ARIZONA STATE FOOTBALL

Kenny Dillingham urges change in mindset at ASU football practice; Keith Abney II stands out

Apr 5, 2024, 7:44 AM

ASU head coach Kenny Dillingham, Arizona State vs Colorado Oct. 7 2023 (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Spor...

ASU head coach Kenny Dillingham, Arizona State vs Colorado Oct. 7 2023 (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE — Are you a multiplier or a divider?

That’s one of many questions that Kenny Dillingham has for his players this spring.

“We tried to recruit guys who make people around them better, not guys who divide and make people around them worse,” Dillingham said. “We turned some guys down this year that I wasn’t fired up about and wouldn’t be a multiplier for our team.

“There are times throughout the practice today that you see some of the new guys, you can see that mindset up there: a multiplier. And their energy makes somebody else around them better. We didn’t always have that in the past.”

ASU defensive line lacked mindset on Thursday

ASU’s defensive unit has had an up-and-down week in terms of energy. During Thursday’s practice, the defense was repeatedly beaten by the offense during the team scrimmage, specifically with the run game.

Dillingham chalks it up to the defensive line’s lack of the right mindset.

“Today the defense just didn’t have that dog in him. The dog wasn’t there,” Dillingham said. “This is a one-on-one fight with the man blocking, it is a fight to the death. If you don’t have that mindset, then you’re gonna wind up on the other end of it.”

Despite the defensive side’s struggle, defensive back Keith Abney II has stood out individually.

He only had two tackles and one interception in his freshman season but has brought his game to a different level this spring.

Abney was seen playing all over the secondary on Thursday, taking some reps at nickel while also sliding into a regular corner spot.

“He’s just so valuable at two positions,” defensive coordinator Brian Ward said. “I would argue there’s probably nobody on defense with a higher football IQ. He’s a guy who’s gonna play a lot of football for us this season and beyond.”

It’s been a good spring so far on offense

A bad day for the defensive line translated to a good day for the offensive line.

Arizona State was so thin in the position group due to injuries that defensive players were getting reps along the offensive line a year ago. Dillingham made a point to recruit for added weight as well.

“You can’t coach somebody to become a heavyweight when he’s a welterweight,” Dillingham said. “That’s challenging, right? So if you’re going to play in the heavyweight division, you better be big enough to be a heavyweight.”

And behind the line, quarterback Sam Leavitt, who transferred to ASU after playing sparingly last year at Michigan State, has looked to have already found his footing.

The redshirt freshman quarterback has been taking reps alongside returnee Trenton Bourguet and freshman Navi Bruzon during these first two weeks with Jaden Rashada missing most of the spring ball after having surgery on his thumb.

Leavitt has been taking advantage of that. He made multiple high-level throws into tight spaces to his receivers on Thursday.

“He’s getting better and better and better, and he’s still a freshman,” Dillingham said. “The kid cares. It matters to him and he has the ability. If you care, and it matters to you, and you have the ability, you’re usually successful.”

Among the standout receivers he was throwing to Thursday was Melquan Stovall. The receiver’s ability to beat his defender in stride and create separation was on full display, giving his quarterbacks an easy target to hit.

Stovall had 207 yards receiving in ASU’s run-heavy offense last season.

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Kenny Dillingham urges change in mindset at ASU football practice; Keith Abney II stands out