive of everyone," he said. "It's early in the process, but I have yet to hear somebody on or off the record say something bad about Dwayne Haskins."

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