As Arizona State worked its way through spring ball, heat around the program seemed to somewhat dissipate. The focus was on guys with the program, no longer on those who chose to leave, and how the team was looking to improve.

On Thursday, that shifted again. Linebacker Eric Gentry and wideout Ricky Pearsall both entered the transfer portal, according to reports. Gentry was a Freshman All-American for the Sun Devils last season. Pearsall, a Tempe native, was on the sidelines during Arizona State’s spring showcase event two weeks ago talking with the Pac-12 Network broadcast team about how this ASU group felt closer than it had ever before.

Now two players Arizona State could ill afford to lose this deep into the offseason are both gone.

Arizona State was going to rely on both. Both were key pieces of what coach Herm Edwards was building on either side of the ball. Gentry, a three-star prospect in the class of 2021, started three times last season as he played the role of outside linebacker and edge rusher. He finished six on the team with 45 total tackles, registering five for a loss. He was also the third highest-graded Pac-12 linebacker in coverage by PFF, among qualified players. Gentry was going to be a foundational piece.

Pearsall seemed to already be one. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound wideout led the Sun Devils with 48 catches for 580 yards and four touchdowns last season, averaging 12 yards a catch. His experience, voice, and ability were going to be invaluable to the Sun Devils as they looked to break in a new quarterback.

The list of Sun Devil departures since the 2021 season ended runs deep. Arizona State has seen its offensive and defensive coordinators leave the program, as well as its tight ends coach, wideout coach, and secondary coach. Three-year starting quarterback Jayden Daniels left for LSU. Wideouts Lonyatta Alexander and Johnny Wilson left for Washinton and Florida State. Cornerback Tommi Hill left for Nebraska. Running back DeaMonte Trayanum left what might have been a starting role in the backfield to play linebacker at Ohio State.

In some respects, Arizona State losing players to the transfer portal can’t be viewed as too off the beaten path considering every school in every part of the country is losing players to the transfer. Name, image, and likeness packages (either loosely based or directly) are awfully inequitable and playing a significant role in all the movement. But Arizona State can’t bury its head in the sand and think it doesn’t have a larger problem.

Arizona State’s passing attack looked underwhelming during its spring showcase. The Sun Devils have unproven options to replace Daniels, and what kind of player they can attract from the portal remains to be seen. Pearsall’s departure certainly doesn’t make that outlook seem any better. According to Sun Devil Source’s Chris Karpmann, the wideout’s departure is football-related and not about money.

Gentry’s is harder to square given the expected quality of the Arizona State defense and the role he was going to have, but maybe it’s not about the defense. Maybe this is about the direction the program is headed.

Since opening an investigation into alleged recruiting violations that occurred during the COVID-induced dead period in 2020, the NCAA has reportedly interviewed high school prospects who allegedly visited Arizona State during the months-long dead period as well as program staffers, according to The Athletic. ASU is reportedly bracing for multiple Level I violations.

Edwards has remained in place all throughout, earning votes of confidence from his bosses at various points, both publicly and privately. Athletic director Ray Anderson had a past relationship with Edwards before hiring him in 2018 to be the ASU coach, and he too is seeing his seat reaching scorching levels of heat under him.

The Sun Devils will now look to calm the waters and steady the ship. The next few months will be interesting, to say the least.