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Pierce hopes ASU’s new scheme can create more takeaways in secondary

Defensive back Jack Jones #21 of the Arizona State Sun Devils celebrates with defensive lineman Tyler Johnson #41 during the second half of the NCAAF game against the Arizona Wildcats at Sun Devil Stadium on November 30, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. — ASU co-defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis played down the adjustment it would take to switch from a 3-3-5 to a four-man front on defense.

“I don’t think it’s as big a thing. It’s just, you have a lot of words,” Lewis said. “Still gotta play gap control football and so forth, and that’s the same thing that was taught here before. It’s just a matter of structure and players.”

Adjusting that structure and those players leads to changes, though. Just a few days into practice, the secondary is seeing differences in their roles.

Evan Fields, who played Tillman safety last year, said the two safeties will need to communicate this year without the third man.

In general, the secondary has more protection with the new system because of the extra defensive lineman.

“Say we have deep paths, we can focus more on the paths whereas last year we had to kind of trigger faster because there would be more holes,” Fields said.

That already been important even if it is just a week into practice.

Offensive coordinator Zak Hill’s offense is fast. There’s a lot of motion — more than ASU’s defense will likely face in many matchups. They’re getting attacked quickly.

“We’re getting a lot of things thrown at them offensively. A lot of movement, a lot of change … we’re not getting to play stagnant defense,” Lewis said. “It’s been great so far for them, we don’t know what’s coming the next play.”

Co-defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce thinks it’ll help the players learn to adjust and communicate on the fly.

“Hell, how many shifts and motions he got? This guy’s got guys going all over the place,” Pierce said. “That’s not going to happen when we play a lot of teams. They don’t do that. They just line up … It’s going to slow us down, they’re giving us so much now it’s going to make us better down the road.”

So far, the secondary, led by Fields, Aashari Crosswell, Jack Jones and Chase Lucas, has looked solid overall during drills and 11-on-11s.

“I feel like we’re out there playing faster,” Jones said. “I feel like guys are out there playing on fire and it’s just 11-house to the ball all the time.”

With more man coverage, Pierce believes the secondary will have more chances to get takeaways. Last year, Jones was getting used to not only the new team, but playing Div. I football after leaving USC for Moorpark College in the 2018 season. Lucas had a cast on most of the year. Pierce didn’t think Crosswell wasn’t as good as his freshman year.

Crosswell intercepted a pass Tuesday.

“You see the guy now, we all look like, ‘Woah,’ that’s the guy that I’ve known since he was 14,” Pierce said.

With the experience of ASU’s secondary, the coaching staff is hoping the system can create more takeaways.

“I think those guys are ballhawks,” Pierce said. “… If they’re able to be healthy and play the ball and play a lot of man and a lot of opportunities to go attack the ball. When we play zone, they’ll be able to steal a couple.”

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