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ASU Football: Graham hoping to thwart Texas A&M's vertical offense

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Coach Todd Graham is focusing his attention on the Aggies' passing game while taking the time to hone the focus at each individual assignment.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Sun Devils are four days out from their first contest of the year and the team is using the dwindling preparation time to pinpoint the major focus in each assignment.

Graham said one of his biggest points of emphasis is to iron out  mistakes and make sure the newcomers have a sound grip on what they are expected to do this Saturday.

"Week 1 it's the team that makes the least amount of mistakes and plays the most discipline, error-free football," Graham said. "Especially when you got two teams pretty evenly matched. So our major focus is the newcomers that we have in the game taking care of football, taking care of their assignments with no penalties.  You got two new tackles and you got some new people like Gump touching the football so those are the things that are most important."

Facing A&M

The week before every away game the team pumps out simulated stadium noise in the practice bubble in order to thwart the communication just as it would occur for the team on the road. That is even more important this week, as the Sun Devils will be playing for a national TV audience in NRG stadium, home to the Houston Texans, and will see and hear it populated with masses of Aggie fans.

"It irritates me in practice that I can't hear myself talk," Graham said. "But obviously we have to do as much as we can to learn and try to get that feel and make sure we can communicate in all three areas through that kind of noise."

Texas A&M was first in the SEC in passing offense in 2014. In the air, they were 29 yards short of reaching 4000 passing yards on the season. The strength of the Aggie's ability to go vertical is one of the major focal points for Graham and his squad.

"The biggest things are we got to tackle in space really well against these guys and then we got to be vertically sound," Graham said. "That's the strength of their team is their athleticism and space and their ability to throw the ball vertical so it won't get any tougher as far as vertical passing game."

JoJo Wicker

Freshman defensive lineman JoJo Wicker is one of the standout freshmen this season and gained high praise from Graham after practice Tuesday. Fresh out of recruitment, Wicker has been garnering more and more playing time in practice and rotated in on first team for the third down Tuesday.

"He's the best defensive lineman that I've been around as far as in recruiting," Graham said. "He's just an incredible character kid, got a great family, he fits into what we're trying to learn and it's not easy to learn as much as there is to learn in that short a period of time and so show up here with the latter part of the gym and then three weeks of practice and showing up ready to play. He's a stud I absolutely love the kid."

Hall of Famer

Arizona State announced its 2015 Hall of Fame induction class four days ago and one of the honorees is former Sun Devil wide receiver Derek Hagen who will be honored during halftime of the Oct. 10 matchup against Colorado. Graham premised Tuesday's post-practice scrum with a congratulations to the former player.

"I want to first congratulate Derek Hagen for his induction into the ASU Athletic Hall of Fame," Graham said. "Obviously not only a great former player but a guy that's been first class and wanting to give back and serve and help us in any way he possibly can and just talking to our guys and mentoring our players and one of the best to ever play here so we're really proud of him getting inducted into the hall of fame."

Hagen is currently a free agent and has been playing in the NFL for nine years following his graduation from ASU in 2005. He has played for the Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders.

Depth Chart Update

With the first game days away, fans are wondering which Sun Devils they will see on the field first. With the depth chart ever changing, Graham gave the media a pretty solid look into the potential defensive unit starters.

"We have three starting linebackers, D.J. (Calhoun) starts on third down.

"All three play. We got three defensive tackles that are starters: Tashon Smallwood, Ami Latu, and then Demetrius Cherry. We got two ends: (Edmond) Boateng and JoJo (Wicker). We got three linebackers, a couple of spurs: Laui (Moeakiola) and (Marcus) Ball. Armand (Perry) at free, (Jordan) Simone at bandit and Chad Adams probably first safety. Corners, I feel good about Kweishi (Brown) and Lloyd (Carrington)."

The Sun Devils have two practices remaining, Wednesday and Thursday, before heading eastbound to Texas on Friday. Moeakiola said he is hyped and ready for the challenge.

"We are much improved," Moeakiola said. "We got a lot of guys returning and stepping into those leadership roles, a lot of depth, a lot of versatility. Our defense is really good scheme-wise. They got some great players, explosive playmakers around the perimeter and so we have to do what we can to contain them. Now we have to do our 1/11th."

Notes:

  • Tim White still donned his sizeable arm cast in Tuesday's practice.
  • First team reps for offensive line included Vi Teofilo, William McGehee, Nick Kelly, Evan Goodman and Christian Westerman.
  • Christian Sam started at Will (ironically) and Salamo Fiso at Sam.
  • Gump Hayes was lined up in the slot to start
  • Antonio Longino started at Devilbacker