PAYSON, Arizona — At least a portion of the 5,200 fans at ASU football’s Camp Tontozona Maroon and Gold practice can leave with some doubts lifted.
The new-look defense stole the show Saturday, beginning practice with a sack of redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly and getting consistent pressure in the backfield, once resulting in an interception from redshirt junior Ezekiel Bishop on a pass from redshirt junior Mike Bercovici, who was leading the No. 2 offense.
“(There were) lots of good signs up front on defense,” coach Todd Graham said. “I feel good about our defensive line coming out of camp.”
Senior defensive end Marcus Hardison got to experience the dominance in the trenches from Will Sutton and Carl Bradford. He recognized the big holes to fill but said the chemistry this year is unmatched.
“The chemistry is the best I’ve seen,” Hardison said. “Not knocking last year, but this year, we’re really close. We click with each other. … I think everybody had their different egos last year. This year, it’s more of a team effort.”
There are big holes to fill after losing nine defensive starters. Hardison, however, is seeing a lot of progress out of the new starters, especially freshman Tashon Smallwood.
“Smallwood is coming on excellent,” Hardison said. “I really like him. He’s got to just keep working hard.”
The Sun Devils didn’t hold a full scrimmage as was originally planned, in order to keep their players healthy with less than two weeks until the first regular season game against Weber State. Taking matters further, Graham also chose to put limited contact jerseys on his star players: junior D.J. Foster, redshirt junior receiver Jaelen Strong and redshirt senior safety Damarious Randall all sported gold jerseys during practice.
While it wasn’t an all-out scrimmage, the majority of practice was spent in 11-on-11 drills, significantly more than on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. The poor weather conditions left from Wednesday’s rain and the rain overnight going into Saturday affected the Graham’s attitude going into Saturday’s practice.
“The field’s not in great shape. I was a little bit concerned,” Graham said. “We did a little bit more of a controlled scrimmage because of that.”
Rain had forced ASU to Rumsey Park in downtown Payson, Arizona, on Wednesday, but sun broke through for Thursday and Friday. Although, players had been slipping on the Camp Tontozona field each day.
Joining Foster, Strong and Randall in non- or limited-contact jerseys was redshirt freshman safety Marcus Ball, freshman running back Kalen Ballage and redshirt freshman receiver Ronald Lewis.
Adams was the only one who hadn’t taken any first-team snaps thus far in fall practice. Ball and Lewis still participated in the practice, Ball playing on the first-team defense opposite Randall and Lewis splitting time between the first- and second-team wide receiver.
This was the first practice Lewis had been in the no-contact jersey. Shedding the green jersey, however, was redshirt senior running back Deantre Lewis. The latter Lewis had been a no-contact participant since leaving early in Wednesday’s practice, sitting out with a towel over his head.
Making the scrimmage more of a practice worked out for the Sun Devils. The only fresh injury was suffered by redshirt freshman tight end Grant Martinez, who got caught in the aftermath of a big hit by redshirt senior defensive lineman Marcus Washington on freshman quarterback Manny Wilkins. Martinez, however, got up and limped off the field on his own.
ASU will unveil new uniforms on Monday around 11 a.m. on thesundevils.com. It will release photos and video in a press release.
A source close to the team told me the jerseys will be “smoke black” with copper numbers and white accents. Although ASU already has black alternate uniforms, the new ones are significantly different, the source said.
Check back on statepress.com to see the new uniforms when they are released on Monday.