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March 30, 2012

Players adjusting to new devil backer position

Carl Bradford arrived at Arizona Sate as a linebacker prospect who was eventually moved to defensive end. Now, he gets to play both.

Bradford, a sophomore and position-mates senior Gregory Smith and sophomore Jordan McDonald, are the three players working this spring at what's being called the devil 'backer position, a hybrid defensive end and linebacker role.

"It's a lot of responsibility because you've got to know the whole defense, Bradford said. "You've got to have contain, in one defense you've got to read the (offensive) tackle and see if it's pass or run, if it's pass we have to drop, if a run we've got to rush. We've got to have contain, breakdown, know the different stunts and all that. That's what I've got so far."

In the first couple weeks of spring practice, the devil backers have played exclusively on the boundary side of the field with their hand in the ground, lined up as a defensive end would though perhaps with a little wider split at times.

"Coaches said as soon as they get comfortable with me they'll start standing me up, whatever feels comfortable at the time," Bradford said. "They want to see how I progress with my hand in the ground."

Given that it's a new position with a new coaching staff, it's seemingly wide open for all three players currently battling on the depth chart, and it's a spot where junior [Junior Onyeali[/db] could line up if he's reinstated at some point in the future.

Though neither has been on the field enough to put up impressive numbers, Bradford and Smith showed glimpses of their potential on the field last season. Bradford had 12 tackles including 3.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks, with his big game coming at Utah Smith had seven tackles, 1.5 of which were for loss with one sack. His two tackles for loss came on crucial back-to-back plays against USC with the second one being a blind sack of quarterback Matt Barkley that caused a fumble which ASU recovered.

"I feel like it's a great position because in the League (NFL) I'd play the same position," Smith said. "I won't be an every down d-end so it allows me to get the linebacker side as well as getting the d-end side.

"My favorite part is being able to drop back in coverage because you can get picks and big hits."

McDonald, a tweener who arrived at ASU significantly underweight before rebounding and showing improvement last spring and in the fall in a deep reserve role, said he believes the role is ideal and he's excited as a result.

"I feel like I'm really suited for it because I'm more of an athletic guy," McDonald said. "I'm a tall guy, a rangy guy, so I have a little bit of both. I'm a bit lighter so I'm not really a d-end. I'm a bit of both. So I think it's perfect for me.

"The coaches want me to be heavier but not a lot heavier. Before it was 40 or 50 pounds which was a lot for me but now it's more like 10 or 15 which is more manageable."

Outside linebackers coach Joe Lorig, who works with the devil backer position, said he's been encouraged by what he's seen from the personnel he has to work with early on.

I'm really excited about their development," Lorig said. "It's a little bit more intricate because you're asking a guy to be a defensive linemen and also a linebacker who has to drop so he's got to not only have the physical tools to do that but also the mindset to switch gears to rush the passer one time to being a dropping linebacker the next time. From that standpoint it's a unique position and it takes a specific skill set.

"They're getting a little better each day learning a new system. I think we've got really good talent there. We've got Carl Bradford who is very athletic, he was a good pass rusher last year from watching the tape, Greg Smith is a big, physical kid, I really see him improving and then Jordan McDonald who I've seen tremendous growth in from the time I got here. So we've got a long way to go, no question, but I'm excited and pleased with where they are at as far as effort and attitude. They've got bright eyes and big smiles and that excites me."

Thursday notes

  • Arizona State's defensive line as disruptive throughout team period as it's been all spring, with junior tackle William Sutton leading the way and senior Toa Tuitea rebounding after a lackluster showing Tuesday.

  • Sun Devil coach Todd Graham said he's been pleased with the offensive line and junior running back Kyle Middlebrooks. Thursday, red shirt freshman Sil Ajawara worked with the first-team at left guard for the first time, with sophomore Jamil Douglas moving to second-team left tackle.

  • Saturday's scrimmage, which is open to the public, will run from 9-11 a.m. at Sun Devil Stadium and be like a game-day atmosphere Graham said, down to the headsets worn by coaches and an announcer in the venue.

  • Recruits continue to flock to practice. Thursday was the first appearance from Blue Ridge High Rivals100 recruit Chans Cox, who attended with his father. Rivals 250 quarterback Tyler Bruggman has been a regular and was there again Thursday.


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