TEMPE, Ariz. – Compare the Arizona State depth charts from 2011 and 2012 and you’ll note a host of defensive changes. The defensive line could have three new starters, while the linebacking corps and safety position will be modeling fresh faces across the board.
It should be a positive sign that cornerbacks Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr are returning, but that remains to be seen.
“They have some experience,” cornerbacks coach Joe Lorig noted, “some good experience and some bad experiences. At that position we teach them to have a short memory, and it definitely applies to those two.”
All looked good for the pair during a 6-2 start last season. The Sun Devils picked off 13 passes in those first eight games, including three by the secondary in a key 35-14 win at Utah. But the wheels came off the bus on a wet and cold November day in Pullman, Wash., when Cougars freshman Connor Halliday lit up the secondary by completing 27 of 36 passes for 494 yards and four touchdowns in a Washington State win.
ASU’s secondary never recovered from that beat-down by one of the Pac-12’s worst teams. Carr says they’re ready to now.
“We got a new coaching staff. You have to put stuff behind you,” Carr said. “If you’re stuck in the past, you’ll never get better. You’ll stay where you are or go on a decline.”
If you believe the coaching staff’s current comments are more than preseason hyperbole, Carr and Irabor are headed in the right direction. Coach Todd Graham singled out Irabor for praise multiple times during spring ball, and Lorig praises both players as much for their character as he does for their abilities.
“I don’t say that about everybody, but you don’t come across a lot of kids like them,” he said. “They’re even better people than they are players.”
There is some evidence of this when speaking with them. They’re articulate and intelligent. They speak openly about past failures and passionately about their desire to improve.
A good portion of that is due to some early returns on their relationship with their coaches.
“I was listening to him, I put my faith in him and I put my trust in him,” Irabor said of Lorig’s work this spring. “Then I saw myself getting better every day in practice, so I started believing in him more and more.”
There is plenty of work ahead, specifically with technique, which is where most players’ performances break down.
“As you play more, you realize the little things coaches have been coaching you to do are a big deal,” Lorig said. “If you shoot with the wrong hand or step with the wrong foot, that fraction of a second makes a big difference.”
There are specific challenges for Carr and Irabor, too. Carr was not viewed as an able or willing tackler last season. Much of that was due to a shoulder injury that bothered him more than most knew. Some of it was due to will.
“The first thing (Lorig) asked was: ‘What do you think you need to get better on?’ I was like, ‘Being physical and tackling,'” Carr said. “He said, ‘OK. Thank you. You know exactly what you need to work on.’
“Of course you have to practice tackling every day and practice being great at it, but it takes high intensity. That’s what I’m bringing this year.”
The pair will have some competition. Redshirt junior Robert Nelson has been running with the starters the last few days as Lorig gives him as look. Rashad Wadood and Jarrid Bryant will also be factors.
There will also be times this season when they’re burned and replaced. It comes with the position, particularly in the pass-happy Pac-12. But barring injuries, Lorig expects both to respond to every challenge.
“This is a big boy league,” Lorig said. “There’s going to be some good times and some bad times, but we’re going to get through them together.” Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter