You can usually tell more about a coach's thoughts on his team by what he does than what he says. This is probably true even in the case of Arizona State coordinator Craig Bray, a man who is known to be very honest in his assessments, even brutally so at times. So when Bray's defense practiced in a 3-4 alignments Tuesday for the first time since he arrived in Tempe in 2007, it was a clear indication of his satisfaction with the group's improved athleticism.
The 3-4 defense -- known in football parlance as a 30 front -- features three down linemen and four linebackers. It's generally considered to be a scheme that relies heavily on fast linebackers who can be disruptive blitzing and covering ground laterally.
"We're better suited for pressure than we've been in the past because of the growth of our young backers who can really run," Bray said. "You lose a guy like (Mike) Nixon and (Travis) Goethel, who were really good football players, but that really wasn't a strength of theirs."
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With Saia Falahola out nursing a sprained ankle, the Sun Devils had a first-team of William Sutton at nose tackle flanked by ends Lawrence Guy and Jamaar Jarrett, with Vontaze Burfict and Gerald Munns at inside linebacker and Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee on the outside.
The second-team defense had Bo Moos and Corey Adams rotating at the nose position with Gregory Smith and Toa Tuitea at the end spots, Colin Parker and Derrall Anderson at inside linebacker and Anthony Jones and Oliver Aaron at outside linebacker.
"To create change up, give ourselves more third down options, more variety and a 30 gives you that variety," Bray said, when asked about the reasons for looking at the defensive scheme.
"I think it's good," Moos said. "I think it's going to put our speed on display, especially on the outside with some of those outside backers. I think we're confident as a defensive line we can apply pressure with three guys. I like it, I think it's going to be fun.
"We're obviously just kind of experimenting with it. I think there are going to be teams we face where we're going to have to go to it. The spread teams, Arizona, Oregon, stuff like that."
Bray said that while the alignment is going to be heavily used as a blitzing package, the defense also can get maximum protection out of it with an extra athlete covering a zone area.
Tuesday's practice was just the start of ASU taking a look at the defense, which won't be its base look, so Bray was unsure of exactly what he thought of the new look.
Moos said the 30 front should allow the linebackers replacing those who left the program last year to play to their strengths.
"Those are obviously two huge losses, Trav and Mike, but I think athleticism-wise these guys bring something new to the table and that's just part of the spring right now," Moos said. "Trying to get confidence across the board so we could especially communicate with the front. They're not as good as that right now but it's coming along."
With first and second-team right guards Zach Schlink (left knee) and Adam Tello (right knee) not practicing, junior college transfer Chris De Armas was moved to the first-string spot at the position. Andrew Sampson shifted from second-team center to second-team right guard, and walk-on Trent Marsh worked as the backup center.
"We're experimenting, we've had some guys hurt. Tello is out for probably the rest of spring football," Erickson said. "Zach's knee flared up a little bit, so we're only going to practice him twice a week. So we'll practice him tomorrow and Saturday. So we've had to move some things around."
In order to get a look at different options, ASU coaches also swapped Brice Schwab and Evan Finkenberg, with Schwab now at right tackle ahead of Patrick Jamison with the top group and Finkenberg ahead of Kyle Johnson on the left side.
Erickson probably won't be completely satiated until he watches his offense play well against a quality defense other than his own later this year, but he said he was cautiously optimistic based on what he saw from the unit in Saturday's scrimmage.
"It was a lot better offensively than we've had in a while," Erickson said. "I thought we executed extremely well. We threw and caught it. I thought our quarterbacks -- Brock (Osweiler) had a real good scrimmage. Made some big plays. He got the ball up the field vertically and it was one of those days. Offensively, it was the first time in a while that we were able to move the ball consistently and score points.
Overall, Erickson said he's pleased by how the spring has unfolded to this point, and what it has revealed about his team.
"I'm happy with where we're at," he said. "I figured defensively we'd have the chance to be good -- which we do. But the improvement offensively and the improvement of the two quarterbacks has probably been the most pleasant surprise."
Defensive end James Brooks did not practice due to what was described as a personal issue by Erickson.