Coach Bray Neutral Over Defensive Performance

The Arizona State Sun Devils held their second Maroon and Gold scrimmage at Sun Devil Stadium Friday night in Tempe. Fans showed up to get their first glimpse at the new ASU team. They watched as both sides of the ball showed places for improvement, as well as strengths. After the scrimmage I found defensive coach Craig Bray in the mix, as players and fans surrounded the field.

Bray seemed to have an overall feeling of neutrality about the defensive performance. "Well, we did good things. I think we played with good energy early," Bray said. Intensity and energy has been something that Bray has stressed since showing up at Sun Devil camp, but he knows that alone does not win football games. "We didn't tackle as well as we would like. But I think we are getting better," he said.

ASU's Defensive Coordinator was impressed by some of the play though. "I thought our pressure stuff was good. I thought we did some good things in coverage," he said. Getting all of the players into the scrimmage is something of an art, and coach Bray does his best to get the number ones as much time as the number threes. "We played the ones about half of the scrimmage and we got most of them out, except the secondary. We got the backers and the front line out too, we want to stay healthy."

Not wanting to say anything on the spot that he would regret later, Bray stayed neutral once again when talking about his defensive line. "Well I have to look at film," Bray said. "I think Robert James did well. I think Josh Barrett had a decent scrimmage. (Justin) Tryon I think did a pretty good job."

The ASU defensive line is riddled with injuries and some younger guys have had to step it up. "It has been hard on them. We have had to play a lot of young kids. But hey that is football; we will find a way to put things together," Bray said. The line played well considering all the injuries. They recorded three QB sacks. One each from Dexter Davis, Zach Brown, and newly acquired to the line Dane Guthrie.

Guthrie just switched from tight end to defensive end in the last week. The change reflects the lack of depth at defensive end for the Devils. Coach Bray has been impressed with what he has seen so far from Guthrie though, and he thinks that the change might be permanent. "Well at this point in time we do (think Guthrie will stay at DE). Right now we like what we see, but we evaluate as we go," he said. Coach Bray thinks that Guthrie will be a real improvement to the defensive line.

Bray was pleased with the line's play tonight in light of all the injuries and player switches. "Our defensive front obviously played pretty well. We had a number of sacks. The biggest thing I am looking at is did we execute well when we are suppose to and are we high energy," he said. Going back to the high energy philosophy, Coach Bray sticks to his guns. He did mention that "The linebackers are improving every day," after going through the specifics.

Morris Wooten has stepped up as the leader of the linebacker group. Wooten is entering his first season as a Sun Devil, as a JC transfer from local Glendale Community College. Friday night he had three tackles, including one for a three-yard loss. Bray had this to say about Wooten; "Morris is a conscientious kid. He plays with great energy and he is tougher than nails." Wooten is only a junior and not perfect though. "He is like everybody else. He makes his share of mistakes. But I love the kid and he does a great job," Bray said.

The safeties have been a group steadily improving over the spring and pre-season ASU practices. They did not get to play Troy Nolan Friday, which hopefully is not a sign of things to come. Coach was disappointed with Jeremy Payton, who only had one pass break up and no tackles. "I was disappointed in Jeremy Payton, he is a much better player than he showed tonight. He just has to get it going because he is a tremendous playmaker," Bray said. He continued to stress the importance of Payton for the ASU safety squad. "He can make a lot of things happen for our defense. But he has got to stay focused and he has to play with the energy and he has to be a better tackler than he was tonight."

Josh Barrett recorded two tackles and one pass breakup Friday night. The graduated free safety from Reno, Nevada is a key player in the ASU defensive backfield. Bray was impressed with his play. "I saw Josh were he needed to be. I saw him do some good things," he said. He may disagree with this statement, but coach Bray is not perfect, and he actually hinted at this notion briefly Friday night. "There are 11 guys running around on the field, I can't watch them all," he said about Barrett.

The cornerback spot has been a shaky one for the ASU defense and they are still looking for a starter to play alongside Justin Tryon. "We are still working on it. We have good competition and the kids are getting better," Bray said.

There has been immense improvement this fall for the ASU defense. The players that have stuck out the most in Brays mind though have been Travis Smith and Travis Goethel. "I would say Travis Smith has vastly improved. I would say Goethel has had a heck of a camp," he said. There is always more than one star on any given team Bray said, and "It is hard to point them all out. I think they have all improved a great deal from last spring and in order for us to be as good as we got to be they all need to improve more."

Fans might be a little disappointed to see true freshman James Brooks redshirt this year alongside Omar Bolden, but according to Coach Bray those chances are good. This certainly is not a comment on their abilities in the long run, but a precautionary measure. "I think that they are probably not quite ready yet. They are going to be great young players and I'm excited about both of them. But I don't want to throw them in the fire too early," Bray said. Brooks has excelled with his speed of the left side, recording three passes batted down in two scrimmages, as well as two tackles Friday night.

Differentiating between strengths in the defense is something that Bray does not want to become public information. It would seem that way anyway, by the nature of his responses to questions regarding the strength of pass versus run defense. "I would say that it's equal. I say that we have our times when we are really playing good pass coverage and there are times when we are doing really well on run," he said.

Becoming a solid defensive unit is going to take two more weeks of hard work and dedication for Sun Devils. Coach Bray sums up this dedication and hard work when he told me " It's about putting it together and becoming consistent over the next two weeks. " The next scrimmage will be next Friday August 24th at 6:15 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium.

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