(Photo: Courtney Pedroza/WCSN)
Not much looked different on Wednesday as the Sun Devils got another day of preparation in at the Kajikawa Practice Fields before a weekend trip to play the USC Trojans. The team was still without quarterback Taylor Kelly who once again worked on the side in throwing and conditioning drills while still wearing a walking boot over his injured right foot.
With limited viewing time for the media, few changes in personnel, alignments or injury situations and no post-practice comments from head coach Todd Graham, it was a relatively news-free day for ASU.
Still, with three days before a crucial matchup against the Trojans that will have a tremendous impact on the rest of the season for the Sun Devils, there’s plenty of reason for fans to stay on the edge of their seat.
Freshman linebackers look to contribute
When Carlos Mendoza was injured in August, freshman linebacker D.J. Calhoun was inserted into the starting WILL role, which he has not relinquished through four games. And while Laiu Moeakiola hasn’t missed a start in the team’s SPUR role, injuries suffered against Colorado and UCLA have resulted in some extended time for freshman linebacker Christian Sam.
With Moeakiola still wearing a green, non-contact jersey in practice and Mendoza returning to healthy, the amount of time the pair of freshman linebackers will play against the Trojans is undetermined, but both are preparing to help the team in any way possible.
“I’m trying to learn so if they need me, like they did at Colorado, I can step in and help the team so we can win games,” Sam said. “I’ve just got to keep getting better every day so if my number’s called and they need me, I can go out there and give it my all for my team.”
While Moeakiola wore green on Wednesday, it seems precautionary at this point and it would be surprising if he wasn’t ready to play against USC. It would also be surprising for Calhoun to play in a backup role, despite the fact that Mendoza earned first-team reps at WILL on Tuesday, as the freshman returned to his starting spot on Wednesday.
The competition is something that Mendoza believes improves his, and the rest of the defense’s play.
“As long as I have to fight for a spot, I’m going to be working extra, extra hard,” Calhoun said. “I should be doing that regardless, but just to have somebody there that’s in competition, that’s just so much better for me.”
One week after giving up 62 points to the UCLA Bruins, both Calhoun and Sam agree that poor tackling was at the core of the issues for ASU in the 35-point loss. With more dangerous offenses on the way, much of the talk from Graham has been about not playing out of control.
With the environment of a blackout game on a nationally televised Thursday night game, Graham thought perhaps players were too amped up and weren’t playing with their usual fundamentals. Sam doesn’t believe that the energy was the issue, though.
“If you’re about to play in a big game like that, you have to be fired up,” Sam said. “You can’t go out there without that type of energy. We’ve just got to get better every day with more focus.”
– The defense didn’t run a walkthrough or 11-on-11 during the media portion of practice. They did, however, run some “skeleton” drills which feature the first-team linebackers and defensive backs working against the scout team offense. During those drills, the group was D.J. Calhoun, Salamo Fiso, Laiu Moeakiola, Kweishi Brown, Lloyd Carrington, Jordan Simone and Damarious Randall.
– Paul Crawford, aka “Too Tall Paul,” aka “Paul Wall,” has spent his time with the Devil-backers since arriving at ASU after fall camp, but received second-team reps at defensive end on Tuesday. That looks like a full-time switch for Crawford, as he worked with the defensive line again on Wednesday. Only Antonio Longino and Edmond Boateng worked at Devil with Coach Paul Randolph, as De’Marieya Nelson worked with the tight ends.
– Only Moeakiola and Corey Smith wore green on Wednesday, although Moeakiola worked, seemingly without limitations, with the first-team defense. Smith, still recovering from foot surgery, spent time on the stationary bike near Taylor Kelly, who was working with training staff.