In 2018, defensive improvement was one of several positives in ASU football’s 7-6 season. Chase Lucas and his fellow defensive backs hope to further strengthen the unit.
Not long ago, Arizona State’s secondary was its achilles’ heel. Opposing quarterbacks – regardless of their true skill – torched the Sun Devils with ease, putting up video-game numbers consistently. In 2016, the unit allowed 274.9 passing yards per game, the second-worst mark in the Pac-12.
But that narrative no longer holds form in Tempe. Over the last two seasons, the secondary has climbed to the new heights, finishing fifth and sixth in pass defense in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
During that stretch, the defense has endured a lot; it’s been hard to pinpoint the unit’s identity because of personnel turnover.
Cornerback Chase Lucas, however, has been a pivotal component in the secondary’s overhaul. He said the group’s bond has elevated the defensive core into a functioning group.
“There’s nothing that we couldn’t do together,” Lucas said. “We’re tough, we really are, no matter how many guys we had.”
Instead, it displayed their perseverance and ability to adapt.
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“I don’t think that mattered to us, and it showed our grit,” Lucas said. “I’m really impressed with the defensive core we got. We just got to keep rolling from here.”
A rising redshirt junior, Lucas has two seasons of substantial playing time under his belt. In those two years, Lucas recorded 121 tackles and five interceptions.
Now heading into his fourth year in the program, Lucas is among the oldest defensive players on the roster. Several of last year’s impact players on defense were underclassmen, such as Darien Butler, Merlin Robertson and Aashari Crosswell. Plus, seven defensive players signed in the 2019 recruiting class, some of which are expected to see the field immediately.
Lucas hopes to provide leadership to an otherwise youthful core.
“I kind of want to lead by example,” Lucas said. “I know there’s a bunch of young cats that are coming in, we still got some cats that were freshmen last year.
“I’m excited, I’m really well prepared for the fall.”
At the beginning of the 2019 spring practice season, Lucas was absent due to family-related matters. Despite his 2018 success, Lucas’ starting spot wasn’t guaranteed upon return. In fact, he began the spring on second-team defense.
But that didn’t last. He quickly ascended back into the starting spot.
“I worked really hard to get to where I’m at,” Lucas said. “I needed to get my feet wet, I needed things to start clicking for me.”
A vital piece to Lucas and the secondary’s growth has been defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales, who was hired ahead of the 2018 season. In his first year, he changed the unit’s practice routine and helped the run defense develop.
“I’m really thankful for the things that he’s done with the program,” Lucas said. “We’ve come a long way, and we still got a long way to go.”
One of Gonzales’ key principles is cross-training, or teaching defensive backs to play each others’ positions.
Learning a new area of the field can be a difficult transition. But, for Lucas and cornerback Kobe Williams, it has enhanced their skill sets.
“Me and Chase playing both sides of corner, all the safeties play each others’ positions; it helped us out a lot,” Williams said.
Williams plays on the opposite side of Lucas as the team’s other starting cornerback. The two have worked to bolster a once-lagging secondary and, while doing so, have become close friends.
Even so, competition is a constant between the duo.
“We just compete the whole time,” Williams said. “We’re trying to prove that we’re one of the top corners every time, so that’s what we do every day.”
While Lucas and Williams compete almost nonstop in practice, seeing each other succeed fulfills them with pride. This was on full display in the 2019 Maroon and Gold practice.
Freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels had yet to throw a pick in spring ball, but Williams changed that with a one-handed snatch in the end zone. No one was more ecstatic than Lucas.
“That s*** was dope,” Lucas said. “We were really practicing the back shoulder, and I think he read it perfectly.
“That’s my boy.”
That scrimmage marked the conclusion of the 2019 Spring Football season. Lucas and his teammates will wait a long four months until once again throwing on the pads.
For Lucas, however, the grind doesn’t stop.
“Perfect my technique, get everything in order,” Lucas said. “The biggest thing that I can really focus on is getting in the film room and just trying to prepare.”
Taking observations from spring ball isn’t easy. The reps aren’t full speed, and several freshman are still enrolled in high school and, as Herm Edwards put it, getting ready for the prom. ASU’s identity on defense won’t truly be known until Aug. 29 – a Thursday-night contest against Kent State.
But Lucas expects the secondary’s progression to continue.
“I think our secondary is going to be really, really good this year,” Lucas said. “We all have that drive to win, so the sky is the limit for us.”
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.