No coach has walked off the field after an early preseason scrimmage and felt good about what he just witnessed. By nature, these events are sloppy, filled with missed assignments and penalties, and that was the case for Arizona State on Saturday night.
At one point, it got so bad that coach Herm Edwards had to break from script and bring his team together at the Kajikawa practice fields.
“The tempo was not good early,” Edwards said. “That’s why I called them up, to tell them we got to save this practice. I think at the end we saved it some. That’s where as a coach … you’re always nervous about that. You have a couple good practices in a row and all of a sudden guys think they can just walk out here.”
That may not be the worst news.
Every coach fears preseason injuries, and the Sun Devils may have suffered one. On the night’s second play, senior safety Tyler Whiley went down with a right foot injury. After the scrimmage, Edwards didn’t have an immediate update.
“I’m always concerned when guys go in on a cart,” he said. “We don’t know (the severity of) what happened; I don’t want to jump to conclusions. The guy was really, really coming on, too. We’re praying and hoping for the best.”
ASU coach Herm Edwards discusses Saturday’s scrimmage in Tempe.
Doug Haller, azcentral sports
Senior quarterback Manny Wilkins has a deep history with Whiley, a Scottsdale Chaparral High graduate. He stayed with him during his official visit in 2014. He later lived with Whiley as a freshman and sophomore. As medical personnel tended to his friend, Wilkins knelt on the grass said a prayer.
“Hurts, but we’ll see what it is,” Wilkins said. “I pray that he’s good.”
Throughout his career, Whiley has played on special teams but he’s struggled to find a permanent place on defense. That might have been changing. Over the first week, Whiley ran with the first-team at the hybrid “Tillman” position, an important spot in ASU’s 3-3-5 scheme.
Sophomore Evan Fields also was in the mix there – along with senior Dasmond Tautalatasi – but Fields recently tweaked his hamstring. If Whiley’s injury is serious, depth suddenly becomes an issue.
“We’ll see how bad Tyler’s foot is hurt,” defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said. “Evan should be back sometime (next) week. And Das did a great job tonight. You didn’t notice anything happen in the middle.”
ASU defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales discusses Saturday’s Scrimmage in Tempe.
Doug Haller, azcentral sports
ASU has not had the best luck in preseason scrimmages. In 2011, linebacker Brandon Magee tore an Achilles tendon, falling to the grass not far from the spot in which Whiley went down. In 2013, linebacker Marcus Ball – running with the first team as a true freshman – broke his collarbone. In 2015, then-receiver Jalen Harvey suffered a similar injury. All were season-ending or near-season-ending injuries.
Saturday, junior center Cohl Cabral also left with a left knee issue, but as the night unfolded, he looked fine.
“We have to learn how to overcome adversity, and we didn’t do a very good job of that,” Gonzales said. “You can’t lose energy because you lose somebody. … Because to be honest, Tyler’s been one of our emotional leaders. He’s been really good with those guys. It was a big loss emotionally, which we need to overcome.”
The night didn’t start off well. A non-scholarship player tackled kick returner Brandon Aiyuk just seconds after special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum told everyone to avoid contact. That didn’t go over well.
ASU shuffled linemen. Junior Roy Hemsley – the USC grad transfer – got first-team reps at left guard. Junior Zach Robertson saw action at first-team right tackle. Sophomore running back Eno Benjamin ran well. Junior receiver Kyle Williams jumped over two defenders to catch a Wilkins bomb down the middle of the field.
Wilkins said ASU did “good things,” but overall the offense lacked rhythm, at times because of penalties. Asked if rotating personnel played a part, Wilkins didn’t hesitate.
“Excuses,” he said. “This could happen on a game day. No matter what the situation is you have to continue to control the environment, and that’s my job, to make sure we’re grounded.”
Football is strange, Edwards said. Sometimes a coach leaves practice thinking, “Man, that wasn’t good.” Then he’ll watch the tape and think differently. That’s the nature of coaching, he said. In the moment, bad always trumps good.
“You can’t correct talent,” Edwards said. “You can correct errors, mental mistakes and alignment mistakes. The problem is, you don’t want to have to continue to correct those. That means they’re not learning.”
A few seconds later, Edwards finished his media session. Before he left the field, however, he walked over to ASU’s medical staff, which provided him an update on his team’s health, good news or bad.
Note: Sophomore cornerback Chase Lucas did not attend Saturday’s practice because of a family matter, Edwards said.