The Arizona State Sun Devils defense scheme is one that thrives on positional flexibility and confusion. The more things a player can do, the more likely he is to find playing time for coach Todd Graham.
Positionally, the more well-rounded non-lineman will eventually find their way to SPUR, which is where the most intriguing position battle on the defense can be found.
SPUR is a hybrid linebacker-defensive back who alternates duties between coverage and rushing the quarterback. He must have the coverage skills to keep teams from producing big plays through the air, but must also be able to stuff the run enough to make teams try.
Redshirt senior Marcus Ball split time between SPUR and Bandit safety a season ago and said one of the advantage of SPUR is playing looser knowing there’s someone behind you.
“The biggest difference between SPUR and safety is at safety you’re the last line of defense,” Ball said. “Anything that gets past you is obviously fatal. At that SPUR spot, you’re in between... there’s not as much pressure, per se.”
With last year’s starter Laiu Moeakiola gone, ASU has looked for someone to step up and take the job.
Senior J’Marcus Rhodes has been with the first team every day during the portion available to the media, seemingly giving him the inside edge to start against New Mexico State. But Graham bristled Tuesday at the idea that he was running away with the starting job.
“I don’t know about that,’ Graham interjected. “I think coach (Phil Bennett) feels good about both him and Marcus.”
Graham also said that redshirt junior Tyler Whiley has had a productive fall camp and that he could take some snaps there, as well.
Ball said he has been impressed with Rhodes’s progression since his placement at SPUR during spring practice, noting his passion for the position and sport.
“He’s really come into his own at that position,” Ball said. “He is actually doing really well at it. He’s had a solid camp, he’s been consistent for the most part.”
Not without the help of Ball, Rhodes noted.
“We teach each other every day,” Rhodes said. “You can always learn something new and you can always learn something from Marcus. He knows the game, he’s been here five years.”
ASU has two weeks to figure out which of Ball, Rhodes and Whiley will take the field first at Sun Devil Stadium opening night, but all three will undoubtedly play a role on the Sun Devil defense before the season is up.
“Though only one can play, we feel like the best one is going to play, no matter who it is,” Whiley said. “You can’t get down about it, we just help each other get better every day.”