ASU Football: Graham dissatisfied with fitness, competition

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State defense has a long ways to go in preparation for next season.

With just five spring dates remaining, the Sun Devil players are running out of time to make lasting impressions on their coaching staff. Todd Graham wants to see his team compete for every starting spot and for players to earn their way into the lineup, and on Tuesday, he admitted he hasn't seen enough of that from the Sun Devils this spring.

"You should have more competition. You lose nine starters (on defense), you should have competition," Graham said. "The competition is going to come, it's going to come next fall, but these guys have an opportunity to show us this spring where they're at."

Graham has been impressed with the positional battles along the offensive line this spring, but it's the defensive side of the ball where the Sun Devils' head coach hopes to see more progress. Graham cited the Devil backer position, the Spur linebacker spot, the boundary corner role, and the entire defensive line as positions that are still very much up for grabs.

In Saturday's scrimmage, the defense overwhelmed the offense and limited the unit to just one scoring play on 55 plays, according to Graham's count. Still, when the coaching staff went back to watch the film, Graham said he was astonished with how slow the defense looked coming off of the ball.

"When I went back and looked at the film, we are out of shape and fat on the defensive line," Graham said. "We got to get in shape so that we can execute what we're doing."

With Mo Latu and Jaxon Hood holding down two of the starting spots on the defensive line, the Sun Devils are obviously looking to get more athletic. Latu has struggled with weight issues throughout his career and Hood showed up to spring injured and out of playing shape.

Graham did qualify his statement about his team's fitness because he thought that the word 'fat' was pushing the limit, but he clearly expressed his hopes for improved conditioning come fall camp.

"We're just too heavy. I guess I shouldn't be using the term fat, that's not a positive thing, but heavy would be a better way to describe that," Graham said.

One reason Graham is concerned with the physical toll that spring practices have taken on his players is the fact that Arizona State is only hitting the field three days a week. During the fall, the intensity and physicality will ramp up, and Graham wants his players to be prepared to handle the rigors of the season.

"We've got guys that their legs are sore, their legs are tired, we're only practicing three days a week so we've got a lot of work to do there," Graham said.

The Sun Devils have four practices remaining and will finish the spring slate with the annual spring game which will be held on April 19 at Sun Devil Stadium. In the meantime, Arizona State has plenty of work to do on and off the field to satisfy its head coach by the end of the spring.

Practice Notes

A Challenge for Deantre Lewis

After Tuesday's practice, Graham emphasized the competition and the attitude that players bring to spring practices and he cited Deantre Lewis as an example of a player he's hoping to see more from. Lewis has made his fair share of plays this spring, but has also missed blocks in pass protection and dropped a few passes.

"I want Deantre Lewis to step up. He shows signs, but I tell him, you can't show signs, we need you to step up consistently," Graham said. "So he needs to have a better last five practices. He's good, he's shined at times, but he's not consistent where he needs to be."

Lewis has an opportunity to cement his role as the No. 2 back behind D.J. Foster, yet fellow back Kyle Middlebrooks has outperformed him this spring. Middlebrooks is finally healthy and knows there's a bevy of running back recruits coming in for the fall, and has demonstrated more excitement than Lewis has this spring.

"It's just bringing it every day. It's buying into the philosophy of how we do things," Graham said of how Lewis can improve. "You can't come out here and practice whatever mood you're in that day. Champions bring it every single day."

Strong in the Secondary

While the Sun Devils are still searching for someone to take ownership of the boundary corner spot, the safeties have been the most successful defensive unit this spring. Led by returning starter Damarious Randall and walk-on Jordan Simone, the safeties consistently have the most energy and enthusiasm at practice and have done an excellent job in setting the tone for their peers.

"The safeties stood out," Graham said. "Damarious Randall was the leader of the defense, great plays. I love the passion and the energy that he and (Jordan) Simone create."

Another safety prospect making his mark this spring is Marcus Ball who will be a redshirt freshman in the fall. Ball is still donning a green no-contact jersey, but is going through the motions at practice and shadowing Simone at times during team drills.

"I love his spirit, I love his character, I love his toughness," Graham said of Ball.

Having an abundance of talent at one position creates positive problems, and Graham said his defensive staff could tinker with the defense to take advantage of their defensive backs' skills. Instead of playing with a Spur linebacker, the Sun Devils could line up with Ball as a third safety against spread personnel packages.

"Obviously, Marcus Ball is a guy that, those three guys, we have to figure out how to get all three of those guys on the field at the same time," Graham said.

Additional Notes

  • Eriquel Florence took first-team reps at Devil backer on Tuesday. Viliami Latu wore a green non-contact jersey and Chans Cox took second-team reps.
  • Taylor Kelly twice hit Jaelen Strong in stride on deep balls including a 50-yard touchdown pass that split Simone and cornerback Lloyd Carrington during a drill at the beginning of practice.
  • Solomon Means did not practice on Tuesday and Ronnie Sellars backed up Rashad Wadood as the boundary corner in Means' place.
  • De'Marieya Nelson practiced with a bit of a limp from an injury incurred in Saturday's scrimmage but still participated in every drill and made a few nice grabs on offense.
  • Christian Westerman continued to take first-team reps at left guard as Jamil Douglas moved out to play left tackle.
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