ASU football touts improved position groups in final spring practice

Sunday's Maroon and Gold Practice marked the Sun Devils' last spring practice and highlighted the growth from the team's tight ends and secondary

ASU football capped off its spring season with the Maroon and Gold Spring Practice in Tempe on Sunday. The Sun Devils look to improve on their 2-2 record in 2020 after having three of their games canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

While the team looked to improve as many facets of its team as possible throughout the spring, here are a few that stood out in Sunday's practice.

Offense looking to generate more production from tight ends

Offensive coordinator Zak Hill and newly promoted tight ends coach Adam Breneman are looking to generate more scoring production out of their tight ends in 2021.

In 2020, the team focused on getting more tight ends on the field, using more two tight end formations than in seasons prior.

The Sun Devils’ longest play last season came from a 74-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels to senior tight end Curtis Hodges, but the position was primarily utilized in the running game in 2020.

The tight ends continued to serve their run-blocking role for most of Sunday's practice. However, they were prominently featured in the team's red-zone passing offense. Redshirt freshman Jalin Conyers, a transfer from Oklahoma, caught two touchdowns in the practice. 

Head coach Herm Edwards said Conyers is a “very talented player,” and added “the tight end in our system is going to be a big factor,” in 2021.

Hodges and graduate student John Stivers did not play on Sunday, but both were highlighted by Edwards as other talented tight ends who will play a large role in the offense. Sophomore Case Hatch also caught a touchdown in the practice.

The tight ends could emerge as top targets for Daniels considering the wide receiving group's youth.

“Conyers stepped up a little bit today, you even see Case Hatch catching the ball and scoring a touchdown, so it was a good day,” Daniels said.

Aside from the offense struggling with discipline, with multiple plays flagged for false starts, the unit performed smoothly in both the running and the passing game, with tight ends contributing well in both aspects.

Experience key for defense, specifically in secondary

ASU's defense looks to return one of the more experienced secondaries in the Pac-12 in 2021, along with a strengthened defensive line.

Graduate student DeAndre Pierce, senior Evan Fields and redshirt seniors Jack Jones and Chase Lucas headline the defensive back group, along with a number of highly touted underclassmen. 

Sunday's spring practice highlighted the team's depth on that side of the ball. The starters played for the first few drives, but with the practice being mostly non-contact, much of the younger players within the secondary played most of the remaining snaps.

ASU redshirt freshman quarterback Trenton Bourguet (16) throws the football during the ASU maroon & gold practice on Sunday, March 28, 2021, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.

On March 22, Lucas said this year's secondary has already developed camaraderie he believed hasn't been achieved in previous seasons.

"I've been telling everybody this is probably the most talented group I've ever been a part of. It's something that you just got to see for yourself," Lucas said in a Zoom press conference. "We've got 20-something guys in the DB room, and not one person hates on another ... and that's something I've never had here."

On March 17, ASU defensive backs coach Chris Hawkins said he was "spoiled" with the talent of the secondary and added he can generate different lineups for certain teams, something "a lot of people can't do in this conference."

The secondary was an area that needs to improve for the Sun Devils to limit opponents' offenses. The team surrendered 252.5 passing yards a game last season, the fourth-worst mark in the Pac-12.

Elsewhere on defense, graduate student defensive lineman Travez Moore recorded a sack and pressured quarterbacks several times Sunday. The LSU transfer brings the Sun Devils a much-needed addition to their defensive line, defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce said.

"Our biggest need going into this year was a pass rusher, a guy that's dynamic," Antonio Pierce said. "Travez is bringing a lot of experience coming from the SEC country. He brings leadership, accountability and a certain toughness that we really don't have or get too often when you're on the West Coast, so he has been a pleasant surprise."

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