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Armand Perry a critical cog in ASU’s hopes for improved secondary play

Arizona State defensive back Armand Perry (13) during the second half of the NCAA college football game against Stanford, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — When Armand Perry went down in Week 2 of Arizona State’s 2015 football season against Cal Poly, coaches initially thought it was a high-ankle sprain. The sophomore safety knew it was worse.

“I knew immediately that something was wrong,” Perry said. “I got back to the locker room and my foot was probably the size of a softball within 20 minutes. When I got home later that night it got even bigger.”

Perry suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain, along with ligament and bone damage. While the coaches were hopeful he might return late in the Pac-12 portion of the Devils’ schedule, Perry missed the rest of the season.

“The doctors told me it’s the worst ankle injury they have ever seen,” Perry said. “Thankfully, I was taped and spatted. If I wasn’t, they didn’t think I’d be playing right now so that’s one positive.”

Perry’s loss had ripple effects. He was slated to fill the enormous shoes of Damarious Randall at free safety last season. Randall was the Green Bay Packers’ first-round draft pick in 2015. With Perry out, the Sun Devils were forced to move freshman cornerback Kareem Orr to safety and it made a mess of their entire secondary.

From a statistical standpoint, the 2015 Sun Devils were the worst passing defense in school history, allowing 337.8 yards per game, which ranked dead last (127th) among FBS schools. ASU also allowed 35 passing TDs, which was tied with Oregon and better only than Rice’s 36 among FBS programs.

Perry’s loss was the flashpoint for an offseason change in philosophy.

“Position flexibility: that’s something that I keep saying over and over again when I talk about my DBs,” first-year defensive backs coach T.J. Rushing said. “We want our guys to be versatile; to be able to play multiple positions in case we see those injuries again.”

The Sun Devils are hoping that won’t happen. While much angst has been spent on ASU’s revamped secondary, coach Todd Graham isn’t sure change is a bad thing, considering the performance on the back end last season. With spur linebacker Laiu Moeakiola moving back to his familiar position at bandit safety, and Orr moving back to corner to build on an ASU freshman-record six interceptions last season, there is legitimate reason to believe the secondary will be vastly improved.

“We do need time together,” Perry acknowledged. “Running with the same group of guys helps because you know what their tendencies are but I think anybody in that DB room is good enough to step in and play and not miss a beat.”

As one of what Graham calls the three main communicators on defense, Perry will be critical to the unit’s improvement.

“He’s going to be a good player, a player we rely on in the back end because he does everything the right way and shows good character and good leadership,” Rushing said. “He has play-making ability, he’s sound in his technique and he’s smart; we look for smart players and that’s him. He recognizes a split after you run it to him once and he knows what plays are going to come from then on.”

With Perry and Moeakiola rejoining the unit, Rushing also believes he has more choices at his disposal.

“It changes the complexion of the unit a lot,” he said. “It makes us deep. We’ve got a competitive room and it’s going to be interesting to see who emerges as the top four or five guys that get on the grass.”

Perry is just thankful to have the opportunity.

“It was a real life battle that I overcame — tough months and months and months of rehab — but I think it made me better and I think it will turn out to be a positive because I got that year back so I’m only going to be a redshirt sophomore,” he said. “I’m so thankful to be here because I really put everything into this game of football. I’m a football junkie. I watch film every day, every week, trying to soak it up and I think that experience made me a smarter player and more mentally tough.

“I feel great now and it’s just good to be back out there with the team.”

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