Special teams periods during practice are being run differently with Slocum at the helm, using a microphone that blasts over the loud speakers so all players can here what they are supposed to do, and implementing different drills to get down the fundamentals.
A player who is one of, if not the most improved player on special teams, is junior punter Matt Haack.
“I think coach Slocum has had a really big impact on him (Haack) and really correcting some things with his drop,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said. “Coach spent 10 years in the NFL with special teams and he said guy has an NFL caliber leg and we just got to get him to do what he’s supposed to be doing and he’s probably one of the most dramatically improved people at camp.”
Haack averaged 43.3 yards per punt last season, with four touchbacks and a long of 65 yards. The Sun Devils want to be able to flip the field more, a football term for longer punts when pinned in their own territory.
During Tuesday’s practice, SunDevilSource.com counted approximately eight consecutive impressive punts from Haack. Haack looks to be consistently replicating his mechanics better than he did last year when he had up and down practices and games.
“Repetition is the biggest thing,” Haack said. “Just get a natural flow and even in team reps, doing that a lot helps a lot too because you can come out here and do it on your own and kill a bunch a balls and then come into team and be completely different.”
Haack said Slocum has been helping him with getting his drop perfectly right because if the punter doesn’t give himself a good drop any hope for success is futile.
Last season, Haack was working on changing his technique with how many steps he took before dropping the ball. This spring, Haack takes the same number of steps, but is working on trying to keep his steps smaller and so more of his body is under him to create more power to the ball.
Haack said sophomore long snapper Mitchell Fraboni, who was battling for the job last year, has secured it so far this spring.
Frequently on the receiving end of Haack’s punts is sophomore walk-on running back Jacom Brimhall. Brimhall was the No. 1 punt returner over redshirt junior running back De'Chavon “Gump” Hayes on Tuesday.
“I know right now they really want Gump to get in there and I mean the kid can fly, there’s no doubt about that and obviously you’ve got a player in (senior wide receiver) D.J. (Foster) and right now I’m just working in there and they kind of told me that as long as I can stay consistent, I can help the team out so I’m looking to get on the field and get a couple returns in, but I got to stay consistent,” Brimhall said.
Brimhall said the most important thing for him is being able to square up on the ball since it’s hard to judge a punt with all the different rotation the ball has when it leaves the punter’s foot. Another skill he is working on is catching the ball moving forward inside of flat-footed so he is able to make quick decisions on the move.
Brimhall is the only walk-on to be given the privilege of wearing the flame helmet that denotes the hard work the player has done football-wise on and off the field.
“When (ASU running backs) coach Bo (Graham) texted me and told me that I was going to be able to wear this flame helmet, like this whole ASU experience has been a dream since I was a little kid so knowing that I’m being recognized with something as simple as that, it’s really emotional for me and it’s just an honor,” Brimhall said.
Brimhall said coaches have hinted at him that he might be getting a scholarship this year, but he knows better to assume anything quite yet.
“Honestly I’ll be in tears that day, but you now I’ll just keep working hard and hopefully everything comes along,” Brimhall said.
Brimhall, the shortest player on the Sun Devil roster at 5-foot-6 and 177 pounds, is known to run low enough to get under defenders trying to tackle him when he’s at running back and shifty enough to get past players by using his elusiveness on punt return.
“The other day he (Slocum) came up to me before the scrimmage and told me that he wanted me to get some more reps at punt return and he started asking me about my height and stuff and I said, ‘Yeah I know I’m short and stuff,’” Brimhall said. “And he said, ‘Well honestly you remind me of Darren Sproles,’ and that’s my hero and so to hear that, I was tripping out.”
Ballage practicing as a pass rusher
Sophomore running back Kalen Ballage got reps at pass rusher/Devil backer during a pass rush individual period for the first time this spring on Tuesday.
Ballage, who is 6-foot-3, 220-plus pounds, has a good combination of size and speed as a running back so coaches moved him to the defensive side to see how his skill set worked there.
“Coach Graham called me into his office and he likes what he sees in me and he just, he wants me to be on the field at all times, no matter what it is,” Ballage said. “We have a lot of great running backs so getting me on the field is just something that he wants to do, whether it’s special teams or maybe a little bit of defense. He’s been talking about it forever, I don’t know if he’ll go through with it. He’s just moving me around a little bit.”
Ballage got around three or four reps during Tuesday’s practice in a skill development segment, and said he practiced at Devil last fall a few times.
To be sure, Ballage's reps on defense had nothing to do with any displeasure from coaches for his offensive reps. On the contrary, Graham praised Ballage Tuesday for his improved physicality when running inside in short yardage and goal line situation.
Ballage said he just wants to help the team in any way he can and growing up he played multiple positions so he’s open to anything Graham tells him to do.
“We’re just trying to make sure we have the best 11 guys on the field on every particular play,” Slocum said.