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October 2, 2013
Arizona State's opponents have had consistent success running to the field side and coach Todd Graham has had enough.
"Our issues are not to the boundary, our issues are the other way," Graham said in his Monday weekly press conference. "We are going to make some adjustments there that we could do better. Yeah, we are playing against good people, but still there are too many mental errors, there are too many misalignments. Where we are getting hurt is on angle flow and on outside perimeter run. I do think there are things we can do to fix that. I am encouraged because we are just one or two people away from getting it right."
As Graham alluded, personnel changes were observed at linebacker during Tuesday's practice as senior linebacker Chris Young moved from WILL to Spur, senior linebacker Steffon Martin regained his first-team status at SAM and freshman linebacker Salamo Fiso, who previously was at Spur, is now at WILL.
Senior Anthony Jones who started at Spur in the team's first four games, practiced with the second team at the position Tuesday.
Through the first four games, Jones had nine tackles with no tackles for loss and no sacks, a substantial drop-off from the production of Young last season at Spur, a key position relied on for perimeter run stopping and blitz pressure.
"We're obviously working different personnel groupings because of the match-up we have this week," Graham said. "We're going to use different groupings. Obviously Chris (Young) has played really solid. We've got to get Salamo (Fiso) going, he is so talented and he just made a lot of mental errors in the game early the other night. We lined up wrong I don't know how many times but we can't have those things. Right now you've got Steffon (Martin), Chris, Anthony and Salamo right now who will all be seeing significant playing time. And then you've got (senior linebacker) Grandville (Taylor) who will probably be the next guy to play inside and (freshman linebacker) Carlos Mendoza we are working him as well."
Young's move to Spur is clearly the big news. It looked like he would play there this season after his success in the role last season but Graham moved him inside against pro-style teams early in the season to defend inside runs better than in 2012.
"We just want balance at the defense," Young said. "We've been hurting on the field side a little bit and moving me to Spur kind of balances out that issue"
Last year, playing at the Spur position, Young had 82 tackles with 14 tackles for loss and two sacks. So far this season, playing the WILL during games, Young has 29 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss and no sacks.
According to Young, the move will ensure him more opportunities and he predicts his stats will in fact go up along with the broadness of his responsibility.
"It comes with a lot of coverage, that's probably the only thing that's different with Spur as opposed to WILL," Young said. "I just need to be more conscious of a receiver or if a tight end releases, but other than that, it's all linebacker, get downhill and stop the run."
While Young moves over to Spur, right by his side will be Martin playing at the SAM.
Martin and Young were junior college teammates at Arizona Western and Young said that their relationship on and off the field plays a significantly large role during the games.
"He's my brother," Young said. "Obviously we understand each other better than anyone else on the field but it's lot more easier to communicate with him and he knows how to communicate with me."
As to why Martin had had some mishaps throughout the early season that led to Fiso starting in his place against USC, Young said it's all in his head.
"With him it's just all mental," Young said. "His mental focus is skyrocketing. As much as he keeps that up, the better a player he's gong to be."
After losing his starting job Martin redeemed himself when Graham put him back in at the SAM relatively early in the game. His second half in particular was a solid effort.
"I was mad that obviously I wasn't starting," Martin said. "I just knew I had to get in the game and in order to get my spot back I needed to make a statement. I'm a senior, it's time for me to step up."
Regarding the game on Saturday, Martin knows the keys to what he has to do to be successful and keep his starting spot.
"To keep my confidence up high, never get too low and just be there for my team," Martin said. "My confidence is just going to skyrocket on Saturday."
In addition to those changes, the move of Fiso to the WILL will be new experiment for the coaches and players alike.
"We'll be fine," Martin said. "We will make sure to talk to Salamo as much as possible. One thing about Salamo is when he gets frustrated, he just starts shooting gaps and that's a good thing. Most people when they get nervous they shy a bit, but when he's ready to go, he's ready to go."
As for how Fiso will specifically deal with these changes, Young said that Fiso will thrive in the WILL position as it fits his style as a player better than the Spur and he doesn't expect any problems associated with the move.
"It's all repetition with him," Young said. "The more reps he gets at WILL, the more understanding he's going to have for it. It's going to be a little bit of a struggle for him, have some little things he has to get used to, but he's a great player and he's gong to pick up on it."
Among the three linebackers, being vocal is key for success according to Martin.
"Chris has to talk to me, I have to talk to Salamo," Martin said. "Salamo is the young one, he's like our little brother so it's cool having him out there, he's fast and Anthony Jones will play too but we just have to communicate to Salamo and make sure he doesn't get above the moment."
Punter remains fluid situaiton
Four games into the season, Arizona State is facing a predicament most programs have long since solved.
Who should punt this Saturday?
Until a week ago, there was a battle of two going on between true freshman Matt Haack and junior walk-on Dom Vizzare. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, junior kicker Alex Garoutte earned the start at the position against USC, the first of his career as a punter.
"Really just trying to help the team wherever I can," Garoutte said. "Obviously we're working on that whole situation and the punters have been doing a lot better. Hopefully, we can go out there and have a bunch of options and find a starter so we can give the other team something else to prepare for."
The 'whole situation' is one that refers to replacing punter Josh Hubner from last year's squad. It won't be an easy task as Hubner is arguably one of ASU's best punters in its history.
Last year, Hubner finished with numerous accolades after a 47.1 yard average, with 40 percent of his punts ended up inside the 20, and he never had a punt blocked.
This year, the punting game has seen a pretty significant drop off. Last year, ASU averaged 45.3 yards per punt -- which includes pooch punts by junior quarterback Taylor Kelly -- and this year the team is averaging 32.9 yards collectively.
When Haack signed with the Sun Devils in February Graham called him "one of the best that I've seen in a long time" but that's not been demonstrated at this early juncture in his career.
Hubner gave ASU the ability to flip the field when it was pinned deep in its own territory. Last year against UCLA, Hubner displayed this perfectly when he launched a punt 73 yards to give ASU an edge in the field position battle when it could have easily been a short field for the Bruins.
ASU coaches are hopeful that they'll be able to find one player emerge from the three who have started games to this point, as all have shown hints of ability in practice that goes beyond anything demonstrated in a game.
"Absolutely and that's why they are here," special teams coach Joe Lorig said. "Now they just have to do it. They do it every day in practice and every day in pre-game. Now they have to do it under pressure. They all have that capability, specifically Matt. We see the same thing in him and that's why we signed him."
While it's been talked about throughout the season specifically about Haack by Graham, ASU is now looking at increasingly incorporating the rugby style punt in its efforts to decrease the chances of a punt being blocked.
"Yes absolutely we are," Lorig said. "They are all capable of that and that's a way we are going to keep people off-balance. Every week we'll have some sort of twist in there to keep people guessing and prepare for."
While each have shown the capability to punt the ball well at certain points, the competition is something that coaches don't foresee will end any time soon.
"Nope not really," Lorig said. "They all have different skills and we are going to utilize all of them to our advantage or until we can clearly distinguish who is ready and who isn't."
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