CAMP TONTOZONA, Ariz. — If Chase Lucas locks down the starting right cornerback position this season, Sun Devil fans will have a tailor-made tagline to scrawl on their game-day signs.
“I call it Lucas Island,” the redshirt freshman from Chandler High School said Tuesday at Camp Tontozona. “The safety is going to help me a little bit, but he ain’t going to help me all the way.”
Arizona State tore down its secondary this offseason and is in the process of rebuilding it. Phil Bennett replaced Keith Patterson (now linebackers coach) as defensive coordinator, and the underperforming unit was decimated by losses, two of which happened unexpectedly when safety Armand Perry retired for health reasons and cornerback Kareem Orr transferred to Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Defensive backs coach T.J. Rushing admitted on Tuesday that the Sun Devils coaching staff is still trying to identify which pieces fit where. Receiver John Humphrey took reps with the unit on Tuesday, and freshmen Langston Frederick and Alex Perry (Armand’s brother) moved from corner to safety with the second team.
“Whenever the smoke settles and we’re getting to trot out there [for the season opener] Aug. 31, you want to be able to put your best 11 on the grass,” Rushing said.
Lucas may be the only guy the Sun Devils have settled on thus far. Coach Todd Graham considered playing him last season because of his obvious athleticism, but Lucas had never played defense before he arrived at ASU. He played running back and wide receiver at Chandler.
“It took me a year to really get it down and get comfortable with the position but now that I know a little bit of technique — I’m still trying to work on it — my feet and my ball skills are really the main reason why I’m still playing corner,” Lucas said. “I can attack the ball and I’ve got quick feet and I can also cut off vertical routes. Once I get my technique down, I feel like I can be a major threat in the Pac-12, but as of right now, I’m still trying to figure it all out.”
Lucas said the process felt more uneven last season.
“After that whole year I took off when I redshirted, coach Graham really sat down with me and asked me if this is what I really wanted to do because I was down on myself,” Lucas said. “I talked to my mom, talked to my grandparents and I finally made the ultimate decision to stick to corner and I think it’s the best decision I’ve made so far.”
Both Graham and Bennett say Lucas has the physical tools and the attitude for the position. Aside from the technique hurdle, which Rushing said is still progressing, Lucas admitted he has to develop a better emotional approach to the position.
“When they try to coach me I get so frustrated and so mad with myself because I don’t know this position,” he said. “I get so frustrated when I get beat on a vertical line or somebody catches a short slant on me.
“I’m working on it; mental maturity. Coach Bennett says from the neck up, I’m still immature, but from the neck down I’m ready.”
Whether or not Lucas’ mind catches up to his body, the Sun Devils may have no choice but to throw him into the fire and let him learn on the job. The secondary is perilously inexperienced. Lucas and others will have to grow up quickly.
“That’s the reason why I wanted to play corner,” said Lucas, who played strong safety at the US Army All-American Bowl. “When I was talking to coach Graham, he said I’m long, I’m built like a corner. I wasn’t really built like a running back so I made the ultimate decision to play corner.
“I think my attitude and personality fits this position. You’ve got to have confidence. If you don’t have confidence in yourself nobody is going to have confidence in you. Hopefully in the season, I don’t get a couple penalties or something for talking trash.”
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