Arizona State's indefinite suspension of highly-esteemed junior college Davon Durant for a domestic violence related arrest has turned what was already a spotlight on the Devil backer position this spring into a heat lamp
It's probably a good thing then for the Sun Devils and redshirt freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson that he already plays the game as though his hair is on fire.
Arguably ASU's most impressive scout team players on defense last year, Murphy-Richardson has gained 25-plus pounds since he arrived in Tempe last summer and yet not lost any of the burning intensity he sustains on the practice field.
"(Sports performance) Coach [Shawn Griswold] overworks me, it's great though, he strains me," Murphy-Richardson said following the team's first spring practice Monday. "I'm just getting stronger. I'm just doing more, trying to do stuff on my own and get bigger."
Murphy-Richardson was going to have to overcome Durant to take the Sun Devils' first-team spot on the depth chart at Devil backer this off-season, but now that may no longer be the case. It will depend on a number of variables including whether Durant returns to the team and when, and whether he'd be subject to a suspension even if he does return.
In the interim, Murphy-Richardson has a chance to work exclusively with the first-team and continue to develop and progress in a way that could make supplanting him tougher -- not just by Durant, but anyone.
Murphy-Richardson's backup during Monday's practice, sophomore A.J. Latu, said he didn't even know he was going to be working there until earlier in the morning.
"It was like a last minute thing," said Latu, who had gained weight in the off-season with a plan of moving to defensive end. "They told me I was going to Devil before practice. It's good, I like it. You get to rush off the edge. Not that big of a deal but I like it."
First-year defensive assistant and head special teams coach Shawn Slocum is tasked with developing the outside linebackers positions, which includes Devil backer. It's going to take a while to get a full sense of the capability of his personnel, but at least on day one Slocum was encouraged by his current first-teamer.
"I think [Murphy-Richardson is] a good looking explosive athlete," said Slocum, who spent one segment of the practice teaching Murphy-Richardson about chasing the pass to the boundary flat in a conversion from a pass rush mentality to start the play.
"Nothing," Murphy-Richardson said, when asked about what he knew of Slocum, a former eight year assistant with the Green Bay Packers, before he arrived in town several weeks go." All I knew was his NFL background basically. But coach Slocum is really cool. He's really trying to help us learn what we need, like technique-wise and what not. Just taking it day by day.
"Coach Slocum is new to the system so he's learning like we're learning. We're basically growing together."
Special teams changes observed on first day
Frequently lamenting the mediocrity of his program's special teams in the last several years, ASU head coach Todd Graham finally made a major move to address the problem in recent weeks with the hire of Slocum
Previously the special teams coordinator at Green Bay Packers and an eight year NFL veteran, Slocum clearly has Graham's ultimate respect, as the head coach was less involved in special teams Monday than we saw at any point in his first three years.
"Special teams wise, it was great to have coach Slocum (at practice), Graham said Monday. "The special teams meetings, you could tell there were a lot of change, a lot of different things we're doing. I'm excited about what he's bringing and what he's teaching. It's good to see guys excited about those things."
Slocum said he's spoken with Graham about the unit's overall ideology and is now working to implement the changes that both men hope will turn a weakness into a strength.
"Creating an environment of achievement, creating a training regimen where guys understand what to do and let that translate to the games," Slocum said. "We've talked in depth about what he wants to get done and I'm just working to accomplish that. It's still about the ball. You have x-amount of time in meeting and x-amount of time on the field and we're trying to maximize that."
For additional notes on the health and participation status of numerous Sun Devils as well as expansive analysis of the first practice, please visit our in-depth practice post inside the Devils' Sanctuary forum.