Defensive unit looks improved during ASU football's spring game

The run defense looked strong as ever commanded by ASU's upperclassmen linebackers

ASU football's defense was eager to show off its improvement, and the unit did just that at its annual spring game Saturday in Tempe. 

First-year ASU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett put on display the likely starting unit come Aug. 31.

The trenches were commanded by junior JoJo Wicker, redshirt sophomore George Lea, and seniors Koron Crump and Tashon Smallwood.

ASU’s biggest question mark, the secondary, consisted of several players, but the two important cornerback spots were manned by junior Kareem Orr and redshirt freshman Chase Lucas.

Although the defense continuously subbed players in and out, Bennett said he feels good about where the defense stands.

“I like our front seven and we’re evolving in the secondary,” Bennett said.

During the spring game, the defensive unit forced the offense to punt several times and returned an interception for a touchdown. The strong defensive play can be attributed to the run-stuffing linebackers senior DJ Calhoun and redshirt junior Christian Sam.

“Obviously when they’re the two inside backers, they’re the center piece of our defense,” Bennett said. “We’ve got to develop two guys behind them.”

However, the two upperclassmen linebackers don’t look willing to give up their starting spots. Calhoun made it to the backfield several times shutting down running backs – he also managed to take down the quarterback once. 

Sam found himself roaming the middle of the defense in pass coverage, forcing any quarterback playing to shy away from him. Although he did give up a few completions to tight ends in man coverage, they rarely gained substantial yardage. 

“I think throughout the whole spring in general, me and him (Sam) brought it,” Calhoun said.

Being that this is their fourth spring together, Calhoun said the chemistry between the two of them has only strengthened, especially with Sam returning from injury this year.

“I was missing him last year on the field," Calhoun said. "When he got injured I was kind of devastated, because I got to have my boy out there."

With spring football over, Sam said he wants himself and Calhoun to improve during the summer.

“Most importantly keep our speed up,” Sam said. “The game is changing, it’s getting faster. We just got to stay with it.”

The season is fast approaching and the linebacker duo will lead the defense come fall. However, Sam said Calhoun is more than a teammate, and they will be more than friends even when the season ends.

“Loyalty is what makes brotherhood," Sam said. "So you know we are both brothers.” 

Reach the reporter at or follow @Anthony_Totri on Twitter.

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