(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
After losing three of last year’s four starters in the secondary, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has yet another position group that will yield an overhaul before next season.
Gone are the likes of Jordan Simone, Lloyd Carrington and Kweshi Brown, who combined for 185 tackles and five interceptions last season. In their places are two of the top junior college players in the nation.
J’Marcus Rhodes, formally ranked as the seventh-best junior college prospect in the nation by 247 Sports, and Maurice Chandler, 247 Sports’ No. 35 ranked junior college prospect have come in and started to compete right away.
“Moe [Maurice Chandler] and J’Marcus [Rhodes] have been really productive,” Graham said. “I feel good about where we’re at there [in the secondary].”
For Chandler, the adjustment from JUCO to Division I continues to be a process – the biggest challenge has been learning the playbook.
“The playbook gets bigger, you know the plays and coverages we run,” Chandler said. “It’s a different technique coming in and just learning all of that pretty quick.”
Graham’s job gets a little easier when it comes to the safety position – sophomore Kareem Orr, who posted 38 tackles and a team-high six interceptions last season, will be returning, as will Armand Perry.
Orr played in 12 games last season, while Perry played in just two games, amassing 15 tackles before suffering an ankle injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Graham complimented both players on their consistency.
The team participated in an intradsquad scrimmage today – for the first time of the spring according to Graham – and while Graham recognizes that the offense had a slight edge, he is still happy with where the secondary is as a unit.
“We’ve got some guys that are not practicing, but they’ve [the secondary] been pretty steady,” Graham said.
Graham was quick to point out redshirt senior De’Chevon Hayes has someone who hast stood out on defensive to this point.
Last season, Hayes played all over the field, from return man to running back and totaled 416 all-purpose yards in his redshirt-junior season.
This year, Hayes will be relied upon to play the role of nickel back, but has played both offense and defense in spring camp to this point. While playing both ways is concept that isn’t as common, Hayes feels as though he is built to meet the challenge.
“I think of myself as a versatile player that can play any position,” Hayes said.
However, Hayes still recognizes the learning curve and defense and acknowledges that, much like Chandler, the most difficult part of playing corner has been learning the playbook.
“Learning all the schemes,” Hayes said. “I feel like my technique got way better, coming out of high school I was committed as a corner, so I feel like I haven’t lost a step. Just more of, ‘Alright, I got to start over from day one again,’ so it was all natural to me.”
While different players have started to separate themselves in different ways, there are still a number of guys are who banged up and until a majority of the group is healthy, gauging the competition will be a challenge.
Not to mention, it’s only week two.