Arizona State's first padded practice of the year allowed Todd Graham to get a better idea of what he has to work with at cornerback with the additions of junior college cornerbacks Maurice Chandler and J'Marcus Rhodes
"They're bigger guys, 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-1," Graham said of the newcomers, ranked No. 44 and No. 30 respectively in the 2015 junior college Scout100. "We bumped today, so we weren't just peddling. So they were happy. Because they want to get up and maul people. I love what I see from them. But I'm not surprised, that's exactly what I thought I would. They've got a lot to learn, very raw. We've got a lot of work to do, obviously, in the secondary and on the offensive line developing guys. But I like the talent we have to work with."
With the Sun Devils replacing cornerbacks Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown and safety Jordan Simone, Graham is of the opinion his secondary might be more athletic in 2016. That would certainly be a plus given that ASU finished last in the nation in passing defense last season, and also yielded the most 40-plus yard plays of any team in the country.
On Friday, Chandler and Rhodes worked with the second-team defense in the portion of practice observed by reporters, with senior De'Chavon Hayes and junior Chad Adams taking the first-team reps. Adams has moved between safety and cornerback in his first two years as a Sun Devil and Hayes was switched from running back to corner in the second half of last season. He'll continue to work on both sides of the football, according to Graham, but has handled the defensive work in a way that's been respected.
"I think he's done really well," Graham said. "He's picked things up very well, he's studying, learning it, doing a good job. Very impressive the second day, things he did at running back. He's very explosive. We're doing a better job of adapting or putting him into the things he can do. He's really, I feel good about his speed at corner. I think what we're doing is alternating him. He's been great. He's been smart, bright. It's hard to do with the meeting and stuff but he's been very diligent about it. He's had a solid three days."
At safety, sophomores Armand Perry and Kareem Orr have received the first-team reps, and Graham said he views Perry as a returning starter, even though his season was cut short last season due to an ankle injury that prevented any Pac-12 action.
The Sun Devils have been playing practicing more zone, according to several players, and learning under new leadership, with former ASU and Stanford graduate assistant T.J. Rushing now overseeing the secondary and graduate assistant Jarred Holley involved with coaching safeties. Holley played for Graham in his final year at Pitt.
"What I like about where we're at is we're going to have four new starters on [offensive line] and two new starters in the secondary because Armand really to me is a guy who is a returning starter," Graham said. "Those areas are obviously areas where you're going to have competition because there's turnover. Then the other areas, like running back, linebacker, d-line and even receiver you've got quite a bit of depth, so that creates competition. Ideally that's what we'd like to do and that would keep up fresher."
Staff continues to receive high marks
Several times in recent weeks, Graham has mentioned taking advantage of the rare opportunity to hire his first and second choices for offensive coordinator on the same staff.
Three practices into spring ball, the ASU head coach has been true to his stated goal of spending more time overseeing the program and less involved on a micro-level in practices and games.
"Phenomenal," Graham said. "Every day (after practice) when we ride back in the cart, I rave about our staff. We always pride ourselves in being teachers. These guys, (running backs coach) John Simon, (wide receivers coach) Jay Norvell, (offensive coordinator) Chip (Lindsey), the new guys on the staff have really blended well."
-- Junior linebacker Christian Sam, junior Spur Laiu Moeakiola, sophomore defensive tackle Emanuel Dayries, freshman offensive linemen Marshal Nate were in green non-contact jerseys and limited to rehabilitation.
-- Redshirt freshman Devil backer Bo Wallace has not practiced yet this spring due to what's been termed a personal issue. He is expected to return at some point.
-- Former ASU star safety Damarious Randall, a first round pick of the Green Bay Packers and starter at cornerback, was in attendance at ASU's Friday practice.
-- Junior Corey Smith continues to work with the offensive line.
-- Graham said ASU's had 100 percent ball security on offense through three practices with the exception of two interceptions, one Monday and one Friday.