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ASU Football: Simone, Graham encouraged with defensive improvements this spring

Head coach Todd Graham and senior leader Jordan Simone say it's about believing in the system in 2015

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State defense is beginning to instill a sense of comradery within a more experienced unit. Defense ruled the day at practice Tuesday, claiming a couple of goal-line stands and showing a solid pass rush which resulted in some diving defensive tips to cause a fourth down for the offense.

Senior safety Jordan Simone is the biggest leader of this defensive unit going into the 2015 season.

He claimed 100 tackles last year in his first year after playing at Washington State and redshirting his sophomore year at ASU. Head coach Todd Graham said that he has definitely seen improvement in his defense in these spring practices.

"I think we've gotten better inside I think we got better depth in the linebacker position," Graham said. "The secondary is probably the strength with Simone and just their overall knowledge. Everybody's been doing this. The biggest improvement has just been them getting close to having a mastery of what we're doing instead of just kind of knowing what we're doing."

This mastery comes with the fact that nearly the entire defense has played at least one year of Sun Devil football together. The unit returns nine of its starters from last season, six of which are juniors and seniors.

The two biggest losses for the ASU defense come from the departures of former safety Damarious Randall and defensive end Marcus Hardison. However, Kweishi Brown and Lloyd Carrington, both senior defensive backs, return along with 6-foot-1, 236-pound junior strongside linebacker Salamo Fiso, speedy senior weakside linebacker Antonio Longino, and versatile junior linebacker Laiu Moeakiola.

Sophomore linebackers Christian Sam and D.J. Calhoun, as well as redshirt sophomore safety James Johnson add to the familiar faces and are seeing more reps after a successful freshman season. Simone says that some of these younger players are the ones that have been standing out in the spring.

"Christian Sam has had a really good spring," Simone said. "James Johnson's having a great spring, Lloyd Carrington, I mean there's so many good players with nine returning starters and there's a lot of competition so that's really good but I'd have to say James. James is doing really well."

Simone was encouraged with the way the defense showed up to practice Tuesday. While he knows the tackles and the picks are just as important, he emphasized attitude and effort as the biggest battery to this defensive squad.

"Those are just things you can control everyday and guys have to do a better job of controlling that and coming out here and competing," Simone said. "I try to talk to them all just to bring energy everyday and you can't be too high or too low you have to be even keel everyday."

While the defense looks to create position depth within a stabilized secondary, Simone added younger players will have to step up as well to create that sense of cohesion that will allow the Sun Devil football team a stab at the 2016 College Football National Championship.

"People are just believing in the system and it's good to see guys finally going to work and trusting each other that everyone's going to be there," Simone said.  "You know we've come out flat before but today was a good day. We had some freshman start last year so just getting those guys to not have a sophomore year, to have a senior year, is the biggest thing. That's what Coach always tells us: all these young guys on our team that are playing, they have to grow up real quick."