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March 30, 2014

Inexperienced corners working to improve



All-conference cornerbacks Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson have exhausted their eligibility at Arizona State, so the program will have the difficult task of replacing those standouts from a group that hasn't seen much action at all.

But those players seem to believe they're up for the task.

"I feel like we're doing pretty good man," junior cornerback Lloyd Carrington said. "We got a young team but the guys have been maturing these past, what, five practices? We're learning a lot and I feel like that's the key part of the process.

"This year is a challenge but it's something we're looking forward to doing. For example, you look at the Seattle Seahawks. That's the team that we try to model ourselves after. Just being young but also being a confident group, sticking together to make plays, learn and mesh well."

The group will have big shoes to fill. Last year, ASU's secondary reeled in 21 interceptions, leading the Pac-12 and finishing No. 3 in the nation, with Nelson (six) and Irabor (three) combining for nine of those takeaways.

The Sun Devils won't have a single senior in the group or anyone else who has played a lot in the role. Carrington, 5-foot-11, 189 pounds, is working with the first-team at field corner and junior Rashad Wadood, 5-foot-11, 181 pounds, has practiced with the top unit on the boundary side. Solomon Means, a 6-foot-1, 174 pound junior, and William Earley, a 6-foot-1, 206 pound reddshirt freshman, are the only other two scholarship cornerbacks currently on the roster.

"We're very talented in the secondary but we're inexperienced," secondary coach Chris Ball said. "We have to overcome that inexperience. We've got to coach them hard and they have to spend extra time on their own watching tape to gain some experience or making calls. We're talented, we've got five good guys coming in there too (following the spring) so I'm fired up about this group. They're smart, they have great character and they show up every day willing to work. They have a great work ethic, they're tough and they're talented. That's exactly what we're about and I think this group represents it well."

With linebackers coach Keith Patterson taking the place of former cornerbacks coach Joe Lorig on the ASU staff, head coach Todd Graham has committed more time to working with the corners during the team's individual practice segments in order to address the lack of experience. It's a significant change from the fall.

"It's good," Graham said. "I think it's really helped Lloyd. I think Wadood is one of the most improved guys and doing lots of good things right now. That's an area that I wanted to work on, that I thought (with) graduating three guys who were basically all Pac-12 that was an area we needed to focus on and then obviously coach Patterson is focusing on the front. Probably if I was to list my order of concern, probably inside at tackle is where we need some help and obviously we've got some really good guys coming in and we've got to develop the guys we've got. Then probably on the perimeter at the corner position where we graduated two starters there who were all-conference, that's why I'm out there working with them."

Barring injury, Carrington, who had just one interception last year and often played in nickel situations, should see the field a significant amount more than he has in previous years. Signed by Graham out of Dallas when he was at Pittsburgh, Carrington played in seven games as a freshman at Pitt before transferring to ASU following Graham's move to Tempe. He said the amount of time he's spent with Graham is an advantage he feels he has in becoming a better player this year.

"It's pretty cool," Carrington said. "I'm actually really familiar with the defense that he runs and the terminology he uses. It helps me out a lot just knowing the dude and knowing what to expect on certain downs or different field positions. It allows me to be confident on every play."

Overcoming inexperience requires a lot of time in the film room learning the position, and that's a primary focus for Carrington.

"Really it's just from a mental standpoint," Carrington said." I've always felt like I had the physical tools. I'm starting to learn so many mental things like certain situations on the field or distance. There's a lot of things that go into each and every single play that I'm starting to get a hang of so I know what to expect from the offense. That's pretty much my goal for this year is getting myself better prepared for playing in the Pac-12 physically but more so mentally so I can dictate and be able to predict what offenses are doing out there."

Wadood has flashed potential as a blitzer from the short side of the field, and played physically along the line of scrimmage, but has been inconsistent in coverage during his time at ASU in practices. Knowledge of the game is how he feels he'll be able to make the biggest gains this year, and working with Graham has helped facilitate that.

"I've learned a lot of football in just the first [six] practices," Wadood said. "[Graham] teaches me more than just my job and my biggest problem last year was I tried to do more than the scheme required me to do and he forces me to focus on the little things and my technique."

By giving him first-team reps consistently this spring, Wadood's coaches have indicated some level of confidence in his potential.

"Rashad has the physical talent to be really good," Ball said. "Mentally when he gets tired he has to focus more on the little things. Pre-snap footwork or where you're supposed to be on a certain coverage. Sometimes when you're not concentrating on those things that's when you get beat. I told him, I said, 'It's times two when we (safeties) get beat because there's nobody back there to help us.' Everything you do you have to do it right, do it with a purpose and do it with some intensity. We're defensive backs. We're the last line of defense."

Means, while not seeing much time with the first team so far in spring, also has felt a benefit from the new coaching of Graham.

"That's basically what it is, it's a game of chess to him," Means said. "He's teaching us everything we need to know so we can be there to make the play."

Saturday notes

  • ASU scrimmaged for the first time this spring and there were several violent collisions, the biggest of which was true freshman linebacker Derik Calhoun leveling junior running back D.J. Foster.

  • Carrington was held out of the scrimmage segment with a sore muscle in his leg, allowing Means to get first-team reps, with Graham commenting after practice that Means has been one of the more improved players on defense.

  • Following two conversation with Graham, junior linebacker Eriquel Florence was sent away from the practice facility and was not present for a majority of the session. As a result, walk-on Lucas Revelle received second-team reps at defensive end in the scrimmage.

  • ASU offensive line coach Chris Thomsen has looked at numerous alternate combinations of personnel in recent sessions, including junior Vi Teofilo getting first-team reps at center, junior Christian Westerman getting first-team reps at guard, junior center Nick Kelly getting reps at guard, and senior left guard Jamil Douglas getting reps at first-team left tackle.

  • Backup quarterback Mike Bercovici has practiced well through two weeks until a blip on Saturday included two bad interceptions, one of which could have potentially been returned the full length of the field by Calhoun on a pass intended for Foster. The other was a forced throw that was taken away from Earley.


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