"So far so good," remarked an exhausted Alden Darby after practice, the first in pads for the team, on Thursday. "I'm understanding this defense and getting a grasp of the concepts. I'm back to playing safety now, and it's been a while since I've been at safety, not since my freshman year, I think. I'm liking it and getting back into the groove of things."
As a cornerback in 2011, Darby hauled in 3 interceptions, and for the season he recorded fifty tackles, forty of which were solo.
"I'm open to whatever, but honestly, I like corner a little better," he expressed. "Over there I get more chances at the ball, more chances to man up and I was also able to press. I like getting to man up and trying to get my hands on the ball."
When reminded that he'll get more opportunities to possibly blitz and look for contact, the always excited Darby lit up.
"Oh yeah, I love that though," he exclaimed. "I can't wait for it! The first time a quarterback tries to fit it in there real tight, I'm just gonna come over the top and cream someone."
Players like Darby had to have been looking forward to Thursday's practice as the Sun Devil strapped on pads for the first time and went with full tackling. After two days of conditioning and careful coaching, the players were let lose as the intensity was cranked up a couple of notches.
While the team is now off for over a week to enjoy Spring break, Darby insists it was good for the team to get the first practice in pads out of the way and is confident the team will come back focused and refreshed.
"With the first day of pads, obviously it adds a little weight to our bodies," he said. "Just like the first day in helmets was crucial for us. The first day in helmets was hard for me, but by the second day I was used to it. As long as everyone continues to run and condition over spring break, I think we'll be fine when we come back in a week."
After the offense seemed to be winning the day with a couple of long scores, an 80-yard run by Cameron Marshall and 40 plus yard strike from Michael Bercovici to tight end Darwin Rodgers, the Sun Devil defense struck back by holding on what amounted to be the unofficial game-winning drive. A pair of sacks and some lock down coverage sent the "d-side" off with smiles, but not before getting addressed by the coaching staff one last time before the break in practice begins.
"They were just reminding us of the things we still need to work on," Darby remarked. "It was the first pads and everyone was kind of rattled but we've got to stay poised and work on our tackling. The said we've got to be assignment-sound when things get rough, but they were really proud of us because when the game was on the line, we stepped up and shut them down. Now we've got to shut them down consistently and stop the run."
The first week of spring practice for the maroon & gold has been full of conditioning and detailed coaching. Not only have the players been getting used to a new staff, but new philosophies on both sides of the ball. While the information may be overwhelming at times, Darby and his teammates continue to welcome the changes while aiming to improve each day, both on and off the field.
"Oh man, this coaching staff is great," he said enthusiastically. "They're on us! They want to see us be successful. If we say we want to be the best, then they're going to coach us to be the best and they're not going to let up at all. We know that two weeks from now they're not going to be like 'Okay, we can be buddies now,' and let up. No, they're going to be on us every single day because they want us to be great. They want us to play to our full potential.
"And (Defensive Backs) Coach Ball is a great coach too," Darby continued. "He an educator, a teacher and he's a caring guy. One of the things he really emphasizes is respect and he teaches us things a little differently in a way that I like. Just the way that he uses words, I can really relate to him. He's just a great guy, as well as the whole coaching staff."
Since the 2011 season came to a disappointing end at the hands of Boise State in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl just three months ago, Sun Devil players have been actively trying to prepare in order to make an impression on their new coaches this spring. Whether working on their conditioning or brushing up on the playbook, very little has been overlooked with so much on the line for Arizona State this offseason.
Like others, Darby has bought into the new strength and conditioning program laid out for the team and so far he says the effects have been quick and instrumental.
"Me personally, I've been trying to get my body right," he commented. "I've been trying to drink more water, eat healthier and add some more muscle on my body. I'm also trying to gain more knowledge of the game and really work on my speed. But mainly working on my knowledge of the game and try to play smarter. I can't use my playmaking abilities if I don't understand the game, so I'm trying to slow the game down in my head and make smart plays."
"But I feel myself getting stronger," he added. "Looking in the mirror, I can tell I've gotten bigger from just like two weeks ago. I can feel my body getting faster. I can feel my body getting stronger and bigger. The way we've been hitting it, I can really feel the difference."
Following spring break, Darby and his teammates will have another four weeks to show the staff everything they bring to the table. With no starting spots guaranteed for anyone, Darby says he's out to claim one for himself while also trying to become the type of leader the Sun Devil defense can rally around.
"I'm just trying to secure a starting spot, of course," said Darby of his goals this off-season. "I want to be able to know this defense like the back of my hand. I want to become that playmaker, that dude, that guys can rely on where if we need a big play, they can say 'Okay, Darby's going to man up and get his guy."
"I want to be that guy where if the ball is in the air, they know I'm going to come down with it. I want to be the guy that people can rally around and see as a leader and as a team captain. I want to be the best player I can be, character-wise, on and off the field as well."