Arizona State football to debut new faces on defense in season opener

Arizona State was already shorthanded on returning starters on defense this season with just four.

However, the returning group took a hit in the secondary when potential starters Timarcus Davis and Jordan Clark were ruled out ahead of Thursday’s opener against Northern Arizona.

Losing both gave young players such as redshirt sophomores Ed Woods and DJ Taylor a chance to prove themselves.

Woods will take over for Davis at the corner after showing flashes of potential over the past two years, according to the depth chart released ahead of Thursday’s game. Woods saw no playing time in his rookie season in 2020 but showed a strong work ethic. His time on the pitch took a hit soon after when family issues took over and he was unable to participate fully.

From the start of training camp, it was obvious there would be movement in the secondary with four seniors leaving. Making the most of his opportunity, Woods approached newly promoted defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson.

“When he spoke to me, I told him to go back to when he came here and competed, that’s all he can do. If you’re beaten, you’re beaten. So what, we’re all beaten,” Henderson said. “But for a guy like that who came in as a freshman and stood out to lose a year because of all the things he was going through on and off the I told him not to worry about all those things. When you’re on the court, you’re on the court to play. That’s all you can do. If you make a mistake, you pass to something else.

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ASU’s youngest secondary will have a lot of catching up to do from last season. The previous group finished third in the Pac-12 in pass defense (194.8 YPG) and was second in steals with 16, one shy of Oregon.

November 27, 2021;  Tempe, Arizona, USA;  Arizona State Sun Devils defensive back DJ Taylor (29) against the Arizona Wildcats at Sun Devil Stadium.

What last season’s group accomplished is not lost on the new starting group. Taylor spent last season on special teams as a kick returner and studied in the secondary squad. He is listed as a starter at the nickel position in the secondary heading into Thursday’s opener.

Moving from defensive back to running back, then to defensive back, Henderson wanted Taylor to study the position more.

“He’s very athletic, he’s very fast, he’s strong, he’s tall. Last year when I was coaching high school, I held it back a bit,” Henderson said.

When Clark came down to training camp, Henderson knew Taylor would be a good candidate for the nickel because of his physical game. Since then, Taylor has proven he’s learning the job over the past two weeks.

“If we can put him in enough situations that it’s a repeat of what he’s supposed to do, he’ll skyrocket because of his athleticism,” Henderson said.

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Henderson helped the defense balance excitement and anxiety in Game 1.

“Try not to get too excited early on and use so much energy because that’s what’s going to happen. When you get excited and you build up all that energy, the next thing you know you’re going to start to hyperventilate and tire you out, those things,” Henderson said.

With all the emotions going around, Henderson sees it as a way to improve defensive connections and thinks his group is in good shape heading into Thursday’s game.

“Communication is going to be a big thing and they’ve done a good job on that,” Henderson said.

August 3, 2022;  Tempe, Arizona, USA;  Arizona State offensive lineman Joey Ramos (69) during practices at Kajikawa Training Ground.

injury report

Redshirt junior Joey Ramos will start at right tackle in place of Des Holmes. Holmes missed the final days of practice. Offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas has confirmed he won’t play opening week. His injury should take him out of Week 2 at Oklahoma State.

Redshirt senior Emmit Bohle, who was battling for the start at left tackle, will be the right and left tackle substitute.

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Another point of view

Thomas will start his first game as offensive coordinator at ASU in the stand. He preferred this option over being on the pitch for several reasons.

“You can see it from a different angle and we’ve had great guys who can communicate and relay information,” Thomas said.

Thomas also mentioned that coaches will call games in multiple ways, including signals and wristbands.

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602-647-4122. Follow her on Twitter @jennarortiz.

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