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CAMP TONTOZONA — With Arizona State’s first-team offense lined up inside the 10, Chase Lucas read the situation.

The redshirt-freshman cornerback knew he had to be prepared for fade routes and comebacks. He knew junior quarterback Manny Wilkins liked to pick on him. And just before the snap, Lucas saw Wilkins look at his man, redshirt-freshman receiver Frank Darby.

At the snap, Lucas pinned Darby and tried to get to his outside shoulder. In a split second, he picked off Wilkins’ pass, racing down the field for a touchdown, the biggest play from ASU’s first practice up here among the pines.

“I looked at Manny and I knew he was going to throw the ball,’’ Lucas said, “so I jumped the route, picked it and then gave them a little sauce at the end.”

ASU’s secondary is a full-scale construction project. That’s what happens when you field the nation’s worst passing defense two years in a row. Coach Todd Graham said Monday that he wanted to throw out the younger guys early in camp just to see what they could do. So far, it seems Lucas has showed plenty. Monday’s interception was his third in six practices.

CLOSE

Blake Barnett, Chase Lucas, Kalen Ballage and others talk a few favorite moments about Todd Graham. Some even offer up their impressions of their head coach.
Patrick Breen/azcentral sports

Last season, Graham considered playing Lucas, a true freshman who had prepped at Chandler High, but he held off. He knew Lucas was athletic enough, but he also understood the defensive back had much to learn. 

This is Lucas’ audition to show that he’s ready.

“I was so excited last year, but I got shot down,’’ he said. “I’m ready this year. Coach Graham, he’s bringing in some new corners to try and scare me. I told him, ‘No, man, I’m ready to do my thing.’ I’m going to prove to everybody, the ASU fan base and the whole Pac-12 that I’m going to be one of the best cornerbacks in this league.”

As you can see, Lucas (6-foot, 178 pounds) doesn’t lack for confidence. An important detail, however, is this: Outside of his time in Tempe, he has not played defense.

“Not a lick,” Lucas said.

At Chandler High, he rushed for 2,219 yards and 25 touchdowns, and also had more than 1,000-receiving yards. He played in the U.S All-American game. And he accepted his future was on defense.

“Defense is all about reaction,” said Graham, noting Lucas’ quick feet and ability to change directions. “Some of the best defensive backs that I’ve coached were tailbacks or quarterbacks. From the word go, we always recruited (Lucas) as a DB, and he’s really actually developed faster than I even anticipated. He’s got what he needs (athletically). He’s got to get the technique down and the experience, that’s a big thing.”

Lucas said the transition from offense to defense hasn’t been easy. Working with new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has helped. So, too, has a new approach.

“I got a killer mentality now,” Lucas said. “In high school, playing running back, I was more finesse. I wanted to get the ball and score. Now all I worry about is shutting down the person in front of me.”

Until recently, that person was sophomore N’Keal Harry, ASU’s best receiver, but Harry has sat out the past few practices with minor injuries. That Lucas was on Harry to start might suggest ASU is fast-tracking Lucas, trying to get him ready as soon as possible. At the same time, it’s still early.  Much can change, especially with this construction project.

“It’s competitive,” Lucas said.  “It really is, but that’s what I like. That’s how I was raised.”

ASU football practice report: Day 1 at Camp Tontozona

Closing football practice: Smart coaching or complete paranoia?

More: ASU seeking to improve nation’s worst pass defense

 

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Contact Doug Haller at 602-444-4949 or at [email protected] Contact him at Twitter.com/DougHaller. Dowload and subscribe to the ASU Pick Six Podcast