2011 Arizona State Preview – Defense
Arizona State S Eddie Elder
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devil Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Coordinator Craig Bray has the necessary talent to forge a solid defense. Now what he needs is a little more consistency from his unit. While the Sun Devils generally overachieved in 2010, there were a few too many lapses in key games against Oregon, Cal, and USC. The 2011 edition will begin the season with a stout front seven, the backbone of last year's league-best run D, yet a few question marks in the secondary. The line features a deep rotation, with a good mix of youth and experience. Fleet-footed DE Junior Onyeali is the reigning Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year. The tone will once again be set by LB Vontaze Burfict, one of the most intimidating defenders in America. If he can focus his energy a little better, a spot on the All-American Team will be one of his many rewards. The issue for Bray will be a pass defense that was already a concern before star CB Omar Bolden suffered an ACL injury in April. The fate of the secondary could hinge on CB Deveron Carr, who ironically is returning from his own season-ending injury suffered last fall.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Vontaze Burfict
Tackles: Vontaze Burfict, 90
Sacks: Junior Onyeali, 6.5
Interceptions: Eddie Elder, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior CB Deveron Carr
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Alden Darby
Best pro prospect: Burfict
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Burfict, 2) Sophomore DE Junior Onyeali, 3) Junior LB Brandon Magee
Strength of the defense: Run defense, the front seven, team speed, third down defense, red zone D
Weakness of the defense: The corners, pass defense, penalties, takeaways, sacks
State of the Unit: The return of sophomore Will Sutton , who sat out 2010 due to academics, and the improvement of senior Bo Moos give the Devils a solid tackle tandem to build around. At 6-2 and 285 pounds, Sutton is extremely athletic and was a one-man highlight reel for most of spring. He'll contend for All-Pac 12 honors. The 6-0, 286-pound Moos, who had 17 tackles in 2010, is a classic run-stopper with a low center of gravity. Backing up the starters are a pair of juniors, 6-3, 285-pound junior Corey Adams and 6-3, 280-pound Toa Tuitea . Adams is a fine athlete for the position, but has been hampered by injuries for much of his career. Tuitea has shown some promise in the limited opportunities he's received.
Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year Junior Onyeali missed the spring to an injury, but is expected back in time for summer camp. He was terrific in his first year, making 11.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 6.5 sacks. The 5-11, 233-pound end in a linebacker's body has great speed and plays the game with perpetual motion. During the spring, he was ably backed up by 6-3, 255-pound Greg Smith . The junior is eager to put a quiet year behind him, displaying good quickness and enough size to defend the run on the outside.
Senior Jamaar Jarrett had a breakout year in 2010, making 40 tackles and 10.5 stops behind the line. Redshirt freshman Jordan McDonald worked on the scout team last season, and showed some flashes of potential in the spring. Derrall Anderson was moved to end from his linebacker position, and much like McDonald, showed some encouraging signs late in spring.
The program is excited about the arrival of 6-3, 250-pound JUCO transfer Davon Coleman . The coveted end is one of the 2011 recruits most likely to make an immediate impact. Athletically-gifted, he has three years of eligibility to make his mark on the program.
Watch Out For … Sutton. After sitting out 2010 for academic reasons, he may have been out of sight and out of mind for even some Sun Devil fans. Yet, a productive fall by the defensive tackle will go a long way toward producing a solid front four this coming season.
Strength: Run defense. The rotation at tackle has already shown in the spring that it's capable of leading the Sun Devils to the league run defense title for a second straight year. With help from the linebackers, Arizona State yielded just 119 rushing yards a game and 3.2 yards a carry last fall.
Weakness: Depth at end. While Onyeali and Jarrett form a solid duo, behind them is uncertainty. Arizona State has questionable depth on the outside, which will force some of the youngsters to grow up quickly.
Outlook: Arizona State could feature one of the better defensive lines in the Pac-12 depending on how well the ends perform. The Sun Devils are loaded with proven playmakers, but their depth will ultimately determine how consistent they can be game in and game out.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: Led by All-American candidate Vontaze Burfict , the linebackers are clearly the strength of this defense, if not the entire team. The All-Pac-10 selection paced the Sun Devils last year with 90 tackles, 8.5 of them for loss. It may be odd to call a 6-3, 252-pound middle linebacker lightning quick, but it applies to the junior. He has the range to make plays all over the field and the punishing hits to intimidate the opposition. Yes, his intensity has been the cause of a number of penalties and jeers from opposing crowds, but the staff likes his aggression as long as it's controlled. He's gone through a rapid maturation process since the mid-point of 2010, and is emerging as a true leader of the program.
Normally Burfict would be flanked by his Corona (Calif.) Centennial High teammates Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee . However, the 5-11, 230-pound Magee, who collected 73 tackles in 2010, missed spring practice due to his baseball obligation. He's one the fastest linebackers on the squad, using that quickness and superior instincts to make plays. He isn't known as one the more physical linebackers on the team, but that's not the case with Lyons. A 6-2, 230-pounder, he packs a punch and is fast enough to track down backs if needed. The injury bug has caused him to be inconsistent at times and he will certainly want to improve on the 22 tackles he registered last year.
Senior outside linebackers Colin Parker and Oliver Aaron continue to push for playing time. The tandem of late bloomers made its presence known in 2010, which became a trend in the spring. The 6-1, 228-pound Parker, fourth in 2010 with 54 stops, is a no flash, all substance player, who can camouflage average speed and athleticism with sound instincts. The 6-0, 208-pound Oliver has always been questioned about his lack of bulk, but there is no denying his speed and range. His 47 tackles, including 7.5 for loss, prove there is more to him that meets the eye.
Watch Out For … Anthony Jones . The 6-2, 217-pound sophomore may not even start a game this season, but in relief duty the athletic linebacker is a speedy ball-hawk who gets overlooked in a rich pool of ASU players at the position.
Strength: Speed. To say that this group is light-footed would be an understatement. Their closing speed on opposing ballcarriers is blinding, and their quickness is matched by extremely physical play. The depth of this unit allows for fresh legs and equal level play among starters and reserves alike.
Weakness: Discipline. Surely, this group has shown in the spring that it's playing more under control, avoiding over aggressive play and penalties. Can it now sustain that trend in the fall? Burfict will have to set the pace in this area.
Outlook: Arizona State feels it has an embarrassment of riches at linebacker. Much like a quality hockey team, it can roll out line after line of capable players without missing a beat. A solid D-line makes a talented group even stronger versus the run. The Sun Devil defense is poised for a big year, with this ensemble of linebackers fueling much of the optimism.
Unit Rating: 8.5
State of the Unit: The torn ACL injury suffered by next-level CB Omar Bolden has been the storyline of the offseason. The All-Pac-10 selection, who led the team's corners with 52 tackles and three picks, contemplated forgoing his senior year in favor of the NFL draft. Ironically, the secondary will have to deal with his absence in 2011 anyway.
The natural fit to fill his void is junior Deveron Carr . Although he played in just five games last year, the 5-11, 193-pounder has already proven to be an accomplished corner with a desirable combination of speed and physical play.
Stepping in the spring for both Bolden and Carr were sophomore Osahon Irabor and redshirt freshman Devan Spann . As a newcomer, the 5-11 180 Irabor played in all 12 games, totaling 40 tackles. The 5-11, 175-pound Spann showed much promise in the spring and is another young player who doesn't let his inexperience affect his football knowledge.
At free safety, Alden Darby, a classic utility man, has settled into his new role as the projected starter. While a lack of depth at corner makes it tempting to move the 5-10, 185-pound sophomore to that slot, his fine display of speed and savvy at safety will likely prevent that move. For most of spring Darby was joined by senior Clint Floyd . The 5-10, 198-pound veteran has had a rollercoaster of a career, but in the spring he showed that he just may conclude his tenure on a high note.
In fall camp, this group welcomes back two players who sat out spring with injuries. Senior SS Eddie Elder was third on the team last year with 64 stops, and is bucking to regain his job. The 5-10, 186-pounder is not very big, but plays much larger than his frame. Junior Keelan Johnson also returns, though the 6-0, 201-pounder faces an uphill battle to establish himself in the two-deep.
Watch Out For … the play of Carr. If the junior can remain healthy, he's got a shot to be one of the heroes now that Bolden has been shut down. A capable performance from the corner would inject some much-needed assurance into a position now begging for a leader and a bona fide star.
Strength: Safety. Coming off last year, it seemed incomprehensible to declare the safety spot as a position of strength. However, relatively speaking, that's exactly where the Sun Devil secondary rests these days.
Weakness: Corner concerns. There's no denying the inexperience factor at cornerback. Surrendering 446 passing yards and five touchdowns in the spring game didn't exactly send the group off on a strong note either. Many players here will have to mature in a hurry to prevent from being exploited during the regular season as well.
Outlook: The safety and corner positions appear to be almost at polar opposites. Once the safeties reload with injured players, it can prove to be a solid unit. The cornerbacks do have one major player returning from injury, Deveron Carr, but will have to show that they can survive life without the injured Bolden. The perceived inconsistency of this unit cannot manifest itself come September.
Unit Rating: 6.5
State of the Unit: In the spring, ASU had to break in a new punter and kicker. As it stands now, the results of that inauguration are mixed. Leg strength never seemed to be an issue for JC transfer P Josh Hubner or redshirt freshman PK Alex Garoutte . Consistency, however, has been an entirely different manner. The 6-4, 230-pound Hubner was an All-American at Scottsdale Community College. Based on his booming leg and superior hang time, he could make for a smooth transition from outgoing senior and All-American Trevor Hankins. Hubner did have some issues with consistency and directional punting during the spring, but overall it's hard not to feel encouraged by this new addition to the Sun Devils.
On the other hand, the 6-1, 190-pound Garoutte has bigger inconsistency problems. At times during spring practice he was erratic. At other instances, like the spring game, he was picture-perfect converting 50-yarders with room to spare. Needless to say, that rate of the mental maturity by Garoutte in 2011 will either propel him to a solid debut in the Pac-12 or create a rough baptism.
The Sun Devils' kickoff return unit was nothing short of spectacular in 2010. It had one of the nation's most threatening groups of returners, as the team ranked second in the nation in kickoff return average. Kyle Middlebrooks and Jamal Miles will assume most of the duties, with Alden Darby and Deantre Lewis figuring in the mix as well.
On punt returns, Miles earned ample experience in 2010 as ASU's primary specialist in that area and figures to remain atop the depth chart as he enters his junior season. A threat at multiple offensive spots and on both kickoff and punt returns, Miles averaged 8.6 yards on 29 returns in his first year as the Sun Devils' primary option here.
Watch Out For … Hubner. The junior was very impressive in the spring, showing off his strong leg and doing a good job angling his kicks when needed. To some degree, he did have some inconsistency issues, but nonetheless his performance should ensure that ASU won't suffer a decline in this special teams aspect.
Strength: The return game. Arizona State has many options, and to be led in this area by two speedsters, such as Miles and Middlebrooks, is clearly a team strength. The overall team speed and depth contributes to solid coverage teams as well.
Weakness: Placekicker. The inconsistency of Alex Garoutte could cost the Devils in tight games. Depending on the timing, he either very good or very maddening. When it comes to placekicking, ASU had more than its share of nightmares the last couple of years, so a consistent display here will be a welcomed sight.
Outlook: Speed and depth allow not only a superior return game, but also skillful coverage teams. Having a new punter and place kicker naturally brings up some question marks as the team approaches the regular season, although both players did have some strong moments in the spring. Overall, as the case is usually with special teams, it's hard to truly know what to expect from this area before real game situations.
Unit Rating: 7
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