Though they are still playing a lot of the same coverages as last year, Arizona State's cornerbacks are being asked to make some major technical adjustments under a new coaching staff this spring.
"Well for corner instead of starting head up we start at a side position at the middle of the receiver," senior Deveron Carr said. "What (secondary) coach (Chris) Ball would say is at the core of the receiver. So basically we're in a shuffle technique."
"It's kind of like we're playing the same coverage. The alignments and the techniques are just totally different .From last year, I feel like we end up at the same spots, so we know where we're going. It's just the starting alignment is different."
Ball's defense in the secondary primarily blends in a lot of Cover 4 and Cover 6, with field side corner playing in quarters coverage for the most part just as it did in recent seasons. As a result, the players battling at the position, Carr and junior Robert Nelson, should be used to what's being asked of them in a lot of respects.
Nelson], who sat out last season after transferring from Louisiana-Monroe, where he had 55 tackles and two interceptions in 12 games as a sophomore, is having a solid spring showing and getting a lot of first-team reps.
"I'm glad I sat out a year behind some great guys," Nelson said. "I got to practice behind Omar Bolden, Deveron, and (senior) Osahon (Irabor) and got to see how hard they are working, and just learn the system.
I'm going to be competing for the starting spot. Whether I'm coming in at nickel or if I'm starting I'm going to do whatever, I'm trying to help this team win. The competition is great. Coach Ball pushes us every day and the other guys make me better. There is not day where someone can slack because there spot can be taken at anytime, which is forcing us to compete hard every day."
Nelson has a bit of an advantage this spring as Carr is battling through tendonitis in his knee, according to Ball. It has led to some occasional limping around a bit in practice for Carr and limited reps down at times.
"I'm a little banged up," Carr said. "I'm fighting a couple of issues, but I'm fine. It's nothing big."
At the other cornerback position, Irabor has been a standout and appears to have the starting spot all but locked up heading into the fall.
"We ask those corners to do a lot in the boundary," said Ball of the scheme, which often forces the position to read multiple receivers and determine whether to cover the flat or release vertically. "And he is doing a great job for us."
Thursday, in a practice set up for the defense's success, it came through as expected. The situational work coach Todd Graham favors included an extended third-and-long period in which the defense blitzed extensively and reached the quarterback quite a bit.
Beyond its success though, players noticed an improvement in the intensity and loudness of the unit as well as how quickly it was getting on and off the field.
"The defense came out with a little bit of a different attitude and it came out fast instead of slow," Carr said. "It seemed like, to me, we shook a little bit of rust off. We came with it."
Ball said there have been some positive trends as spring as worn on to the point that just three practices remain.
"We got a lot of work to still do," Ball said. "It's a learning process. It's new, there is a lot of stuff. You're showing them a lot of different stuff, but I'm proud of them.
"We've got a lot of want to and good competition. I think they want to be good. We're starting to come together and they're starting to understand what we are trying to do defensively."
Sophomore running back Deantre Lewis ended his Thursday practice prematurely after a run where he appeared to tweak a thigh muscle and had his left upper leg wrapped.
After having multiple PATs and several field goals blocked in recent sessions, ASU switched several players on its kicking unit, going with lineman over some tight ends on the edge of the formation. It worked as no kicks were blocked Thursday from the perimeter, but an interior push led to a blocked field goal up the middle.