Though his team's typically potent offense performed like a dud in Saturday's scrimmage, Todd Graham wasn't prepared to give much credit to his defense while speaking with reporters following Tuesday's practice.
Perhaps it should have been expected.
Graham spent much of the morning session bellowing at players for a variety of perceived maladies including physical softness, a lack of mental focus and of course, an inability to execute.
At one point Graham gathered his entire defense together and let it know something he later reiterated with media members. There may not be a lot of competition for spots at certain positions now, especially along the defensive front, but that's going to change when reinforcements arrive in the summer.
Maybe then, Graham hinted, players will lament their inability to solidify their standing by performing at a higher level during the spring.
"Up front is the is the biggest weakness I see right now because we're too heavy and too slow to execute what we're trying to do," Graham said. "When I went back and looked at the film we are out of shape and fat and out of shape on the defensive line. We're just too heavy."
It's not a surprising conclusion.
Junior defensive tackle Mo Latu tips the scales at 384 pounds, perhaps as much as 50 more than his ideal playing weight. Junior tackle Jaxon Hood is generously listed at 300 pounds and not in ideal shape either as he returns from a relatively serious hand injury. Junior tackle Demetrius Cherry is a decent looking 300 pounds on a 6-foot-6 frame, but added as much as 60 pounds in the last year, so conditioning for the added size is a chore.
Those players represent three-quarters of the Sun Devils' scholarship defensive tackles on the spring roster, with the other being redshirt freshman Corey Smith. As far as options go, there's not much Graham can do with his depth chart.
Presenting a further challenge, Graham has needed to play versatile senior Marcus Hardison at an end position because he's the team's best pass rush threat on the line. Devil backers Chans Cox, a redshirt freshman, and Viliami Latu, a sophomore, have a long way to go before being dependable, and neither is a quick twitch athlete likely to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
If they had to play tomorrow, Graham said he'd probably go with Latu.
"Wow we've got to find a Devil (backer)," Graham said. "We're still searching for a Devil."
High profile junior college defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey, junior college Devil backer transfer Darrius Caldwell, and high profile high school defensive tackles Connor Humphreys and Tashon Smallwood are set to arrive on campus this summer.
Situation at safety more positive
While Graham hasn't been pleased with his defense up front, he's more confident in the options available to him in the secondary.
Senior field safety Damarious Randall was the scrimmage standout on defense and has practiced as a high level regularly this spring. Junior walk-on boundary safety Jordan Simone has been steady and physical at the bandit position working with the first-team while promising redshirt freshman Marcus Ball has been non-contact throughout the spring following clavicle surgery.
"I love the passion and energy that [Randall] and Simone create," Graham said. "Obviously Marcus Ball is a guy -- we need to get those three guys on the field at the same time.
"We could play with three safeties against 10, 11 personnel would be an example of how we can get those guys on the field at the same time."
Graham will look to summer additions Christian Sam and Jamal Scott, both currently high school seniors, to increase the competition at Spur, and try to get one more player to step up at cornerback to pair with senior Lloyd Carrington.
"We've got to find one more cover guy, we've got to step up at boundary corner," Graham said. "We're probably a guy shy in the secondary.
"Safety I feel good about."
Quarterback play underwhelmed Saturday, Graham said, and even though star junior running back D.J. Foster didn't play much and senior tight end De'Marieya Nelson hurt his left knee early and didn't return, there wasn't enough offensive productivity.
"We basically scored one time on offense Saturday and we played 55 snaps so that's at least a half of a game," Graham said. "So that would be one of the worst outings we had all last year."
Graham has been pleased with the improvement of senior running back Kyle Middlebrooks another few months removed from a torn ACL suffered during the 2012 season but is calling for fellow senior back Deantre Lewis to have a greater sense of urgency as he enters his final season.
"I want Deantre Lewis to step up," Graham said. "He shows signs, I tell him you've got to quit showing signs. We've got to get you consistent. He's got to have a better last five practices. He's done good at times, he's shown signs, but he's got to be more consistent."
With Nelson knocked out of the scrimmage early ASU was limited to just one scholarship tight end, redshirt freshman Grant Martinez. He played just about every snap the rest of the way and finished with a team-high seven catches for 83 yards.
"I thought Grant Martinez did a really good job in the scrimmage and going to be a great player," Graham said. "He's got to get bigger, obviously can't play at the weight he's at now. He's got to get stronger, that's why it's great we've got an off-season to go."
Nelson returned to practice Tuesday but didn't appear to be at full strength even though he went through the entire session while wearing a heavy brace on his left knee.