Antonio Pierce hadn’t spoken with media during the first two weeks of practice. When he finally did following Wednesday’s outdoor session, The defensive and recruiting coordinator was less than eager to address the allegations and investigation into potential recruiting violations within the program.
“I’ll keep it real simple, I’m not going to comment on it,” Pierce said when asked about the situation and the three coaches on leave in lieu of it. “We’re focused on the Sun Devils and who we have here.”
The concise response wasn’t the shortest, or even the most uncomfortable of the session. When asked directly if he is concerned about his job, Pierce didn’t waste his breath.
Once he established that his lips were sealed on the sensitive subject, he opened up in detail about his defense and the team as a whole with kickoff just two weeks away.
Pierce addresses the experience throughout the defense
“I think this defense is older and wiser. We have experience at every level, we’re the oldest in the country in the secondary. The accountability is amazing, they police themselves and hold each other accountable. The chemistry is coming along well too, guys at all three levels have played together a lot. Those linebackers have played together for three years, the (defensive) line give or take a player or two, but between DJ (Davidson) and Tyler (Johnson), they’ve played together four or five years. It’s a very mature group, very leadership based unit.”
Pierce’s session was a joint one, with special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum also participating. Both coaches emphasized the importance of the “third team” on the field, and Slocum spoke highly of the group’s depth and versatility.
“We always say it’s not going to be our defense taking that field first, it’s the kickoff guys,” Pierce said. We have to be ready and formidable there.”
“Fortunately we’ve done a really good job recruiting guys who are really good at returning the ball,” Slocum said. “You’ll probably see us play multiple guys back as the deep man. DJ Taylor coming off the recognition from last year has been great, Rachaad White and Chase Lucas have really impressed me as well.”
With the recent departure of Michael Turk following the news ASU would be requiring players to be vaccinated in order to travel, Slocum has been tabbed with selecting the team’s starting punter. True freshman Eddie Czaplicki seems to be the leader as of now.
“He is a young man who’s more mature than his age,” Slocum said. “The stage is not too big for him. Initially we thought he would come in here and compete for the kicker job with turk being here, because he does all three, kick, kickoff and punt. With Michael leaving and that position being open he’s jumped in there, and if you watched practice today he had a really good period, he has a really good leg and will be a great player for us.”
Last but not least, offensive lineman Henry Hattis took to the podium to discuss the state of his unit, as well as how he’s feeling coming off a 2020 campaign in which he described himself as less than 100%.
“This is a really tight group. We’ve come a long way from last year when there were a lot of new faces with myself and Kellan coming in and Ben Scott getting his first year of acclamation. Now we kind of have that chemistry and unity that we’ve built over the offseason, it took a couple days to come together but now we are really starting to play like a unit which is really exciting.”
During his time at Stanford, Harris broke his leg in an October 2019 game. After a year of rehabbing during a pandemic, he feels like he is back to his true self for the first time since he wore the Cardinal red.
“The rehab process wasn’t ideal, but I couldn’t make excuses and had to work with what i had,” Hattis said. “I’m grateful the NCAA allowed us to come back following Covid, I really feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been, I think you guys will see really good things from me and the entire O line this year.”
On Monday, Herm Edwards rapped his knuckles against the table as he stated that his team was completely healthy outside of Jermayne Lole, and that if the opener were tomorrow, everyone would be ready to go. Health will be key for ASU this year, as the depth at certain positions is questionable. With the countdown to game day at 15 days, the team will start to focus on getting starters’ bodies in shape for the grueling 12 game schedule ahead.