ASU football's secondary embracing fresh start

New defensive backs coach TJ Rushing is trying to gain the players' trust and improve communication on the field.

ASU football's secondary finished last season with 4,392 passing yards allowed, which was dead last in the nation. Additionally, the Sun Devils gave up 35 passing touchdowns and allowed a staggering 14.94 yards per completion.

This season is a new slate, especially when considering the potential impact of new defensive backs coach TJ Rushing along with junior college transfers like J'Marcus Rhodes and Maurice Chandler, who are expected to make an immediate impact. 

On Monday, it appeared as if Kareem Orr, Chad Adams, Armand Perry and Rhodes were receiving first-team reps, though that is subject to change quickly during the spring. Head coach Todd Graham has mentioned that Orr and Perry are expected to receive reps at safety.

Orr, who started as a true freshman after Perry's injury, said a lack of communication plagued the secondary last season. 

"We really didn't have good chemistry with each other," he said. "This year, we're getting better with our team chemistry and communicating very well in the back end." 

The Sun Devils lose senior corners Kweishi Brown and Lloyd Carrington, two players who started during their final two years with the program, and also played a prominent role. Carrington's pick-six sealed a historic win against Notre Dame in 2014, and Brown capped that same season off with a game-saving interception in the Sun Bowl win over Duke

Orr seemed excited about the junior college transfers, who he said look like they will contribute immediately. One who stood out to him was Rhodes, who was pegged as the No. 42 overall junior college prospect and the No. 5 overall juco defensive back in the nation by Rivals. 

He had 33 tackles, three interceptions and six pass breakups this past year at Kilgore Junior College. 

"I'm just trying to play with relentless effort," Rhodes said, citing one of Rushing's focuses thus far in this spring. 

The defensive backs are still implementing new things under Rushing, so the communication level isn't where they want it to be, Rhodes said. But he seemed confident it would get there with time to spare. 

Added Rushing on the chemistry: "So far, so good. I told them in the meeting this morning that communication last week was pretty good. We still had three communication errors last week, and I told them that was three too many."

Rushing said he thought the team had a couple unlucky plays last year. He recalled the weird play in last year's Cactus Bowl in which the ball was hit out of the West Virginia receiver's hands, went into an ASU player's arms before flying out and then finding its way into another WVU receiver's gloves.

Stopping the big passing plays that were fatal in some games will be a necessity, too. 

"Usually either bad eyes or bad technique (lead to those)," Rushing said. "Every now and then, those (receivers), they're on scholarship, they're going to make a great play. If we're in the right position and they just make a play on us, I can live with that. Can't live with stuff where it's bad eyes, bad technique, no communication." 

Rushing is 32 years old and has played five seasons in the NFL, a solid career at the sport's highest level. Rhodes said his resume demands respect, but that the trust level needs to be high to succeed regardless. 

The most difficult part of starting at somewhere new is earning the trust and respect from fresh faces, Rushing said. And he certainly doesn't feel entitled to his players' trust. 

"I try to get in there, try to meet with them as much as possible, so they get to know me," he said. "If I tell them something, I want them to do it. If they trust you, they'll do it. ... Playing before, I think it helps a little bit, but they only care about how good you can coach."


Reach the reporter at Justin.Toscano@asu.edu or on Twitter @justintoscano3.

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