Arizona State on Wednesday practiced for the 15th time.
The Sun Devils open coach Herm Edwards’ first season Sept. 1 against Texas San Antonio.
Arizona State has had a few on-field skirmishes this preseason. The reason, at least most of the time: Defensive players slap at the ball a little too long and the offensive player takes exception.
No doubt, that would get old.
But it’s by design.
During his time at San Diego State, Danny Gonzales coached a defense that excelled at forcing turnovers. In 2016, the Aztecs ranked fifth nationally in this category. In 2015, they were second.
How’d they do it?
“If you play hard and you’re physical and you’re around the football, those things happen,” said Gonzales, in his first season as defensive coordinator on coach Herm Edwards’ ASU staff.
“Our offensive guys are getting tired of every time during 7-on-7 or inside run, they’re getting their arms beat up. They’re getting the ball pulled out. It’s turned into a couple fights sometimes because the offensive guys get tired of our guys at the end of the play, they think it’s a bunch of baloney.”
But he doesn’t care.
He said he tells standout receiver N’Keal Harry the same thing every day.
“Five of them — we’re going to get five (fumbles) from you. We’re going to beat your arms,” Gonzales said. “I tell them in the defensive meeting: Find Number 1. When he (catches) the ball, I want 11 dudes on him.”
To Gonzales, this not only makes Harry better, but it develops a habit needed to force turnovers.
“I’d be tired of it, too,” he said, “but l keep telling our guys it doesn’t matter. At the end of the fourth quarter, the more guys jumping on the pile, the more guys that are hitting that running back, all of a sudden the ball pops out and we’re going to be around to recover.”
Even if offensive coordinator Rob Likens asked him to back off, Gonzales said he wouldn’t budge.
“I wont ever call them off,” he said, jokingly adding:
“Me and Coach Likens will fight about it if he gets mad.”
This is the energy and aggressiveness that Gonzales demands. And he readily admits: It can’t be pulled off without discipline. He wants ASU to play as aggressively as possible. Take that last hit. Push yourself to the brink.
But don’t lose control.
And that’s a fine line.
“Through the first days of fall camp, we did a horrible job of that,” Gonzales said. “Guys are trying to shove each other after the whistle. They’re running into each other. We’re getting guys falling down and fighting. We’ve done a ton of addressing that stuff. But the style that we play and the aggressiveness that we play with, you have to be on the verge of being too much. … The last five days as opposed to the first 10 days were better.”
Gonzales knows ASU’s Todd Graham-coached teams were disciplined. Over six seasons, the Sun Devils five times finished in the Top 15 nationally in fewest penalty yards.
“We need to stay on that course,” Gonzales said. “Disciplined football teams usually do those things. And I think you can get them to play to that point and still be disciplined. Every once in a while, we’re going to hit a guy out of bounds that’s close — I can live with those (penalties). Three steps out of bounds, that’s dumb.”
Defensive players have ‘bought in’
Gonzales said ASU is ahead of schedule with playing the new 3-3-5 scheme. “Only because they’ve bought in,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous help having (cornerbacks) coach (Tony) White here. Me and Coach White have been together for the last 10 years, and I know what’s going on in his meeting room without having to be in there.”
Gonzales wants to rotate players, especially the linemen and linebackers.
“Some of those guys played every snap last year and if you watched, by the end of the game they were exhausted,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anybody in this world that’s in good enough shape to play 80 plays the way we want them to play. We’re trying to get them to play 40-50 plays with the prime 20 coming at the end of the game. You shouldn’t see any dip in how we start and how we finish. That’s the goal.”
Senior linebacker Koron Crump was back participating in individual drills. It’s been a slow recovery for Crump, who’s making his way back from knee surgery. He still has not worked in team drills yet.
Junior right guard Steven Miller remains out for health reasons. Junior Zach Robertson took his place on the first team, but Robertson got banged up during a team drill and missed time talking with a trainer. (It didn’t look serious.) Junior center Cade Cote took Robertson’s spot at right guard.
Sophomore end Shannon Forman was back with the first team defense after wearing a scout-team jersey for parts of Tuesday’s practice. Forman said he worked with the scout team just to give the offense a better look. … Senior receiver Ryan Jenkins — limited most of the preseason — got some reps with the first team.
ASU is scheduled to practice from 9:45 to 11:20 a.m. on Thursday at the Kajikawa practice fields. Now that the Sun Devils are game-planning for Texas San Antonio, public viewing is restricted.
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