During the 2012 season, Arizona State’s Defense quietly became one of top units in the nation. 2013 could be better.
Considering the depth provided by a defense-heavy recruiting class, current performers like Jaxon Hood, Junior Onyeali & Carl Bradford, and the return of arguably the best Defensive Lineman in the nation, this years Sun Devil Defense could be one of the most dominant that we have seen in years. As Spring Ball draws closer, here are the important position battles to watch…
The Defensive Line
The DL was bolstered before signing day with the decision of Consensus All-American Will Sutton to return for his senior season. Because there are so many moving parts on the D-Line depending on the defensive scheme, players line up at multiple positions.
Flanking Will Sutton inside was Freshman All-American Jaxon Hood, who will benefit from a full season in the strength and conditioning program. At the end position (opposite Sutton when he lined up outside) were Junior Onyeali and Davon Coleman who both made huge strides in 2012. The DL combined to finish among the leaders in the nation for sacks and tackles for loss. Newcomer JC transfer Marcus Hardison, who has the rare combination of size and explosiveness, should be an immediate threat on the defensive front. An interesting addition to the group is DE Kisima Jagne. If he can knock off some rust and get serious in the strength and conditioning program, Jagne has the intangibles to fight for playing time. The signing of 6-6, 235 LB JC transfer Demetrius Cherry (a Julius Peppers clone) will create a fierce battle for minutes at the DE position. DC Paul Randolph has a plethora of talent and schematic options for the front seven in 2013.
Depending on the defensive scheme, Carl Bradford, who played the “Devil” Backer, lined up more often as a stand-up rushing DE. Bradford had an all-conference season and should have garnered more recognition if not for having Sutton in the same defensive front. The “Spur” LB was locked down by Chris Young. Young also should have received more recognition both at the conference and national levels. His omission from the All-Pac 12 team was a travesty and will provide a healthy chip on his shoulder heading into his senior season. The LB position (and ASU team in general) loses its leader and resident iron man in “Will” Linebacker Brandon Magee. However LB looks to be in good hands if Carlos Mendoza can recover from a shoulder injury suffered against Illinois (a 2 interception game) early in the season. Having been coached in HS by Clay Matthews Jr, Mendoza has the size, speed, instincts and pedigree to fill the spot nicely. The “Mike” LB position was a true shuffling of personnel in 2012. Expect Stephon Martin to solidify this position in Spring. He will be challenged by two incoming freshman, Viliami Latu and JC transfer Antonio Longino. 4-star incoming freshman and local AZ player, Chans Cox is expected to challenge for one of the starting LB spots as well. Cox could also be moved to the 3 Back position on offense, as he is talented on both sides of the ball. Although both Grandville Taylor and Anthony Jones earned time at LB last year, they will now face tougher competition in this deep position group. Jones has all the physical ability to play any of the LB positions, but hasn’t put it all together on the field yet. If he ever does, look the hell out.
In 2012, the Sun Devil defensive secondary benefited from constant pressure on opposing QB’s from the Defensive Line and should expect more of the same this fall. Osahon Irabor manned the boundry-side CB spot and outperformed everyone’s expectations in 2012. If Irabor’s name doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because it was rarely heard. Usually the only time a CB garners name recognition is when he is beaten, and that rarely happened with Irabor last season. The field-side CB spot is up for grabs, but we predict it could come down to senior Robert Nelson and JC transfer Damarius Randall. Whoever does not win the CB spot opposite Irabor will likely be a candidate to fill the field-side (Free) safety position vacated by outgoing senior Keelan Johnson. Rashad Wadood missed last season with an injury, but he has the size, speed, and confidence to come back and fight for CB time as well. Lastly, Joe Eason rounds out the depth chart at CB, and reportedly he made some noticeable strides in bowl game practices that could up his stock in the spring.
Alden Darby is the returning Bandit (boundary) safety and will resume his role as the leader in the secondary. Darby is the player most likely to replace Brandon Magee as the vocal, inspirational leader of the Sun Devil D. After Darby at the Bandit position, Ezekiel Bishop should earn his spot this off-season. Laiu Moeakiola looks to be the most likely back-up. The Field (Free) safety position is a true toss-up going into the spring. With the departure of Keelan Johnson, no one has yet separated themselves to step right into the vacancy so we’ll watch that closely. As stated above the third corner may be moved over, and incoming freshman Marcus Ball (who has the versatility to play multiple positions on offense and defense) will vie for the position even though he may be best suited for the Bandit or Spur. A very interesting player to watch is incoming freshman James Johnson (#24 rated HS safety), who has the physical tools to come in and make some noise at Field safety immediately.
When considering all developments of the Sun Devil’s Defense, I believe the most important positions battles to watch are Will LB, Mike LB, Field side CB and Field side Safety. It will be fun watching who separates themselves from the competition. Despite a #32 recruiting class ranking, Coach Graham and his staff did a great job filling needs and creating depth where they targeted it. The number of returning starters and proven back-ups at most positions on the field has offered greater stability, and with that comes fierce competition for attention.
I can’t remember any point in this past decade that I’ve had this level of optimism going into spring ball. See you at practice.
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