In 2016, the secondary was an area of criticism of those who followed ASU football.
The team as a whole had the worst passing defense in the FBS last season, allowing an average of 357.4 yards per game — 11 more than the second-worst team.
That prompted a change.
In January, ASU hired Phil Bennett as their new defensive coordinator and reassigned then-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson to become the linebackers coach. Bennett had most recently been the D.C. at Baylor, which finished 81st in total defense out of 128 teams.
In a recent podcast with AP, Graham discussed changes to his coaching staff and to his roster, among other things. He told Ralph Russo that he thought Bennett was the guy to address the issues with defensive backs.
“We just felt like we needed to bring in a great secondary guy, and a guy that could help us,” Graham said. “I just think the coaching and the development of the secondary, we wanted to bring in the guy who had the experience, and Phil’s had unbelievable experience.”
Last year, players like Armand Perry, Kareem Orr and Gump Hayes were regulars in the secondary. This year, Graham said that was an area they focused on in recruiting.
But whether it’s because of recruiting, development of players, better coaching or just guys returning from injury, Graham sounded optimistic.
“I think in the first seven days of spring, it’s markedly improved,” he said. “And I think Phil has done a great job with those guys. But that’s the area where we’re the thinnest, as far as depth. We’ve got some newcomers in there, but on the same hand, we’ve got guys that are really having a great spring there.”
So-called “big plays” were often a pitfall for ASU football in 2016, which finished 5-7 after starting its year 5-1. The Sun Devil defense allowed the sixth-most points in the FBS last year (39.8) and was the second-worst in total defense among FCS schools last year, allowing 6,246 yards. Only Texas Tech was worse.