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Wednesday, April 18, 2012
'Different' arrives at Arizona State

By Ted Miller

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Amanda Pettas, daughter of former Washington offensive coordinator John Pettas, dashes into the middle of the Arizona State scrimmage. You wonder: Is she possessed by the ghost of former Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict, determined to do something completely nuts?

The whistle blows, and immediately Pettas raises a pair of flags -- maroon and gold, of course.

The reporter on the sideline, widely known for being phenomenally observant and preternaturally insightful, is given three ultimately futile guesses as to what the heck Pettas is doing.

Sports information director Mark Brand then explains that Pettas is charged with running to the ball and raising the flags so coaches, watching film later, can know for sure which players are running full-go until the whistle is blown and which, thinking they are away from the play and can relax, might slow down a second or two before the whistle.

New coach Todd Graham doesn't like that. To him, it's loafing. The Sun Devils over the past few seasons did a lot of that.

That phenomenally observant and preternaturally insightful reporter saw little loafing on Tuesday. Also, his ears are ringing. Graham has enlisted a crew of assistants who aren't shy about making a point colorfully.

"The first couple of weeks were a little rough," offensive tackle Evan Finkenberg said.

It's a seeming requisite when observing a new coaching staff for folks -- fans and media -- to paint a "There's a new sheriff in town!" picture. Everything the fired coach did becomes inferior and everything the new coach changes becomes brilliant and inspiring. These, naturally, are superficial judgments made before games are played.

But this is different. Everybody dresses the same -- there are no fashion statements at practice. Walking on the field is verboten. While former coach Dennis Erickson mostly observed practice, Graham is active at just about every moment. He barks, instructs and jokes with his players incessantly. And so do his assistants.

Different, of course, guarantees only change, not success. And the players Graham inherited -- a roster with many questions -- might not be capable of winning more than six games next fall, as they did in 2011, even with a dramatic change in culture.

But six wins with fewer penalties, more consistent effort and a more disciplined, mature locker room likely would be embraced by the Sun Devils' frustrated fan base. And would bode well for the future.

Some observations: