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ASU Football: Sun Devils testing waters with different linebackers

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How have they changed up the look?

Arizona State stretches before practice Wednesday morning.
Arizona State stretches before practice Wednesday morning.
Nick Krueger/House of Sparky

Arizona State is still trying to find the right recipe for success at WILL linebacker and Devilbacker.

De'Marieya Nelson and Carlos Mendoza got the first looks early in fall camp. Since that time, the team has inched away and given Nelson more of a tight end role and Mendoza went down with a leg injury that should keep him out the first few games.

Antonio Longino has been the mainstay at Devilbacker while DJ Calhoun has stepped up in Mendoza's place at WILL linebacker, but head coach Todd Graham said Wednesday that those spots weren't solidified. Edmond Boateng, a JUCO transfer and redshirt sophomore, worked at first team Devilbacker Wednesday, and Christian Sam worked in with the first team at WILL linebacker.

"We've got a little competition at WILL linebacker," Graham said. "Christian Sam's light is really going on."

Sam had been running with the second team at WILL linebacker, and Boateng has just recently been seeing time at second team defensive end after hardly getting any reps in the first two weeks of camp. Even Graham wasn't sold on Boateng's abilities early on.

"He came in and really struggled to pick it up and the game was really fast to him," Graham said. "Coming into camp I thought ‘well he's going to be a rotation guy'."

He added that he liked the way Boateng was coaching up other players on the sideline and that he was playing with a passion. It's a challenge in some sense to Longino to see how he handles the adversity and the competition. It also gives Arizona State some more versatility given that Longino is better suited standing up like a linebacker while Boateng is better utilized off the edge with his hand down on the line.

"He's the best pass rusher we have out here in camp," Graham said. "We were better today because of it."

It was a place Boateng felt relatively comfortable at as well.

"It's something new, but it's not too much different from playing true defensive end," he said. "It's something I could see myself getting really good at, I really like the position and I just have to keep on going."

Defense responds

Tuesday, Graham wasn't happy with how his defense performed, citing body language and a general immaturity with how the team was going about practice. He was much more pleased with Wednesday's practice, even admitting that maybe Tuesday wasn't as bad as he originally thought.

"Today we had the spirit of a champion," Graham said. "We play in a week and every practice might be the difference between winning a conference game and not, winning a conference championship and not."

He had a lot praise for freshman defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood in particular.

"Unblockable," Graham said. "His light is coming on and he's got the chance to be something special."

Notes

  • DJ Foster was a full participant in practice. Kalen Ballage returned kicks and did some skill work but then put a green no-contact jersey on.
  • First team defense: Linemen: Marcus Hardison- Jaxon Hood-Tashon Smallwood Linebackers: D.J. Calhoun (WILL), Salamo Fiso (SAM), Laiu Moeakiola (SPUR). Edmond Boateng (DEVIL) Corners: Lloyd Carrington, Solomon Means Safeties: Damarious Randall, Marcus Ball
  • Christian Sam rotated in at first team WILL linebacker
  • First team offense: Running back: D.J. Foster (Deantre Lewis got a few carries too) Wide receivers: Jaelen Strong, Ronald Lewis, Gary Chambers Tight end: Kody Kohl
  • Second team defense: Linemen: Viliami Latu-Demetrius Cherry-Corey Smith Linebackers: Ezekiel Bishop (SPUR), Christian Sam (WILL), Antonio Longino (DEVIL), Alani Latu (SAM) Corners: Kweishi Brown, Armand Perry Safeties: Chad Adams, Jordan Simone
  • Second team offense: Running back: Kyle Middlebrooks Wide receivers: Demario Richard, Fred Gammage, Cameron Smith, Ellis Jefferson
  • De'Marieya Nelson was dressed in an offensive maroon jersey, might have been getting some rest as there is another practice Wednesday night
  • Chans Cox was back in white on defense and off the scout team
  • Jaelen Strong and Demario Richard returned kicks. I asked Graham about Strong returning kicks: "Yeah I don't know, I don't know if he'll do that or not, we'll see, he wants too."
  • Graham said he really likes the speed that Ronald Lewis and Cameron Smith bring to the team
  • He also mentioned Matt Haack was getting balls off in the 1.88 to 1.89 second range, which is a difficult amount of time to get around the edge and block a punt at.