Todd Graham allowed his players some respite with a padless practice on Monday, but that's only because Arizona State will have its first true scrimmage of the year the next time it takes the field.
Physicality and intense competition are what Graham wants to see from the team on Wednesday as the Sun Devils cross the halfway point in their 15 session spring schedule. A good time is on the docket as well, as long as it comes within the framework of what they're trying to get accomplished.
"I want to see explosiveness and guys passionate about competing and I want to see guys having fun, and our guys know how we have fun," Graham said.
With new offensive and defensive coordinators in fold -- Billy Napier and Phil Bennett, respectively -- the Sun Devils have been subjected to a huge mental challenge of learning as much as they can, as quickly as they can. The scrimmage is going to serve as the biggest test yet in their ability to demonstrate competency with the material they've already covered.
"Our philosophy on that is throw it at them," Graham said. "So we've installed an enormous amount, on both sides of the ball, and then we'll refine it. It kind of lets us see how they handle these different parts of our playbook. Throw the whole playbook at it and then you start to refine it. That's where we're at now. We're going to start to narrow in, adapting to what best fits our guys."
The scrimmage is an opportunity for coaches to further hone in on a depth chart and which player groupings make the most sense. Graham has maintained the importance of operating seamlessly in the collective, and is interested in getting additional feedback to further the understanding of how to best accomplish it.
The good thing is, I wanted to, No. 1, build our team and togetherness with our team and you do that with trust and honesty," he said." Obviously we talk about character all the time. I think we've improved there. Obviously you have new people. It's natural with new people, it takes you a little time to develop trust. That's something I think is going very well. And No. 2, we want to develop a hard edge, a hard nosed discipline, hard core, hard nosed discipline. That's a direct correlation between mental and physical toughness. I think we've gotten better there.
"And then the last thing, we want to master our craft. That has to do with adaptation, adapting to our guys and figuring that out. What's our best grouping? Obviously we want to be an 11 personnel team, but what does that look like? It might be two backs. Get the best guys on the field and getting them the football. I think being able to run the football, it's been a very physical camp so far."
A defense that is attempting to make significant progress from being last nationally against the pass in each of the last two seasons, has made consistent strides from the outset of spring ball through the midway point according to its head coach.
"The defense has won the last couple [practices]," Graham said. "It was very close today. We basically have a winner and a loser of every team session, every 7-on-7, ever pass rush, every inside or team run drill. We compete. I think those guys have shown marked improvement every day and continue to get better. As far as takeaways and interceptions and stuff, that's something they've shown a lot of improvement there, and just settling in."
-- Junior safety Das Tautalatasi practiced fully for the first time this spring without a green jersey and earned second-team safety reps at the Down (Bandit) position.
-- Senior safety J'Marcus Rhodes has worked at Spur this spring, a position he didn't practice or play at last season. In Monday's session, Rhodes with with the first-team ahead of redshirt freshman Frank Darby, who has taken a lot of the reps with the top group in the last week.
-- Junior tight end JayJay Wilson was a full participant on Monday and was with the first-team in the tempo session media observed. Wilson had been limited late last week.
-- Senior Christian Hill has worked at tight end in the team's four most recent practices, but not been on the two-deep in any of the segments available to reporters.
-- Senior A.J. McCollum and fifth-year walk-on Tyler McClure, a local product out of Chandler High, have been competing for the first-team center position throughout the spring, with McClure working with the top group on Monday.
-- Junior walk-on defensive tackle Jordan Hoyt, also out of Chandler High School, has taken first-team reps at the nose position and is competing with sophomore George Lea for the spot. Junior Renell Wren has primarily been the backup three-technique tackle behind senior Tashon Smallwood, but is also capable of sliding over to the nose tackle spot.