Practice Notebook: ASU opens up spring football practices with defensive focus

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The ASU offensive linemen hit the sled. By Brad Denny The ASU offensive linemen hit the sled. By Brad Denny
The ASU offense arrives to practice. By Brad Denny The ASU offense arrives to practice. By Brad Denny
The ASU defense arrives to practice. By Brad Denny The ASU defense arrives to practice. By Brad Denny
By Brad Denny By Brad Denny
ASU assistant coach Paul Randolph addresses his players. By Brad Denny ASU assistant coach Paul Randolph addresses his players. By Brad Denny

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State head football coach Todd Graham has never been shy about creating mottos, catchphrases and mission statements. As the Sun Devils opened up spring practices on Tuesday morning, he came prepared with three more.

"What we’re trying to do is three things. Unfinished business, leave no doubt, and walk the walk," Graham said. "We have unfinished business. We wanted to finish, and we want to honor those guys that laid the foundation by finishing. That’s what we wanted to accomplish today."

With the first of 15 scheduled practices over the next five weeks in the book, Graham was pleased with what he saw from his team.

"Did we have a spectacular attitude? Did we have spectacular effort? I thought we did," said Graham. "I thought we had a great, great day. I thought it was the best day we had. Can it get better? Yeah."

While the team wore no pads on Tuesday, Graham was mostly focused in on the effort and execution from his players.

"We leave no doubt in every rep, every day, and with a spectacular attitude and spectacular effort," Graham said. "At the end of practice we ask ‘Did you give national championship effort?’ If you can stand up and say that you did that, then that’s how you leave no doubt."

He also was happy with the level of leadership that the veteran players showed during practice. With 14 starters gone from a year ago, rapid development in this area is essential.

“We have a football team that has the potential to have the best character and best leadership that I’ve been around," Graham said.

On the field, much of the focus came on defense, where the Sun Devils lost nine starters, six of whom made either the All-Pac-12 first or second team last season. While there remains a long way to go, the initial impressions from the defense were favorable in Graham's eyes.

"I’m working with the corners extensively,' said Graham. "(Rashad) Wadood and Lloyd Carrington really had good days. I liked up front. (Demetrius) Cherry and Big Mo (Latu), Chans Cox and Ami (Latu). (Marcus) Hardison getting off the ball."

Two members of the 2014 recruiting class got their first action as Sun Devils on Tuesday. Early enrollees D.J Calhoun and Edmond Boateng took to the field and made positive first impressions.

“That guy’s impressive," Graham said of Calhoun. "He can run, move, cover. He’s going to be special. We’re excited about him. He showed up, had a great spirit about him. Very impressed with D.J. He’ll be a SPUR/WILL. How we’re deploying those guys is a little bit different. We’re going to let him sit at one of those spots.

“Edmond looks really good. He’s going to be a player for us. “

The team also showed more 4-3 looks than normal. Graham hinted that with so much turnover in personnel, the coaching staff may make more adjustments depending on matchups.

"We modified stuff a little bit. You see a lot more four-down stuff," said Graham. "How we’re deployed is a little bit different. We are researching and adapting what we’re doing."

Much of those adjustments are coming from new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who joined the team in February from West Virginia.

Patterson and Graham have coached together for many years, starting at Allen High School in Texas in the mid-1990s to Tulsa, where Patterson and Graham were both defensive assistants in from 2003 to 2005. In the most interesting twist, it was Patterson who took over as Pittsburgh's interim head coach in December of 2011 when Graham accepted the ASU job.

That long-time bond helps to not only add a sound defensive mind, but someone Graham trusts to keep him grounded.

“It’s awesome. You can see how he coaches and the passion that he coaches with," Graham said of Patterson. "The philosophy that we preach. Who holds me accountable to it? Keith is a guy who can say ‘Coach, you aren’t being who you say you are. This is what we said we were going to do.’ We’ve been toe-to-toe before, but I’ve got a respect for him and belief in him that really brings a lot to what we’re doing.

Patterson's arrival forced some shifts to the staff. Patterson takes on the linebacker coaching duties, while Paul Randolph moves from linebackers to defensive ends. Graham's trust in Patterson also allows the head coach to focus his energies in other areas of the team.

"It’s going to free me up to where I can focus on special teams, but obviously I’m still going to be very, very involved,"  Graham said. "He (Patterson is going to control the front and initiate most of the play calls on defense. I will be very, very involved and be the defensive consultant for the offense and heading up special teams."

How those changes impact a talented but unproven defense remain to be seen, but the Sun Devils believe that they can do enough to defend their Pac-12 South division championship.

ASU will return to practice this Thursday from 8:30 to 11 a.m., and all spring practices are open to the public. See the full schedule here.

Practice Notes

- First-team offense for early scrimmaging: QB Taylor Kelly, RB D.J. Foster, WRs Jaelen Strong, Gary Chambers, Frederick Gammage, TE De'Marieya Nelson, LT Evan Goodman, LG Jamil Douglas, C Nick Kelly, RG Vi Teofilo, RT Tyler Sulka.

- Wide receiver Ellis Jefferson, aiming to earn a starting job in the slot, had several impressive catches in the scrimmage, including a one-handed sideline grab that he turned upfield for a touchdown.

- Nelson also had a good day, and showed great concetration on catching a tipped pass and turned into a lengthy touchdown.

- Senior running back Kyle Middlebrooks also looks explosive as he looks to turn around an injury-riddled career.

- First-team defense for early scrimmaging: DT Mo Latu, DEs Marcus Hardison and Demetrius Cherry, LBs Salamo Fiso, Antonio Longino, Laiu Moeakiola, CBs Lloyd Carrington and Rashad Wadood, S Ezekiel Bishop and Damarious Randall.

- Redshirt junior walkon defensive back Jordan Simone had an interception in the team scrimmage and drew praise from Graham. "Simone had a pick, I think he stood out today. He did some good things."

- Matt Haack took first-team punting reps and had a few impressive kicks.

- Junior defensive tackle Jaxon Hood sat out due to a hand injury. Redshirt freshman safety Marcus Ball wore the green non-contact jersey as he recovers from his clavicle injury.

- Some new jersey numbers: wide recevier Ellie Jefferson is now No. 19 (was No. 80), linebacker Eriquel Florence is now No. 34 (was No. 16), and defensive tackle Corey Smith is now No. 91 (was No. 19). Newcomers also got their new numbers: linebacker D.J Calhoun is No. 4 and defensive linemane Edmond Boateng is No. 97.