For as quick as the football was knocked out of senior running back Deantre Lewis's hands during Saturday's scrimmage, Arizona State running backs coach Bo Graham had an even quicker response.
"You have got to be kidding me."
After an early offensive drive moved the ball to the 1-yard line, Lewis was headed for the end zone but ran into the rather substantial backside of junior defensive tackle Mo Latu and the ball popped free before being recovered by junior cornerback Solomon Means.
Immediately prior to the fumble, junior safety Jordan Simone was squaring up Lewis for what promised to be another of his now-common bone-jarring hits, but it wasn't necessary. Even so, ASU coach Todd Graham once again heaped praise on Simone and several others in the team's secondary for its strong play of late following the scrimmage.
"Everything is starting to come together," Simone said. "Everyone is getting better. From Week 1 there's a big difference. Guys competing for spots and as you can tell today, we don't give up. I'm really happy with the defense."
From the early-goings of spring ball, Graham has been vocally unhappy with the defensive front and recently challenged it to step up and make more plays despite a lack of experience compared to ASU's veteran offensive line unit.
In consecutive scrimmages, the defense as a whole has continued to show signs of improvement, especially last Saturday, when it had four takeaways including three interceptions. Saturday, it recovered two fumbles in the red zone.
"I was actually watching the film from Week 1 the other day and it's crazy how far we've come already," Simone said. "You don't even think about it because everything is so fast, but yeah we've definitely come together."
After Saturday's scrimmage, Graham commented on the improving defensive effort, but said the offense is limited with what they are doing because some major weapons either didn't participate or were kept to a limited number of reps.
Saturday, star junior running back D.J. Foster played sparingly and junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong wasn't available as he is still in a green non-contact jersey after spraining his toe on Tuesday. Senior tight end De'Marieya Nelson participated in the scrimmage but played at less than 100 percent with some knee swelling and soreness.
"I really felt our offense would dominate our defense a lot more than what it has because it hasn't, at all," Graham said. "In the two scrimmages we've had we've given up 20 points with the 1s. I don't know what the 2s gave up. That's encouraging (defensively)."
After Graham called his defensive lineman fat and out of shape Tuesday, its players appeared to take it to heart, notably visible with a standout practice on Thursday by Latu.
Saturday, Graham said there was more progress on the defensive line, naming Marcus Hardison and Jaxon Hood as standouts. Simone also mentioned Hardison as one of the players stepping up in a huge way leadership wise.
"We want to get better, we want to be faster," junior tackle Demetrius Cherry said. "We want to get the technique. The better we get the technique, the better we will be overall."
At linebacker, sophomore Salamo Fiso is stepping up as one of the leaders for the younger players on the defense at his coaches' behest, stating after Saturday's practice it has been a challenge for him thus far.
"I just got to figure out that I'm not them (a younger player) no more," Fiso said. I'm not young anymore. I feel young, but I just got to take that leading role and lead by example and sometimes I get back to my habits I did last year. I got to end it now."
Despite his own struggles, Fiso said Graham has been telling the defense he likes their intensity and the way they are competing on the field.
In the secondary, players continued to stand out with Simone, senior field safety Damarious Randall and redshirt freshman safety James Johnson all earning the praises of Graham after practice.
Randall specifically continued to show his playmaking abilities, almost making an interception from a deep ball thrown to junior wide receiver Gary Chambers down the right sideline. Randall's efforts then translated over to special teams where he almost blocked an extra point attempt.
"Ever since last Saturday's scrimmage, that was the first time when we really came together as a unit and it showed up on the field," Simone said. "This is a great scheme to be in and if everybody does their job we are going to make plays and that's what this defense is made for. Playmakers, speed. Speed kills and everybody is flying to the ball."
While not taking a lot of reps in the backfield during spring ball, Foster made an impression Saturday on special teams work during scrimmage, almost blocking two punts.
"D.J. Foster's going to lead the country in punt blocks," Todd Graham said, and didn't appear to be kidding. "That's going to be a goal for him."
Sophomore punter Matt Haack had high and nice looking punts throughout the scrimmage, though was still off the goal of getting the kick off in 1.9 seconds. ASUDevils.com clocked the first-team's operational time at between 2.04 and 2.14 on four timed punts.
Quarterback play wasn't as impressive as it could have been Saturday with senior quarterback Taylor Kelly and junior quarterback Mike Bercovici both overthrowing receivers throughout practice.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Ellis Jefferson appeared to have three uncharacteristic drops during scrimmage. Two of those looked to be routine plays, the other was a tougher catch to make, but one Jefferson usually hauls in.
Sophomore placekicker Zane Gonzalez missed his first three field goals during scrimmage from 38, 39 and 40 yards before hitting from 42 and 34 yards on his next attempts. All three of the missed field goals were narrowly wide right.