ASU football shores up defensive backfield before spring game

The Sun Devils are eager to show their improvement in the defensive backfield after a less-than-stellar 2016 season

ASU football's secondary didn't offer much resistance to opposing offenses last season, and junior defensive back Kareem Orr doesn't want that trend to continue.

"We're tired of being the laughingstock of the Pac," Orr said.

To be fair, the Sun Devils' defensive backfield has earned its reputation. The unit was the worst pass defense in the Pac-12, allowing the most passing yards in all of major college football last season.

A litany of missed tackles and blown overages didn't help matters in 2016. Heading into the season this spring, it was clear the secondary needed a reboot, and head coach Todd Graham thinks he's seen vast growth on the back end of his defense.

"Remarkably improved, I think coach (Phil) Bennett and coach (TJ) Rushing have done a great job," Graham said. "I think some of that too is the personnel. There's been a lot of guys really step up. Marked improvement every single day and doing a great job of not giving up the big plays."

In his first year leading the defense, Bennett seems to have changed the culture of the secondary. Orr said Bennett has brought new defensive schemes and overages to help out the defensive backs. He also said the unit has worked to shore up their tackling and give up less big plays.

"Last year was what it was," Orr said. "We're looking a lot better this year."

And there's more steps to be taken, as Orr noted that there's still room to learn the system. He said the defense has had some difficulties reading the quarterbacks' eyes and covering receivers when they run routes involving double moves.

While it's not perfect, Orr is confident with what he's seen from the secondary entering the 2017 spring game on Saturday. 

"Offense is barely scoring on us, so we're doing something right," Orr said.

Furthermore, the Sun Devils are missing some experience in the defensive backfield this spring, with redshirt junior defensive back Armand Perry and redshirt senior safety Marcus Ball missing most of spring. But on the flip side, their absences create opportunities for others, including senior defensive back Chad Adams and redshirt freshman defensive back Chase Lucas.

Wide receivers coach Rob Likens thinks the elevated play of the defensive backs will help the offense as well.

"We want it hard everyday at practice," Likens said. "When the defensive backs get better, all it does is help us get better."

Practice Notes:

ASU did the "W" drill, where two defenders try to get past two blockers to tackle a running back before he gets in the end zone.

Graham noted Wednesday that redshirt sophomore quarterback Blake Barnett "had his best day today."

Wednesday's practice was the last before Saturday's spring game, which kicks off at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.

Reach the reporter at or follow @Harris_Mark7 on Twitter.

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