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True freshman Daniels ushers in new era for Arizona State

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 8/25/2019 Michelle Gardner, Arizona Republic

a man standing in front of a crowd: Offensive coordinator Rob Likens talks to players during practice on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, at the Verde Dickey Dome in Tempe, Ariz. © Sean Logan/The Republic Offensive coordinator Rob Likens talks to players during practice on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, at the Verde Dickey Dome in Tempe, Ariz. Last year Rob Likens assumed offensive coordinator duties at Arizona State under Herm Edwards with the luxury of having a fifth-year senior at quarterback in Manny Wilkins to whom he could entrust the offense.

The Sun Devils (7-6, 5-4 in 2018) exceeded the expectations of most finishing second in the Pac-12 South and challenging for the top spot late into the season.

The scenario in season No. 2 of the Edwards era couldn't be more different and even Likens can't wait to see how it unfolds. The curtain goes up on the new season Thursday with the Sun Devils hosting Kent State in what will be the much-anticipated debut of a new quarterback, Jayden Daniels.

The San Bernardino, Calif. native will be first true freshman to start a season opener at that position for the Sun Devils.

"I'm sure I will have a few jitters," Daniels said when talking to the media for the first time after being named the starter. "I'm just going to go out there and hopefully let the game come to me. I'm grateful for the opportunity."

Daniels won a four-way battle for that position that also included true freshmen Joey Yellen and Ethan Long as well as junior Dillon Sterling-Cole, Wilkins' understudy a year ago.

Everyone in the ASU camp has commended all four for how they handled the battle which started back in the spring, with the three freshmen all enrolling early.

Daniels, who had 25 Division I offers, came to the Grand Canyon State with quite the resume, totaling 14,007 passing yards and 170 touchdowns in 53 starts for Cajon High School which makes him the all-time leading passer in talent-laden Southern California

What sets Daniels aside from the others who contended for the job, as well as many others around the country, is his ability to improvise when the designated play doesn't go as planned.

In addition to his lofty passing yardage total, he ran for another 3,645 yards and 41 touchdowns on 562 carries.

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Likens concedes it's not exactly something you see in practice on a daily basis.

"When you’re in practice you never want to see your quarterback get hurt so you have quick whistles," Likens said. "The defensive line knows I am going to get annihilated by the coaches if I get anywhere near the quarterback so they rush and then they peel off, so you never see the realistic sacks and you never really see what the quarterback can do with his feet when he gets out and breaks contain."

No, the playbook isn't as loaded as it was when Wilkins was in control. That will be a work in progress throughout the season.

"That’s what has been on my mind, talking with Jayden every night, driving home, calling him on the phone, ‘Hey man, is this too much for you? Do you understand this?," Likens said. "We’re constantly going over that game plan and then you've got to be careful because kids, they don’t want you to think they don’t know."

Likens adds that he is more comfortable starting the freshman Daniels because of the weapons he will have around him. The Sun Devils will have at least four senior starters on the offensive line and possibly five if Roy Hemsley can hold off much-improved freshman Jarrett Bell at the right guard spot.

The starting wide receivers are all veterans in seniors Brandon Aiyuk and Kyle Williams and junior Frank Darby.

Daniels also has the Pac-12's top running back in junior Eno Benjamin, who was fifth nationally with 1,642 yards as a sophomore.

So no, Daniels, won't have the burden of trying to do everything.

"If this was a young team and he was leading us out there, I wouldn’t be so comfortable," Likens said. "(Daniels) can check to a run any time he wants to. Any team he feels uncomfortable, I don’t care if its third-and-10. If it’s not good and you don’t like it, check off to a run. We’ll always be OK. He doesn’t have to worry about any of that stuff. 

"I think he has a comfort level now where (he thinks), 'if I see a full blitz coming at me, I’m OK, I can get out of it'. On the other hand he has a lot of confidence. He feels like if he sees the blitz coming, he can make the throw in the teeth of the blitz."

Reach the reporter at Michelle.Gardner@Gannett.com or 602 444-4783.  Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: True freshman Jayden Daniels to usher in a new era for ASU football

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