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ASU Football: Tillman position battle revs up entering season opener

No longer a transition year

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 28 Arizona State Spring Game Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales was hired by Herm Edwards to join his coaching staff, Gonzales brought along cornerbacks coach Tony White and the 3-3-5 defense. Under Rocky Long at New Mexico and San Diego State, Gonzales acquired the 3-3-5 trademark.

Going into year two, Gonzales mentioned the importance of his players being comfortable out on the field, and the difference it can make on the defensive side of the ball.

“Last year, we were focusing them on talking to each other every single play,” he said. “So they would echo each other’s assignments and they could talk each other out of assignments.

“This year it’s more focused on making sure we do the instant details, make sure the leverages are correct and it will help us with our tackling and our pursuit because those guys know where they are supposed to fit better.”

As the defense adds another year under its belt while having most of the secondary solidified, the Tillman position is still up for grabs.

“They are both doing a great job (Evan Fields and Tyler Whiley),” Gonzales said. “They have different strengths. I think right now Tyler might be a little bit better against the run, Evan has improved dramatically, and we have been doing some stuff and keeping his head up.”

Gonzales said that both players will get 40 reps or so in the team’s first game against Kent State on Thursday.

“Ideally, if both of those guys play 40 reps each in a game, you are probably going to be as good as if you had one,” he said. “At the end of the game, they have only got 40 snaps under their belt and they are going to play harder, and we will find out who's the best in space, especially in the first game because they are going to spread us out so much and we will see what Evan, Tyler and Connor (Soelle) can do within the first two weeks and then it will work itself out.”

Junior defensive back Evan Fields has been seeing a majority of the first team snaps throughout camp and has noticed the defense is counting on him to improve this season.

“In this scheme that they brought in, we learn how to make that scheme get all the production out to the max.” Fields said.

Fields has continued to fill a role since arriving on campus three years ago, and this past year, he saw playing time in 11 games, starting the last three of the season at Tillman.

“Being recruited out of high school, I always wanted to fill a role and started taking a lot of reps,” Fields said. “Everyday I just try and come out and see what I can do and get better. I’m not just out here to be just out here, I’m trying to get better each day. I feel like getting all those reps and being older now and being a lot more mature, it translates to on the field.”

Fields isn’t worried about splitting time with Whiley in the team’s first game because he knows at the end of the day, the film doesn’t lie.

“Film don’t lie,” Fields said. “So I’m going to go out there and put something on tape and that speaks for itself.”

Last year, the Tillman position was Whiley’s until a season-ending injury in fall camp saw the senior sit out his senior year and rehab for a medical hardship. That left coach White looking to find someone who could fill that role.

“There was uncertainty going into the first game,” White said. “You didn’t know who you had, Daz (Tautalatasi), Evan, Jalen Harvey. You didn’t know what was going on, and this year you got Ty and Evan, and it’s a great competition.”

The Sun Devils take the field Thursday against the Kent State Golden Flashes, opening the 2019 season at Sun Devil Stadium.