Something unexpected happened at the Sun Devils' spring practice Saturday morning when the offense and defense faced off in a scrimmage. It was supposed to be a tougher year for the defense replacing nine of 11 starters on the defensive side of the ball, but anyone who watched ASU compete Saturday morning would be convinced otherwise.
"Those guys on defense had something to prove today and defense dominated the day," head coach Todd Graham said. "It goes to show that this game is meant to be played with great emotion. It doesn't matter what happened last year or what somebody says or what somebody reports or who picks you or all that stuff you gotta come and you gotta bring it every single day."
The defense had 12 tackles for loss and four turnovers on a day where the offense didn't score until its eighth drive. Although the Sun Devils did get a lot of push into the offensive backfield, it was the pass coverage by the linebackers and defensive backs that was even more impressive and forced numerous incomplete passes. ASU utilized a lot of blitzes off the backside by Salamo Fiso and Jordan Simone to hurry Taylor Kelly and Michael Bercovici
"That was probably the biggest thing was forcing four turnovers and having the opportunity to force five," co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "I didn't really ever see us get out-flanked or out-leveraged. For the most part we stopped the run and there were no explosive plays and that's what you look for. For our first scrimmage I thought it was really clean but that doesn't mean we didn't make mistakes. There are a lot of corrections and things to get better on but this was a great place to start."
D.J. Calhoun continues to impress coaches. He had one sack and a few tackles during the scrimmage but his presence was felt on the field nearly every play. Patterson praised Calhoun's play alongside Marcus Hardison and redshirt sophomore Jordan Simone.
"He (Calhoun) does a lot of good things at times and other times he plays like he should still be in high school," Patterson said. "I really do like what I've seen from him to this point. He has some God given natural ability and instructiveness you can't coach."
Graham expressed his displeasure about the quarterback play Saturday. Kelly threw a deep ball to Jaelen Strong into double coverage that was picked off by Damarious Randall. Kelly also failed to convert in situations down near the goal line but threw a 16-yard touchdown to Gary Chambers as well. In what was probably the play of the day, Marcus Hardison tipped a pass by Kelly at the line and had the frame of mind to look up and grab the ball for an interception.
Bercovici was also picked off by Marcus Washington and fumbled two snaps but threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ellis Jefferson.
The offensive line, which has eight potential starters, continues to impress Graham who said it was the thing that has made him the most excited so far this spring. Depth is both a luxury and a curse given that each man has the ability to start. Today saw more switches on the offensive front between Jamil Douglas and Evan Goodman at the guard and tackle spots. Christian Westerman took most of his reps with the first team at left guard.
"I was really, really concerned today because I was worried we couldn't stop them (the offense)," Graham said. "We've got a lot of work to do to be where we need to be but I liked how they went out there."
- DJ Foster was largely held out of the scrimmage as well as a precaution. "DJ obviously didn't play much and he's not very happy about that but we're not going to. We're not going to be foolish like that and get him hurt," Graham said.
- Viliami Latu sat out because of a hit he took in practice earlier this week. Graham called it a "precautionary measure." De'Marieya Nelson got his ankle rolled over in practice and Graham said he suspects it is sprained.
- Graham was especially excited about Matt Haack and his punting abilities. Kyle Middlebrooks took a majority of the kickoff and punt returns with Damarious Randall getting a few looks as well.
- Zane Gonzalez made most of his field goals but missed three today which Graham said, "can't happen."
- Kyle Middlebrooks had the longest run of the day, just 20 yards while redshirt freshman tight end Grant Martinez reeled in a 34-yard catch for the longest reception.