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August 16, 2013
The second-string linebacker positions at Arizona State are like the restaurants on Tempe's Mill Ave., in that they seem to be changing every day.
Each practice there is a new face at a different position with players learning the new techniques and calls. Linebackers coach Paul Randolph said there is a method to the madness. Throw everything they have at the wall and see what sticks.
"[We're] just trying to create depth," Randolph said. "That's all, just moving guys around trying to get our best three backers and that's all that is. Guys are multiple. We are a hybrid defense which means guys can play multiple positions and they're doing a good job of adjusting and learning all three positions for us."
Senior linebacker Grandville Taylor was the shining example of a player learning all three positions on Friday.
He started taking second team reps at the spur position, a spot he hasn't been at previously. Then he was back behind senior linebacker Chris Young at the WILL spot where has been playing, and then later he even had some plays at SAM.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Carlos Mendoza moved from the spur to the WILL earlier this week. With Mendoza and Young at the WILL there is even more depth at the WILL.
Coaches moved Taylor to create more depth at spur and to reward for him for his effort.
"Grandville's had a really good camp," Randolph said. "Right now he's practicing behind Chris Young at WILL so we're just like, 'let's move him out and give him a chance to see if he can play the spur position.' He's also tried the SAM position this summer so he's a versatile young man. We're just trying to give him an opportunity to play.
Taylor said he will play wherever the coaches stick him.
"Coach (Todd) Graham, he came and talked to me, said that he wanted to try me around a few places so that's it, that's all" Taylor said. "He just wanted to get a look at it today I'm just trying to do what I can to provide what the team needs."
The former walk on looked comfortable at all positions, out in space covering receivers at the spur and filling holes inside.
He said he had to adjust to new certain aspects of playing spur.
"You have to come off the edge a lot," Taylor said. "You've got to know what you're doing and know how to work with angles when you're going up against those tackles."
Taylor's main goal is to help the team to win a championship but personally he does want to start.
The spur position has been one the more interesting position battles in camp. There has been a number of players taking second team reps and competing for the starting spot.
Coaches are trying different players because they are admittedly concerned about the status of the position.
"We aren't as good at spur right now," Graham said. "But you can't have it all. We are 81st in the country against the run. We have to stop the run. So we have to find a spur."
The simple solution would be to put Young back at spur where he played all last season. But Graham said there's no way they can afford to make that change.
"[Young] is by far the best linebacker in my opinion," Graham said. "So put him out on the perimeter, yeah he does a great job out there but I want him more around the football."
In ASU's defense, that means the WILL position, where Brandon Magee far and away led the team in tackles last season. So Friday it was Taylor trying out spur, Thursday it was junior college transfer sophomore linebacker Antonio Longino and Wednesday Graham hinted that freshman safety Marcus Ball could get a shot at spur if junior college transfer junior safety Damarious Randall can heal up quickly and win the free safety job.
All the while senior linebacker Anthony Jones has been taking the first team reps. With all the changes behind Jones, coaches are either looking for a strong backup or a player who can push him for the starting position.
"Anthony's extremely athletic," Randolph said. "He's working hard on his physicalness for the position and he's improving every day. That's the thing that we ask him is to improve every single day fundamentally and he's doing that."
Randolph said all the linebacker positions are an open competition for the starting job.
But so far, three players have appeared to solidify their positions. Young owns the WILL, senior linebacker Steffon Martin is holding back the push from redshirt freshman linebacker Salamo Fiso at SAM and the devil backer clearly belongs to junior linebacker Carl Bradford.
The only real question remains is if Jones will hold down the spur spot until the start of the season.
Jones has a chance to firm up his position during the last practice at Camp Tontozona.
"Tomorrow is test day," Randolph said. "We've had one test [Monday] and tomorrow's our second exam. So we'll put the guys out there, let them battle and let's see how they compete."
Some things in particular will stand out to Randolph and the rest of the coaching staff Saturday.
"I want to see them be smart football players," Randolph said. "See guys execute our system in the proper way. More importantly I want to see them running to the football, playing with a relentless attitude."
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