TEMPE, Ariz. — A year ago, Arizona State was supposed to be getting its first look at highly touted recruit Chans Cox, an in-state linebacker who graduated high school early to participate in spring drills.
A year later, the Sun Devils are finally getting a good look at him on the field.
Finally healthy after a year of battling injuries, Cox is getting opportunities in spring practice that could lead to a starting job in 2014.
"Chans has done really well," coach Todd Graham said. "He’s been impressive."
Cox has seen reps with the first-team defense at devil linebacker — Carl Bradford’s old position — and defensive end, though Graham told Cox on Saturday that he will play Devilbacker. Fellow redshirt freshman Viliami Latu also is competing to replace Bradford at the hybrid position.
Though Cox wouldn’t have had the chance to start last season anyway with Bradford around, he is now getting the opportunity to prove himself as he couldn’t last spring. A foot injury knocked him out of spring practice just two sessions in, and Cox didn’t get the head start he’d hoped to by enrolling early.
"It was real frustrating," Cox admits. "But I was able to learn a lot. It wasn’t like I was at home sitting on couch. I was out here learning from Carl Bradford, learning the position, learning the program and being in the weight room. So it was all really beneficial."
Cox didn’t get the chance to use his head start much in the fall either, as a shoulder injury ultimately relegated him to a redshirt season. As limited as the opportunities to play might have been with as stocked as ASU was defensively, Cox still felt like an opportunity was slipping through his fingers.
"I definitely felt like I was missing an opportunity," Cox said. "But I knew that I was still making progress."
Cox has indeed shown progress this spring. He’s visibly more comfortable and technically capable at Devilbacker and says he is focused on getting out of his stance rather than just getting into it, as he was last year.
While Cox knows he will have to beat out Latu and at least one more competitor for the starting job come fall, he’s embracing the challenge and eagerly making up for lost time.
"Being off almost all of last year really hurt," Cox said. "I was able to learn a lot from Carl, but putting in the action is something different. I’ve just got to keep working."
Like Cox did last year, junior college transfer Edmond Boateng arrived at ASU in time for spring practice, and he’s reaping the benefits. The 6-foot-4, 267-pound defensive lineman is just six practices into his career as a Sun Devil, but he’s already making a strong impression.
"We did a great job recruiting the right guy there," Graham said. "He’s a guy that I consider right now — if you asked me, he’d be in the starting rotation."
Such a statement obviously has to be taken with a grain of salt in the spring, with new recruits yet to arrive and ASU especially thin ASU at the position after graduating its entire starting line.
Still, Boateng, a product of New Mexico Military Institute, has done enough over the first two weeks of spring practice to work his way into first-team opportunities at defensive end. Boateng appears to be adapting quickly to the pace of Division I football.
"Everything’s moving fast, and I’m slowly staring to get to that pace," Boateng said. "Nothing stops at this level. It’s constant, constant, constant. It’s just a matter of time until I really get right. I feel myself getting into a groove with things."
Boateng said he sees his early arrival as an opportunity to adjust to that pace, blend into the program and learn ASU’s system before the rest of his signing class arrives. He also sees it as a sort of grace period in which he can afford a few mistakes and learn from the intense coaching staff.
"They’re always after it, always getting going," Boateng said. "It’s kind of crazy, because coaches typically want to take their time and teach you a little bit, but (here) they’re moving at a fast pace and they just want you to be right there with them."
— ASU scrimmaged for a significant stretch for the first time Saturday, though Graham said much of it was scripted for success or for adversity. Graham has said the defense, having lost nine starters, is not ready for pure scrimmaging yet against an offense that’s returned most of its key pieces.
— Freshman linebacker D.J. Calhoun, an early enrollee, continues to impress two weeks into spring practice. He had perhaps the biggest hit of the day Saturday, knocking running back D.J. Foster on his back, and intercepted a Taylor Kelly pass.
"He’s as good of a freshman linebacker as I’ve been around," Graham said. "He’s got so much ability. What I like about him is that most of the time when you get a freshman in and you’re coaching him, he’s like, ‘Now, what do I do on this?’ (Calhoun) don’t do that. He just says ‘OK,’ and he just plays and he learns a little bit every day. He’s going to be a great one."
— Offensive lineman Christian Westerman, eligible this year after sitting out last season following his transfer from Auburn, has been spending more time with the first-team offense. He worked mostly at right guard Saturday but also saw some time at right tackle.
— Former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson attended ASU’s practice Saturday with his son, Keyshawn Johnson, Jr., a 2017 recruit.