ASU football's makeshift secondary approaching bye week as a learning opportunity

The Sun Devils are also hoping to get key players healthy before Senior Night against Utah next week

Defensive backs are often among the fastest and most agile players on their end of the field. This may be a big reason why it was so startling to see ASU football’s junior field safety Maurice Chandler badly mistimed his jump on Charles Nelson’s 31-yard touchdown reception against Oregon on Oct. 29.

“As a DB, a lot of things that other people see as embarrassing, you’ve just got to take it as a learning tool,” freshman cornerback Robbie Robinson said. “You’ll have critics … But as a secondary, you’ve just got to learn from it and get better.”

The Sun Devils (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) remain the worst pass defense in the FBS, allowing an average of 397 yards per game after freshman quarterback Justin Herbert carved up ASU for 489 yards and four touchdowns.

But what Chandler, Robinson, and even veterans like redshirt senior cornerback De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes have in their corner is a former NFL veteran to break down film with them: ASU defensive backs coach TJ Rushing.

“Coming in here, I had a lot of habits I had to break,” Robinson said. “We go over formations and route recognition so much that when you’re on the field with each other, you kind of see it coming.”

Robinson admitted that he eschews Tempe’s nightlife scene in favor of watching the “WRs vs DBs” segment on his preferred YouTube channel: Student Sports.

“I just watch Darrelle Revis or Jason Verrett go against stud receivers,” Robinson said. “Everybody’s watching film, even if they’re at home, they’ve got it on iPads.”

Hayes is now the elder statesman of a group missing redshirt sophomore safety Armand Perry and sophomore cornerback Kareem Orr. Chandler and junior safety J’Marcus Rhodes have seen more time in recent weeks due to ASU’s laundry list of injuries, and combined for 13 tackles against Oregon.

A junior college product himself, Hayes sees plenty of upside in fellow juco standouts Chandler and Rhodes.

“Just the physical attributes that they have, the size,” Hayes said. “They’re both young guys as well that’s coming in, but they’ve definitely got that heart and determination.”

While redshirt junior Marcus Ball has found a home at Spur linebacker, his presence was crucial early on in a stand-in role at bandit safety.

Ball said his positional versatility helped him before settling in at Spur, and that having players well-versed in the responsibilities of different spots can benefit the secondary in the long run.

That said, Ball now prefers his current situation, which gives him the chance to zero in on his technique and fundamentals.

“I feel like recently I’ve obviously set into one position,” Ball said. “When you can master one thing, it’s better because you can learn more about that one thing and focus more time on that one thing.”


Reach the reporter at smodrich@asu.edu or follow @StefanJModrich on Twitter.

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