Spring evaluation: Safety preparedness grades

Arizona State has had very productive safety personnel in the Todd Graham-era and Jordan Simone will certainly play at a high level in 2015. What else do the Sun Devils have to work with at the position this season?

1. Jordan Simone (senior) -- Very few, if any of the players on Arizona State's roster better maximize their physical potential than Simone, a fearless and meticulous football player who leads both through example and vocal instruction and encouragement. Even when he was a walk-on upon arrival in Tempe post-transfer from Washington State, Simone prepared and competed as if he was a not only a starter, but leader. A legacy Sun Devil whose father also played for ASU, it means a lot to Simone to wear the uniform and represent the program and he's now risen to being a 2015 co-captain. He surrounded himself with the program's best players and confidently saw himself as their equals, and has been out-worked by nobody in pursuit of his goals. Though he is a bit undersized and just an average athlete among starting safeties in the Pac-12, Simone is a legitimate candidate to be a first-team all-league performer. He attacks the run and screens with no regard for his own personal safety, which has contributed to some of the shoulder stinger issues that limited him at times last season. He would be well served to be a bit more structurally sound as a tackler, particularly with breaking down before some tackles instead of hard-charging quite as much. But it's a much better mentality than someone who plays with hesitancy and lacks physicality. Simone has none of that. He's a good zone read safety on the boundary side and anticipates offensive concepts well. Man coverage is perhaps Simone's biggest challenge, but he tends to hold his own, largely due to his impressive instincts. Preparedness Grade: 4 / Potential Grade: 4

2. James Johnson (sophomore) -- As a redshirt freshman in 2014, Johnson filled in very admirably when needed, doing so without ASU suffering much if any drop off from a structural soundness standpoint on the back end of its defense. Johnson is a dedicated student of the game and takes the mental side of preparation very seriously and as a result has the wherewithal to play any of three positions -- including Spur -- in the Sun Devil defense. In terms of skill standpoint, Johnson is very sound. If he's at field safety as the replacement for first-round NFL pick Damarious Randall, Johnson will likely be more fundamental against the run. He's very assignment sound and anticipatory, which helps Johnson overcome moderate speed. It's very important he be dialed at all times because Johnson doesn't have the recovery capability or range of Randall -- few players do. Covering wide swaths of field or man assignments against more dynamic receivers in space when ASU is blitzing and doesn't impact the quarterback will be something to keep an eye on with Johnson. in the spring he moved up to play some Spur and it was seamless, as if he'd already had a lot of experience in the role. If Laiu Moeakiola gets hurt, bumping up Johnson is an option if someone else can play the field side. Preparedness Grade: 3 / Potential grade: 4

3. Armand Perry (sophomore) -- This is an incomplete evaluation because Perry didn't play safety last season and didn't practice at the position group in the spring as he recovered from off-season surgery. Our belief is he will be a solid performer and perhaps compete for playing time or even a starting nod. He's also got a chance to be ASU's starting nickel corner, a role he's has worked at previously. A hybrid defensive back, Perry is impressive length and more than enough foot speed to play cornerback in a body that can also play safety. He played safety extensively in high school. As a corner, Perry is more comfortable in press man situations than playing off coverage, so it'll be interesting to see how he performs as a field side safety unattached to receivers. Preparedness Grade: Incomplete / Potential grade: Incomplete

4. Chad Adams (sophomore) -- Though he's has plenty of potential, Adams' challenge right now is that he doesn't play nearly as at athletic as he is, and that has to do with a combination of limited experience and defensive fluency. He's not able to anticipate and react to what he's seeing as fast as others despite being quicker and faster than those ahead of him on the depth chart. Adams has really good recovery speed, which helps to mitigate this issue to some degree, but until he's able to play with the same level of understanding of the game as others, he's going to be a step behind, particularly with how players in the secondary have to do a very good job of communicating. Simone and Johnson are great at this. Fortunately for Adams, he's only a true sophomore, so this learning curve is to be expected to some degree. If he puts in the time and energy at the necessary level, he's got a chance to be a very solid player at this level, even as a undersized 5-foot-9, 180 pound field safety. He really closes space and can bring ball carriers down in space for someone his size. He's also more than athletic enough to play cornerback. Preparedness Grade: 2 / Potential grade: 3.5

5. Dasmond Tautalatasi (redshirt freshman) -- The spring was good to Tautalatasi, a player who redshirted last season and was able to be slowly brought along as part of the scout squad, which can be a benefit to players as it essentially provides an extra year to fully assimilate. At 6-foot-0 and 200 pounds, Tautalatasi is a true safety, with good size for the position, and a physical disposition to match. Even though he's mostly worked at the field safety spot, Tautalatasi has a similar approach to attacking the ball on the perimeter to Simone, and making plays coming forward is currently his strength. Range limitation is perhaps a bit limiting in the way it is with Johnson because Tautalatasi also isn't a loose-hipped speed merchant. But he has enough mobility to play the position without being a liability at this level and overall has the potential to a fairly solid player in the Pac-12. The spring was a step in the right direction to that end.Preparedness Grade: 2 / Potential grade: 3

6. DeAndre Scott (sophomore) -- Generously listed at 5-foot-9, Scott is probably an inch or two shorter and certainly on the small side for the safety position. But don't think Scott is timid as a result of his lack of size. He's a hard-charging thumper of a player who fearlessly throws his body around. In fact, he actually needs to tone this down to some degree because he's at risk for delivering blows and not wrapping up in a way that enables contact without a tackle. Scott is a good special teams player and fills that role very passionately, so he has value. Odds are he'll be a reserve defensive back moving forward. Preparedness Grade: 2 / Potential grade: 2.5

Preparedness/Potential Grade Key

5: All-American level performer

4: First/second team all-league level performer

3: Mid-level Pac-12 performer

2: Fringe Pac-12 performer

1: Non-Pac-12 level performer

Editor's Note: Players are ranked in terms of overall current preparedness and not based on potential.


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