Defense stands out at Arizona State football spring practice with ‘attack the ball’ mentality

Mar 28, 2024, 4:45 PM

Head coach Kenny Dillingham...

Head coach Kenny Dillingham of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts during warm-ups to the NCAAF game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Mountain America Stadium on September 09, 2023 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TEMPE — Kenny Dillingham has his list of mantras for his team throughout the first two spring practices of the 2024 season.

One from Thursday was quite simple: “Attack the ball.”

“The key to the game is the ball,” Dillingham said. “In practice one, we kind of played brother ball, where he’s gonna, you know, tag off on one another, the ball’s near you. ‘Hey, great job, buddy! High five!’

“You got to practice. Even though we’re (only) in helmets, you got to attack the football. And the only way you can attack the football is if you chase it.”

One position group that stood out to Dillingham and defensive coordinator Brian Ward on Thursday was the defensive line.

According to Dillingham, the “attack the ball” mentality showed up, and the energy increased after the first day.

The defensive line needed some rearranging over the offseason after losing B.J. Green, who transferred to Colorado. Green was tied for the most sacks on the team last season with six.

Dillingham stressed the importance of getting enough depth on the defensive line to keep up throughout an entire college football season, and he believes he’s achieved his goal.

“We have more depth than last year,” Dillingham said. “Last season in the fourth quarters of games, third quarters, second half of the season, we fell off.”

Prince Dorbah, Clayton Smith and Dashaun Mallory have all returned from last season and are expected to make their marks in the trenches this season. ASU also brought in Jacob Kongaika (Arizona) and Jeff Clark (Louisville) to solidify the depth while competing for starting positions.

Blazen Lono-Wong has been a standout among defensive line returners. Ward thinks that the sophomore could crack into a starting spot at some point this season if his production keeps up.

Ward mentioned that Lono-Wong, along with Dorbah and Smith, bulked up over the offseason. Smith gained 15 pounds, while Dorbah gained 10.

“All muscle,” Ward said. “Those guys look a lot different and it’s fun because it’s shown on the field so far. I can’t wait to see them in some pads on Saturday and see what happens.”

Cole Martin has made an immediate impact in the secondary, making multiple highlight plays during practice despite being new to Ward’s defensive philosophy.

Martin, a four-star recruit out of Basha High School in Chandler, transferred into Tempe after one season with the Oregon Ducks. As a true freshman in 2023, he appeared in every game and finished with 21 tackles, two passes defensed and an interception.

“He’s great,” Ward said. “He’s a lot of fun to coach, and he really wants to be good. He has a high football IQ. And obviously, he’s been blessed with a lot of ability.”

On Saturday, ASU will practice in full pads for the first time this spring with the doors open to the public at the fields outside Verde Dickey Dome in Tempe.

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Defense stands out at Arizona State football spring practice with ‘attack the ball’ mentality