One of the main reasons for optimism from Coach Randolph has been the improved emphasis on detail in the defense.
"I think the mental focus and their focus on their own work ethic have been greatly improved," Randolph commented. "They are making sure they pay attention to every detail of their [defensive] roles."
After a year in which defensive end Junior Onyeali struggled on and off the field, many wondered if he would make Coach Graham's team, let alone be a starter on opening day. Coach Randolph has been impressed with his new found dedication and believes it is paying dividends.
"Junior has exceeded my expectations as far as his work ethic and his attention to detail," Randolph noted. "His overall energy level has been very impressive. He has a chance to be something special."
Another player that has impressed Coach Randolph is true freshman Jaxon Hood. Coming into the season under the radar, the defensive lineman has quickly been grabbing headlines and making a name for himself at ASU.
"Jaxon Hood has come in and worked his tail off," Randolph declared. "He has not missed a single rep or a single practice. That is very difficult for a freshman to do at his position, so we are really excited about him."
From the moment ASU's Defensive Coordinator met Hood, he knew that the former Chandler Hamilton player, who listed as a starter on the depth chart, would be successful in his defensive scheme.
"In recruitment, I knew what kind of character he had," Randolph recalled. "Normally great character equals hard work, so it hasn't been a surprise to me that he works as hard as he does and how he prepares. The even more impressive thing is that he is still learning his position. He played on the edge in high school so this is new to him.
"He has worked his tail off and regards himself as a player not as a freshman."
One of the players that have struggled in fall camp is junior college transfer defensive lineman Mike Pennel, who is listed behind Hood on the two-deep. Randolph still feels that he can help the team and become a starter if he remains dedicated and applies himself.
"Mike just has to continue to work," Randolph explained. "He is working really hard to learn the system. He is a highly explosive player and can take up multiple gaps. He just needs to continue to push himself, [and] keep working through practice. He needs to practice with the same intensity that he plays with."
One of the main strategies in Randolph's system will be masking his defensive formations and his blitzes.
"The other team's offense is going to have to find us," Randolph described. "We are going to bring many looks from a 4-2-5 formation to a base 3-4 formation. We are a hybrid team and that's how we are going to play."
With such a complex defense, it takes a lot of work and dedication to learn the playbook. ASU's defensive coordinator believes his players have the work ethic and the knowledge to learn the defensive scheme and execute it on game day.
"The best thing about our guys is that they have soaked up all of the information needed to execute this hybrid system," Randolph said. "They know they have to be on point, be students, and [be] smart and disciplined in their assignments. Anything we call they [the players] will be comfortable to run the play."
With a multitude of new starters at the linebacker position, many people would see that as a position of vulnerability for the Sun Devils. Randolph chooses to view it as a position with great potential to learn.
"To us it is a good thing," Randolph claimed. "You don't have any bad habits to break. They only know what we taught them and they are hungry to learn. Brandon Magee is back, [and] he has soaked up all the information we have given him. He is the leader of the linebackers and the whole defense. You then have Steffon Martin, who is a mature junior college transfer that has been able contribute to the defense early. Finally you have Carl Bradford, who has played defensive end and linebacker in the past, so he can give great insight to the other linebackers.
" All three have been very good players for us in the Fall." With the season opener versus NAU looming large, Randolph isn't looking for certain stats to be achieved, but rather stated that his main goal for his defense on Thursday will be to play tenacious football and focus on putting together a complete defensive performance.
"Play hard and chase the ball like you hair is on fire," Randolph said. "We need to be relentless and play Sun Devil Football."