ASU notes: Shuffling continues at linebacker spots
TEMPE, Ariz. — The last few days of fall camp at Arizona State have seen a revolving door at the linebacker positions.
As ASU tries to figure out its best options, particularly at Will and Spur linebacker, there have been enough moving parts to make your head spin.
“We’re trying to find out who are the best three,” coach Todd Graham said Wednesday. “We’ve got a whole bunch of guys we think are (in the mix).”
Spur is the root of all the upheaval. Senior Chris Young manned the hybrid linebacker/defensive back position capably last season, but he moved to will in the spring to replace Brandon Magee. Graham has liked what he’s seen of Young at the spot and would like to leave him there permanently, but Spur has remained unsolved.
Coaches hoped redshirt freshman Carlos Mendoza, naturally a Will linebacker, would take hold of Spur in fall camp, but he was slowed by a sore knee and later moved back to Will. Senior Anthony Jones has been solid but doesn’t seem to have wowed anyone yet and has been slowed this week by a minor injury. Will linebackers Grandville Taylor and Antonio Longino also have worked at Spur.
So ASU has begun making adjustments. Young has taken reps at Spur all week, as has Mendoza. Young has also worked at Will this week, and Graham said he will move back and forth, possibly depending on an opponents tendencies.
“Those are interchangeable now,” Graham said. “We’re doing some things there that make us a little more multiple.”
Grandville Taylor and Young will apparently be rotated between the spots, and Graham said if the season were starting tomorrow Taylor would be the starter at Will, alongside Young at Spur and inside ‘backer Steffon Martin. But redshirt freshman Salamo Fiso, who’s spent most of the camp backing up Martin, has gotten first-team action at Will this week.
“Salamo is doing well,” co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Paul Randolph said. “He’s extremely physical, (and) he works his tail off. He’s just a guy that’s been improving every single day. He’s trying to make it hard for us to keep him off the field.”
Further shuffling could take place soon, when Jones is back to full speed or if one linebacker pulls ahead of the rest.
Running back D.J. Foster and defensive lineman Jaxon Hood were major contributors as first-year freshmen last season, and there could be similar or greater impact from this year’s freshman group.
Marcus Ball appeared to establish himself as a starting safety before injuring his shoulder, expected to sideline him for three to five weeks. He’ll almost certainly play when he returns. Chans Cox is the next most likely freshman to contribute on defense, backing up Bradford at Devilbacker.
“He’s going to get better and better,” Graham said. “It’s just a different environment for him. I don’t think he’ll redshirt, but we’ll see.”
Graham also mentioned safeties James Johnson and Jayme Otomewo as possibilities, but he would prefer to redshirt both.
“I think offense is where you’ll see the most freshmen play,” Graham said.
Graham said freshman wide receivers Ellis Jefferson, Cameron Smith and Ronald Lewis will play. Jefferson has seen first-team action and could start in certain situations.
On special team, freshman Zane Gonzalez is poised to be ASU’s place-kicker and freshman Matt Haack is leading the competition for the top punting job.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
— Senior tight end Darwin Rogers was not at Wednesday’s morning practice due to an unknown injury suffered Tuesday. Graham said Rogers would be back soon.
— Graham said wide receiver Joe Morris, who has been limited all of fall camp after minor foot surgery, could go full speed right now. The team is just being cautious, Graham said, and Morris could be going full speed by the weekend.
— Robert Nelson got continued first-team action at field safety in the wake of Ball’s injury.