Spring practices are meant to fine-tune techniques and implement strategies. While the spring is an important time for any football team, the 15 practices are especially crucial to a team in transition.
Although the four expected secondary starters — redshirt junior cornerback Osahon Irabor, redshirt senior cornerback Deveron Carr, senior safety Keelan Johnson and junior safety Alden Darby — combined to start 32 games last season, they are in the midst of learning a new defensive system, which is not always easy.
“It’s been slow,” secondary coach Chris Ball said of the learning curve. “(Tuesday) was a good day. Our next five practices, we’ve got to be on.”
Irabor, who had the only interception by an ASU cornerback in the 2011 season, is simply trying to focus on the little things and improve a bit each day.
Ball may be the secondary coach, but coach Todd Graham is also involved with the defensive backs and has been seen working with the position group on its footwork and physicality in press coverage.
“He’s really hands-on with us, so it’s good to work with him and work out the kinks and realize it’s the little things that make you better,” Irabor said.
Irabor admits everyone in the group is improving as they adjust to the new system, but the California native knows they need to improve their depth.
“We don’t have that much experience,” Irabor said. “The four starters have all played, (but) we need to build depth.”
One player who may help the Sun Devils develop that depth is redshirt junior Robert Nelson.
A transfer from University of Louisiana-Monroe, Nelson has been sharing reps with the starters and impressed not only the coaching staff, but his teammates as well.
“He brings some impressive ball skills,” Irabor said. “He brings some dynamic ability to the field side.”
By no stretch of the imagination have the Sun Devils mastered their new defensive scheme, but they are optimistic and excited about the way the new defense is executed.
“Schematically, I love our defense,” Irabor said. “I love what we do … It’s just a lot of fun right now.”
Specifically, Irabor appreciates the aggressive nature of the defense and enjoys coming up to play both the run and press coverage.
The defensive backfield has been making strides all spring, but there is still work to be done if the spring season is considered a success.
“In these last five practices, we’ve got to get a lot done,” Ball said.
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