The list of all-conference selections to play in the Arizona State secondary during the three years of the Todd Graham era is impressive and growing, with a handful of players getting a crack at playing in the NFL in the last few years.
Senior cornerbacks Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown are all-league candidates in 2015 as is senior Bandit Jordan Simone. There's a reason for all of this beyond the fact that these guys are good college players. ASU coach Todd Graham's blitz-heavy approach to defense is challenging but also favorable for defensive backs.
ASU generates more pressure on opposing quarterbacks than a lot of teams do across the country, which means there's less time to be picked apart, and more takeaway opportunities. The flip side to that is there's a lot more chances to be exposed due to a coverage lapse. We've seen some of that from the Sun Devils, certainly, but it's hard to argue the overall approach hasn't been well conceived and successful when viewed most broadly. Yes, ASU gives up some big plays but it also generates more negative plays than most teams and has been great at getting off the field on three-and-outs.
Simone is the leader of ASU's secondary. He's the traffic cop in the middle of the intersection, directing all the action around with with his voice and hand signals, making sure all the cars around him are aware of what's going on and nobody wrecks. He plays as if he's spent years studying the traffic patterns and keeps order.
Simone's not especially rangy and isn't going to cover as much ground as someone else might, but he'll break on the play before someone else would, and just as importantly get one of his teammates in position to make the play before he has to. When forced to cover in space, there are some limitations. But coming up to make a play in isolation, Simone is fearless an going to make the stop almost every time, even if it leads to a reoccurrence of the stinger issues that limited him late last season. Entering the opener, Simone seems to be in good shape physically, having gained some off-season size and strength in order to better hold up against the rigors of the game
Senior boundary corner Lloyd Carrington plays on the same side of the field as Simone as is one of the most fundamentally sound and technically proficient players on the roster. He's especially adept at sequencing his hands and feet at the line of scrimmage in press and bump techniques to maintain strong spacing and angle advantages over wide receivers, who tend to struggle to get clean releases in the way they'd ideally like. When Carrington is beaten at the line of scrimmage, he's susceptible because his recovery speed isn't great, so getting back in phase isn't as easy.
In relaxed coverages, Carrington doesn't get out of his drops and turn and run quite as well as his colleague on the other side of the formation, senior field cornerback Kweishi Brown. For being such a thickly constructed player, at 210 pounds, Brown has impressive hip flexion and really re-directs his energy well. He doesn't have to overwhelm receivers at the line of scrimmage to be successful, probably less so than Carrington. But Brown still has to avoid getting turned around in coverage, as he has an occasional tendency to go from in-phase to out of phase mid-rep in a way that shouldn't happened if his awareness level is what it should be.
The key player of the group may be its lone first-year starter, sophomore Armand Perry. A converted corner, Perry played safety at Bishop Gorman high school in Las Vegas before transitioning last season and mostly playing in nickel situations. Perry has long arms and a good frame for safety, with enough foot quickness to handle the man coverage assignments the field safety tends to be put in when ASU blitzes its Spur linebacker. As a nickel backer and corner, Perry had a tendency to want to reach and grab to keep receivers within arm's length. It'll be interesting to see how he handles playing safety in games, where it'll be a requirement to manage space without becoming uncomfortable.ASU went with Perry as the field safety to replace Damarious Randall because of concerns about fellow sophomore James Johnson's speed and quickness a a coverage safety. Johnson is a cerebral player and great communicator who has excellent intangibles but is probably better suited to play the Bandit role after Simone departs next year, or maybe even Spur at some point. But he can also play the field side if needed, though it may limit the full spectrum of ASU's blitz capability depending on the opponent.
Senior cornerback Solomon Means comes onto the field for ASU and plays field corner when ASU's in nickel situations, with Brown tending to bump inside to handle the slot receivers. Means has added size and strength to be more physical at the line of scrimmage both as a coverage player and against the run.
The No. 4 cornerback is freshman Kareem Orr, who is physically very well put together for a first-year college player and fearless, with excellent developmental habits. He's a player who could push Means to be the team's No. 3 corner because his athletic ceiling is higher, and after this year, when Carrington, Brown and Means all depart, Orr is a very strong favorite to learn a starting nod.
Sophomore Chad Adams, a player who can slide between corner and safety just as Perry can, is the likely backup at the field side safety position. He plays fearlessly against the run and has enough speed to cover. His keys to continued improvement are mostly related to play recognition so he can maximize his speed and agility.
ASU safeties coach Chris Ball on Armand Perry: “He’s smart and he’s extremely tough. He comes from a tough program and he’s always been a good tackler. He’s never been afraid to hit people. He has all the traits we look for and he’s athletic. Armand needs to be a better communicator. James Johnson is a great communicator. We talk about being elite. We need to be elite communicators. That’s an elite communicator. James Johnson is becoming an elite communicator, that’s what Armand needs to be.”
Chris Ball on the adjustment of Perry shifting from cornerback to safety: “It’s a big difference playing in space. You’re up on them and you can get your hands on them at corner, that’s not always the case at safety and you’ve got to be a really good guy in space and you’ve got to be physical. You’ve got to be a guy that can support the run, but you’ve also got to be a guy that can take away the vertical passing game.”
Perry on replacing first-round NFL pick Damarious Randall: “Damarious (Randall) is my big brother,” Perry said. “I talk to him every day, I was Facetiming him last night. He just keeps my head on straight and tells me the ins and outs of what he did and what I can be better on because he wants me to be better than him at the end of the day. I really look up to Damarious and I’m just trying to follow in his footsteps.”
Jordan Simone on Perry's development: “We have all of Damarious’s (Randall) film and what he was able to do, and A.P.’s been able to mimic most all of that. The areas where Damarious left as far as man coverage skills, A.P. I think is just as good of man coverage guy as him. He does a great job. He’s a great tackler. Really, not a step down. Just watch, A.P. is going to be a big dude on this team.”
Chris Ball on Jordan Simone: "He’s just got that thing that you just can’t coach. He’s got the ‘it’ factor, [that’s] the thing you gotta recruit, he’s got all of that. But with that too, he’s gotta be careful too, not to get distracted by that. Sometimes guys become seniors and they get distracted by being a leader. I mean he’s still needs to lead but he needs to continue on the things that he needs to get better at.” Todd Graham on Kweishi Brown's improvement this off-season: “Kweishi Brown has had the best camp he’s ever had. I've been on (senior cornerback) Lloyd (Carrington) because I say he’s having a better camp than Lloyd and Lloyd has been pretty consistent.”
Chris Ball on Brown's preseason: “He’s having the best camp out of everybody at the corner spot. You know, (senior Solomon) Means is doing well too. Competition really makes things competitive and makes people step up and we’ve got more competition going on in our secondary since we’ve been here.”
Player CapsulesKweishi Brown