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ASU’s experienced secondary gives Sun Devils more flexibility on defense

Arizona State's Chase Lucas (24) gestures that Arizona's offense didn't get their fourth down during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

Arizona State football expects to make a leap after going 8-5 last season, and a reason for that jump could be a more seasoned defensive secondary.

The Sun Devils’ secondary includes seven upperclassmen this year after only having five who played in over eight games last season. The secondary contains the most upperclassmen of any defensive group on the roster.

Two of the returning upperclassmen in the secondary, redshirt seniors Chase Lucas and Jack Jones, are two players co-defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis highlighted as leaders and messengers of the group.

He said the two give him “the ability to communicate through them to everybody else on what’s going on the field” due to their “leadership and understanding of the game of football.”

ASU looks to improve upon its pass defense from last year that allowed 268 pass yards per game, one of the worst marks in Division I football. The team also surrendered nearly two passing touchdowns per contest.

Those improvements begin with the group’s preparation and attention to detail.

Co-defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce highlighted Jones’ shift in attitude toward preparation this season, including showing up to the field 30 minutes before practice to take the time to warm up and improve his footwork.

“(Just) really taking that step to the next stage of his career, where we want to see him be that all-conference, All-American-type player,” Pierce said in a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday.

Jones said paying particular attention to smaller details of preparation is paramount, knowing he must lead by example and “do everything right” to set the tone for the rest of the group, especially for the younger players.

“Me being one of the older guys on the team, I’m not the younger guy anymore looking up. I’m an older guy looking down, helping out, leading,” Jones said in a Zoom call with reporters last week.

Pierce said that Jones’ attention to detail, along with his energy, has rubbed off on Lucas, saying they “feed off one another” competitively.

The back-and-forth between the two in practice is something both players embrace.

“Both of our success reflects off each other … because if he ball, then I have to ball,” Jones said. “We try to focus and lead and do the little things that coach says.”

Jones and Lucas aren’t the only upperclassmen taking responsibility to prepare more diligently. Senior defensive back Evan Fields said he has focused on adopting the philosophy of “being a pro,” something he said has matured him.

Lewis said the experience in the secondary may allow him to use more blitzes, though it would depend on the matchup.

“The experience of those guys in the back end and what they have learned over the last couple of years, the guys who have been playing here and their ability to be in tight in coverage and so forth gives you the opportunity to do more things,” Lewis said in a Zoom call with reporters Friday.

ASU ranked in the top half of Division I football in total yards allowed in 2019, primarily headlined by a top-30 rushing defense. If the performance from ASU’s rushing defense repeats this season, the secondary may hold the keys in helping the defense take that next step forward.

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