Arizona State head coach Todd Graham does not hold scheduled media availability on Wednesday's, so defensive coordinator Keith Patterson stood on Graham's familiar perch to discuss the progress of the Sun Devils' defense.
This season marks Patterson's third with the Sun Devils, but his first in charge of calling ASU's defensive scheme which is the same system of play calling Patterson and Graham have used in previous coaching stops together at Tulsa and Pittsburgh.
With Patterson at the helm, ASU has incorporated more sub-packages into its defense this fall in order to mix and match its personnel and create favorable matchups. One of the more significant changes from ASU's recent schemes is the ability to play with three inside linebackers, a Mike, a Sam and a Will, as opposed to using two true inside linebackers and a hybrid linebacker/safety known as a Spur.
"You're talking about a guy that's coming back with the experience (Salamo) Fiso has, to me, I probably look for D.J. Calhoun to have a breakout year and really have liked what I've seen, the consistency that he's brought to the table every day at this point," Patterson said. "And then you've got a guy in Christian Sam that had 98 tackles a year ago so I do feel good."
Fiso, Calhoun and Sam are all inside linebackers, and in Graham and Patterson's traditional base scheme, none of those players has the traditional body type of a Spur. As a result, ASU has created a sub-package to put those three players on the field together in order to maximize its linebacker talent.
In the spring, Graham said ASU's Spur linebackers would begin to train with the defensive backs, and in the past several weeks, ASU has auditioned a handful of different players at Spur. Most recently, converted cornerback Tyler Whiley has taken first team reps at the Spur position, but his reps came after junior Marcus Ball suffered an injury that sidelined him for a handful of practices at the beginning of last week.
On Wednesday, Patterson said the Spur position remained unsettled, and that ASU will likely continue to tinker with its scheme to ensure its most prepared personnel take the field in various situations.
"You know, who knows, it's one of those things, we're a sub-package defense anyway and I mean, we're going to match personnel depending on what we're seeing," Patterson said. "We've got a lot of guys that I think can play and perform well there. That's just the nature of football, when you get people that are banged up and are in and out of the lineup, I feel good where we are. We've got people more than capable of playing there and being productive."
First-year defensive backs coach T.J. Rushing said after Wednesday's practice that he enjoys having ASU's Spur linebackers training with the rest of the secondary because it forces cornerbacks and safeties to step up their physicality in drills.
"We love those dudes in our meeting room just because they're physical," Rushing said. "Point of contact, they have to show up and be physical, so any time we can do drills with those guys and pound with them, it's good, because now my corners have to pound with the Spurs that are usually hitting linemen. It gets our corners tough too."
- SunDevilSource did not see senior safety Laiu Moeakiola at practice Wednesday during the periods open for media viewing.
- Redshirt freshman defensive tackle George Lea was at practice in a white defensive jersey, but during individual drills, Lea worked out at Muscle Beach for the second consecutive practice.
- Freshman wide receiver Kyle Williams arrived at practice in a white defensive jersey and worked with the safeties Wednesday. Patterson said ASU has reached the point in fall practices where players are starting to get banged up and numbers are thin, and it's possible ASU's coaches were just looking at Williams' potential on the defensive side of the ball.
- After wearing a gold scout team jersey on Tuesday, freshman Chase Lucas was back in a white defensive jersey and working with the safeties in individual drills. Lucas has played corner to this point in camp, and like Williams, was likely just being evaluated at a different spot as both players could be headed for redshirt seasons.
- Junior defensive lineman Christian Hill wore a scout team jersey Tuesday, but was wearing a white defensive jersey on Wednesday.
- With junior long snapper Mitchell Fraboni sidelined due to an injury, walk-on Riley John took first team long snapper reps with the punt unit. John is 5-foot-11, weighs 200 pounds and hails from Wisconsin.
- Freshman wide receiver N'Keal Harry took first team reps with the offense ahead of junior wide receiver Ellis Jefferson in an 11-on-air period open to the media.
- Sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins led the first team offense during the 11-on-air period, as redshirt freshman Brady White worked with the second unit.