At the start of Wednesday's practice, Arizona State's receiving corps had a noticeable absence. True freshman Kyle Williams was nowhere to be found, but it didn't take long to determine Williams' whereabouts.
After working at wide receiver throughout the month of August, Williams swapped out his maroon offensive practice jersey for a white defensive jersey and worked with ASU's safeties.
On Thursday, Williams continued to work the Sun Devils' defense, and during an 11-on-11 two-minute drill open to the media, Williams earned second team reps behind sophomore Armand Perry at the field safety position. Despite pushing his way onto the depth chart at safety though, ASU head coach Todd Graham said Williams is still primarily a receiver.
"One, he's (Williams) a great athlete, he's going to play a role for us this year for sure," Graham said. "We've got some guys missing practice so we're taking a look at him there but he still is a wide receiver, we're just taking a look at him there. But he's doing a great job, really a tremendous athlete."
Williams wasn't the only true freshman forcing his way up the Sun Devils' secondary depth chart on Thursday, as Robbie Robinson took first team reps at ASU's nickel cornerback position while Chase Lucas worked as the second team boundary corner.
After losing 2015 starters Kweishi Brown and Lloyd Carrington to graduation this spring, Graham said having a considerable amount of youth in the secondary isn't surprising. In fact, Graham said the coaching staff pegged players like Robinson and Lucas for ASU's two-deep, and their ascension on the depth chart validates ASU's evaluations.
"When you recruit them, you feel good about it, and we told those guys they would be in the two-deep," Graham said. "We projected them that way, so yeah, they're where we should be. The key, one of the biggest challenges about your freshman year is when school starts. Just the rigor of what we require of them academically and then the football on top of it is what really challenges them."
ASU's coaching staff will monitor the progress of the freshmen it believes can contribute this season both on and off the field because finding the balance between putting a player in the lineup and salvaging a player's redshirt is tricky. Graham pointed to the decision to play senior defensive tackle Viliami Latu on special teams during his first year with the program, and considered it one of the most challenging calls he had to make on a particular player.
"If they're not going to play, we hate to have, you know, I think of Ami (Latu)," Graham said. "We had to play him the first year because of special teams and things like that with injuries and things. He was probably excited he got to play as a freshman but he would sure like to have another year like A.J. (Latu) has. So we'll make good decisions when it comes to that, but at the end of the day, we're committed to this team and this team winning so we'll make the best decisions for our team."
One of the primary reasons ASU might need to use players like Robinson and Lucas this season as opposed to giving them a year to develop is the team's injury situation in the secondary. Junior safety James Johnson has worn a knee brace for the better part of two weeks, while junior college transfer and cornerback Maurice Chandler has slowly eased his way back into practices over the past week after suffering a hamstring injury.
The most worrisome injury for ASU, though, belongs to multi-year starter and senior safety Laiu Moeakiola, who missed practice on Thursday to see a specialist.
"He's (Moeakiola) got a hamstring issue and we're trying to work on it, trying to get it, just kind of a nagging thing, not a reoccurring thing, just a nagging hamstring deal so that's where he was today is seeing a specialist." Graham said.
ASU's shuffling of personnel in its secondary appears poised to continue into the week leading up to the team's first game against Northern Arizona. Even a spot where ASU seemingly has its full compliment of personnel intact is still up for grabs, as Graham said the field corner position battle between graduate transfer Bryson Echols and senior De'Chavon Hayes remains unsettled.
"Am I concerned? Oh obviously, I would like to be 100 percent healthy," Graham said. "But, that's kind of part of it, I'm not one to really make excuses there even though that's something that yeah, I can tell you that where we're 100 percent healthy I'm not near as concerned."
News and Notes
- Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Steve Miller arrived at practice Thursday with a walking boot on his left foot and did not participate in warmups.
- Redshirt freshman defensive tackle George Lea wore a green non-contact jersey at practice, but because the media viewing period was limited to a team warmup and an 11-on-11 drill, it was not clear whether Lea was a participant in non-contact drills.
- Sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins worked with the first team offense in the 11-on-11 period while redshirt freshman Brady White led the second unit.
- With Miller out, walk-on offensive lineman Tyler McClure took second team reps at right guard.
- Sophomore defensive back Tyler Whiley took the second team reps behind Robinson at nickel corner. Whiley had been working with the first team defense in the last week.