Day after day, Arizona State coach Todd Graham has hammered home his top defensive agenda for the spring: yielding fewer big plays.
Following the team's Friday scrimmage in which game uniforms were dusted off for the first time in 2016, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson indicated there were positive signs in that respect.
"I thought it was a real good day, especially we were thin [in the secondary] and I felt like those guys came in and stepped up and did a nice job," Patterson said "For the most part we eliminated the big plays and stopped the run really well I thought. Other than that the fact that we would have liked to have created more takeaways, we only got one, but I thought it was a good day."
In a new strategy this spring, Graham and Patterson decided to dual-train all their players instead of being so rooted in aligning players to the field and boundary sides of the defensive formation. Part of that approach involves playing a base 3-4 presentation, something that hasn't been used much in the Graham era. But that doesn't mean it isn't something they don't have a lot of experience with as coaches.
"I think we're really more getting back to what our original roots were five and six years ago, being multiple but simple," Patterson said. "Where all the thinking and learning comes in is all the different coverage concepts that we play. When we can tie those into four man fronts and things like that, it just makes us more multiple.
"One of the things that we've really tried to focus on, with four new offensive linemen and trying to figure out who's going to be our quarterback, what we're trying to do is we're trying to play a lot of base defense, which I think is making us better, and front a standpoint of fundamentally, technique-wise, but again overall as a group I'm really proud of their effort."
Blitzing less often and especially with six players is another offseason goal of the Sun Devils, and Patterson is seeing signs that this defense may be able to enable that.
"One thing I see is I think we can really impact the quarterback with a four man rush," Patterson said. "(Sophomore defensive end) Joseph Wicker and some of those guys up front are really doing a nice job, (junior tackle) Tashon Smallwood all those guys."
Overall, even though he can't quite put a finger on it, there's a vague feeling that this team is headed in a positive direction, according to Patterson. Part of the reason for that is the fresh slate created by extensive staff turnover in the off-season.
"The thing that sticks out to me is the synergy of our coaches and players," Patterson said. "There seems to be, I don't know how to describe it really, it just seems that it's a group of people that really care about each other and are bonding nicely. I like the feel of it, it's been a really nice spring."