Eve Craig/SunDevilSource

ASU shuffling personnel as injuries mount

Arizona State has a handful of injuries that have forced inexperienced players into key roles while the Sun Devils' coaching staff took a look at some of its younger players at different positions Tuesday.

Following its second-straight loss and third overall on the year after starting out 4-0, Arizona State made multiple personnel adjustments in its practice Tuesday morning.

For the first time media was able to view, redshirt freshman running back Jason Lewis was wearing a white defensive jersey and practicing with the Devil backers at practice.

“I was on the scout team and we were really short at linebacker right now and he just asked me if I wanted to come over and help the team and I was like, ‘Well if it’s for the team, then I should go ahead and do it,’ but I’ll probably still be playing both (running back and Devil),” Lewis said.

Lewis, 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, has yet to take the field in a Sun Devil uniform. Last season and this season, talented veteran backs have been ahead of Lewis in the depth chart, namely juniors Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage in addition to redshirt freshman Nick Ralston.

“It was going good (developing skills at running back), but you got Kalen and Demario, arguably the two best backs in the country so you got to respect that right there,” Lewis said. “So if you want to help the team out you have to find a way on the field and that’s what I did.”

Lewis was ranked by Scout.com as the No. 15 running back and No. 100 overall national prospect coming out of Ocean Lake High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Lewis rushed for 2,030 yards on 216 carries with 31 touchdowns in 15 games as a senior in 2014.

Lewis had national offers coming out of high school, including Pac-12 offers from UCLA and Oregon.

Lewis said he played a bit on defense in high school and so the transition to defense on Tuesday was “natural” and with his size and speed, he felt very comfortable picking up things on the go with his athleticism.

“I try to be real slippery with it and I know what O-linemen, how they are going to block and how running backs are going to do it so I kind of know what the running back is thinking before he is even going to do it so it just puts myself in a good position,” Lewis said.

Another personnel change at Tuesday’s practice was freshman Kyle Williams wearing a maroon offensive jersey and practicing with the wide receivers.

Williams was previously working at Bandit safety during the season, and Williams even earned first-team practice reps at bandit safety during practices prior to ASU’s game against California.

Williams has played a few reps on defense at the end of games and has also played on special teams this season. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound freshman was recruited by ASU as an athlete and began his career as a wide receiver in fall camp. He was moved to defense the week prior to ASU’s game against Northern Arizona.

Another personnel change ASU made took place Saturday against Washington State, when walk-on Tyler McClure started at center for the first time in his career in place of A.J. McCollum, who was not at the game for what head coach Todd Graham deemed a personal matter. It was the first time McClure played a college snap.

“It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had here,” McClure said. “Just going out there and playing on the field so for me it was all the hard work I’ve put in is starting to pay off. I don’t know how it is going to play out and how the season is going to go but I’m glad I got that opportunity.”

McCollum wasn’t at Tuesday’s practice, and McClure continued to work with the first team offense.

Injuries continue for ASU  

The injuries continue to stack up for the Sun Devils after their game against Washington State.

Both junior running back Demario Richard and graduate transfer cornerback Bryson Echols were in green non-contact jerseys at Tuesday’s practice, but both went through position drills normally. Echols got second-team reps at cornerback during team a tempo period. 

Sophomore offensive lineman Sam Jones continued to be in the injury line on Tuesday, wearing a walking boot on his right foot that caused him to sit out against WSU. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Zach Robertson also had heavy tape on his left ankle, but was practicing normally with his position group. 

Senior wide receiver Tim White was also in the injury line, with a sleeve on his left leg. White left Saturday’s game against WSU with an injury in the first quarter, but came back later in the game.

ASU sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins, who left Saturday’s game in the first quarter with an undisclosed injury, continued to wear tennis shoes at Tuesday’s practice and did not go through any contact drills or team tempo periods. This follows on the same pattern of the last two weeks and he started each of ASU's last two games. 

Graham said on Monday Wilkins' status was unchanged from last week and it will be a "wait and see type of deal" with his availability against Oregon.

On defense, both junior linebacker Christian Sam and sophomore safety Armand Perry were in the injury line and both went to Muscle Beach during the portion of practice media was able to view. Perry was fully dressed out after missing ASU's game against WSU with turf foe.

Senior linebacker Salamo Fiso had a sleeve on his knee, but was also practicing normally after getting hurt in ASU's game against WSU. Fiso did not suffer a serious injury per Graham and is questionable for Oregon.

Defensive standouts

ASU junior linebacker Koron Crump is No. 8 in FBS in total sacks with eight on the season. Crump had three in the Sun Devils’ game against WSU on Saturday.

“I’m not surprised at all,” junior Tashon Smallwood said. “Koron has been doing that ever since he got here. They put him in the positions to be able to rush and that’s what happens. I’m pretty sure they will continue to put him in those positions like they did.”

Former ASU standout Terrell Suggs is the NCAA leader in sacks on the season with 24 in 2012. He had 31.5 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles. He is the career FBS leader with 44 sacks.

Former Alabama player Derrick Thomas recorded 27 sacks in 1988, but the NCAA didn’t officially keep track of sacks as an official stat until 2000. Recent notable Pac-12 players holding high sack totals include Washington’s Hau'oli Kikaha, who had 19 in 2014, Utah’s Nate Orchard who had 18 in 2014, Arizona’s Scooby Wright who had 15 in 2014 and Stanford’s Trent Murphy who had 15 in 2013.

As a team, ASU had seven sacks against WSU, a season-high. Its previous high mark this season was its five-sack night against UCLA on Oct. 8.

“We’ve been getting pressure we just haven’t been blitzing as much as we did this game and our coaches see that once we blitz and pressure just keep on going and the quarterback can’t get away from us,” ASU junior linebacker D.J. Calhoun said.

In addition to a sack-heavy night, ASU also had 11 tackles for loss, another season-best after recording two 10 tackle-for-loss games -- their first against Northern Arizona on Sept. 3 and the second against UTSA on Sept. 16. Crump had three tackles for loss against WSU.

Calhoun contributed two sacks against WSU quarterback Luke Falk on Saturday, bringing his season total to 4.5.

“Last week before the Washington State game I was in the film room a lot and that’s why I played the way I played,” Calhoun said. “That helps and it shows people. As soon as you get in the film room everything slows down for you and you play good.”

Calhoun leads the team in tackles with 47 and has 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

“Got to be a leader watch film and everything like that,” Calhoun said. “Get guys to go up tempo in practice, show them keys and everything and I got a lot to work on myself. I’m not going to say I’m a perfect player or anything like that. I’m trying as best as I can.”

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