(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
From the starting unit to the coaching staff, the Sun Devil defense – especially the secondary – is filled with new faces.
Former ASU graduate assistant and 2006 Super Bowl Champion T.J. Rushing will be leading the defensive backs. Rushing is bringing in his own philosophy to help a defense that allowed the most passing yards in the country last season.
He mentioned communication as a key with the defense to clear the way for some improvement.
“A lot of the time last year the problems were a lack of communication and guys giving up touchdowns and that’s what we have to eliminate,” Rushing said.
There are still some kinks to work out in the secondary as far as who plays where, but most of the group seems to be set. Kareem Orr, who led all freshman in the country with five interceptions last season, will likely be alongside either converted running back DeChavon “Gump” Hayes or transfer Bryson Echols.
Hayes, who has very limited experience at cornerback, Echols, and Orr are expected to be backed up by transfer Maurice Chandler and freshman Robbie Robinson at both cornerback spots.
“It makes the room competitive and those guys are doing a good job of showing up and being ready to go every day,” Rushing said regarding the two transfers.
Robinson wasn’t expected to be a big contributor initially, but has made a lot of noise at camp. He gives a lot of credit to the coaches and upperclassmen, who have helped him learn a lot since he stepped foot on campus.
“Since day one, Armand Perry has been a big help with watching films and learning assignments,” Robinson said. “Chad Adams has also been a big help, and Kareem Orr too. Those have probably been the top three with helping me with my assignments and getting adjusted. Just always being there when I need them.”
The starting safeties are expected to be Laiu Moeakiola, a converted linebacker, and Armand Perry, who missed almost all of last season with a high-ankle injury.
Moeakiola’s transition to safety is just one of many moving parts on this defense that is trying to regain its identity.
Rushing and the defensive staff have worked together to make sure that all the defensive players are well equipped to move around and play wherever they see fit.
“That’s why we all meet in one room,” Rushing said. “Everyone should be paying attention to every position and have position flexibility so that when we do have a guy go down with an injury or we just want to move you to another spot, if you have been paying attention all year, you should know it.”
Another guy who is moving around is Hayes, who said the adjustment has been going well.
“It’s more of the mental reps,” he said. Getting focused and taking things one day at a time.”
With the defense as a big focus point in practice, it’s imperative that the secondary makes a drastic improvement after last season’s letdown in order for the Sun Devil defense as a whole to get back on track.
Thursday Practice Notes:
-Manny Wilkins was the QB for the first team, while Brady White led the second team. Wilkins did not complete a pass and was sacked by JoJo Wicker, while White threw a touchdown to WR Jalen Harvey.
-Robbie Robinson played at nickel corner with the first team, opposite Orr and Hayes. The freshman has steadily moved up the depth chart during fall camp.
-Laiu Moeakiola did not participate in the 11-on-11 scrimmage. Chad Adams took his place alongside Perry. Coach Graham later mentioned that Moeakiola was seeing a specialist for his hamstring.
-Freshmen Chase Lucas and Kyle Williams received second team reps in the secondary.
-Freshman WR N’Keal Harry played with the first team wide receivers over Ellis Jefferson, as has been the case lately.
-Graham said it: “One of the biggest challenges about your freshman year is when school starts. The rigor of what we require from them academically and then football on top of it is what really challenges them. As for how many of those guys will play or redshirt, we will make the decisions when it comes to that.”