During Thursday’s practice, which was mostly focused on situational third and fourth down calls, Graham and his staff decided to switch up the defensive personnel for third down nickel situations to look at some alternatives.
Sophomore safety James Johnson switched from his normal field-side safety position to take reps in what Graham termed an “adjustor” role, basically a Spur-like position in third down nickel situations. It was the first day Johnson took reps there and though there was a learning curve, it seemingly won’t be his last.“James is a guy that has a lot of skills and very physical guy, a really good blitzer,” Graham said. “Trying to get him up, doing some things like that, makes it a little bit more versatile. Even being able to look at playing with three safety types instead of a outside linebacker type at Spur.” Johnson said Graham met with him personally to explain the Spur-like position the best he could to try to give him a crash course before throwing him into the fire Thursday.
“It’s just a change of mentality,” Johnson said. “We want to be more explosive off the edge and I feel like it’s something I could do, just continue to get reps and work at it.”
With Johnson playing the “adjustor” position during the situational third down periods, ASU had essentially six defensive backs or it could be called five defensive backs plus a Spur.
In the first-team nickel look, senior Jordan Simone remained at Bandit safety, senior Lloyd Carrington at boundary corner, senior Solomon Means at field corner, sophomore Chad Adams at nickel and sophomore Marcus Ball played field safety.
Still in the nickel formation, ASU had sophomore D.J. Calhoun lined up as the only one true linebacker (inside) on the field. Junior linebacker Carlos Mendoza took reps with the second-team nickel as the only linebacker.
In addition to the changes with Johnson and Ball, sophomore linebacker Christian Sam practiced as an edge pass rusher. Sam worked with Spur/Devil coach Shawn Slocum during individual pass rush periods.
“We’re just experimenting right now with it,” Sam said. “We are trying to get a speed rush in nickel situations and coach [Patterson] wanted me to try and he brought it up and I asked if we could try it. It’s a learning process, but I’m learning from coach Slocum because he knows a lot.”
Sam said he was an edge pass rusher in high school so he was generally familiar with being in the role. Now, it’s just remembering the technique, trying to beat the tackle off the line and turning the edge.
Like Sam, Graham said they are still continuing to look at sophomore running back Kalen Ballage as an edge pass rusher due to the speed each brings bring to the table.
“Nine (Ballage) is going to rush the passer,” Graham said. “I think he’ll do it, I’ll tell you this, we liked doing it with De’Marieya Nelson. He (Ballage) is in a different realm of how he can rush the passer so I think it’s something he could be really, really productive with.”
Friday’s Spring Game
Like in years' past, Friday’s Spring Game will not be a full-blown scrimmage. Graham said after Thursday’s practice that the team plans to play about a half of football.
Before the scrimmage portion itself, the team will run the high-impact tackling ‘W’ Drill to start to get the energy up from the players and then run a 7 on 7 period followed with a 1 on 1 pass rush period.
In addition to the spring game feeling almost like Saturday scrimmage, Graham said it would also be a fan experience and they would let fans come down and interact with the players.
“Yeah, try to let some of our fans come down and catch a punt from Matt Haack, hold a field goal for Zane Gonzalez, catch a pass from Mike Bercovici, so we’ll let them call some plays too, help coach Norvell out,” Graham said.
Sun Devil Stadium is still under construction so the team will only have the North end zone to work with and about 60 yards give or take.
The team will take the field around 6:25 p.m. and should end around 8:30 p.m.
As for the final two practices of spring, Graham said Sunday’s practice will be a Texas A&M prep practice and Tuesday will be USC/UCLA prep practice as Graham said those are the first three big games of the season that they want to do extra preparation for.