2012 Arizona State Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devil Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: First-year coordinator Paul Randolph wants the defense to be stylish this fall, sporting uniquely different looks to suit the situation. Fans will see their Sun Devils in a lot of 4-3 sets, the occasional 3-4 and even some 3-3-5. Versatility will be a key to getting on the field, which is why hybrid positions, such as Devil and Spur will be utilized. Seven starters are back from a D that underachieved in 2011, often at the least opportune times. While Randolph doesn't inherit much in the way of star power, he does have enough key pieces at each level to construct a foundation. DT Will Sutton is about to emerge into an inside force. Physical and emotional leader Brandon Magee returns to linebacker after missing all of last year to injury. And the secondary breeds hope with the likes of CB Osahon Irabor and S Alden Darby. While they won't be enough to completely transform this unit, Arizona State has a chance to be improved from a season ago.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Brandon Magee
Tackles: Alden Darby, 51
Sacks: Davon Coleman, Will Sutton, 2.5
Interceptions: Alden Darby, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DE Davon Coleman
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Osahon Irabor
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Will Sutton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Magee, 2) Sutton, 3) Irabor
Strength of the defense: The interior of the line, team speed and athleticism, third-down D, takeaways
Weakness of the defense: Proven pass rushers, linebacker, pass defense, stuffing the run
The Sun Devils were home to a pair of honorable mention All-Pac-12 linemen a year ago. Both have since graduated. The new linchpin of the line should be 6-2, 271-pound junior Will Sutton , a penetrating defensive tackle set to begin his second season as a starter. The former high-profile recruit has tremendous upside potential, possessing a tremendous motor, the strength to remain inside and the quickness to rush the passer as a 3-4 end. He only scratched the surface of his ability in 2011, making 33 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks as a 12-game starter.
Behind Sutton is 6-4, 280-pound junior Jake Sheffield who easily has the best story on the roster. The 26-year-old former Marine did two tours of duty in Iraq, eventually choosing Arizona State because of the influence former Sun Devil Pat Tillman. He's already been penciled in as a part of the rotation.
At the nose, the staff has high hopes for 6-3, 283-pound senior Corey Adams despite the fact that he's yet to evolve into more than a spot starter. He still shows flashes of being the one-time elite high school recruit, busting through the gates to disrupt the flow of a running play. The Sun Devils hope he can bring it on a more consistent basis in his finale.
Coming out of spring, the team's most capable pass rusher was 6-3, 269-pound junior Davon Coleman , a second-year transfer out of Fort Scott (Kans.) Community College. With the right combination of size to defend the run and get-off to rush the passer, he's a breakout candidate for the D in 2012. In his debut, he started just three games, yet managed to chip in 42 tackles, five stops behind the line and a pair of sacks.
When camp opens in August, 6-0, 237-pound sophomore Carl Bradford will be in the driver's seat at Devil, a hybrid position between an outside linebacker and a speed rusher coming off the edge. He impressed the coaches throughout the spring with his burst, closing speed and range, key elements of this role. He had a dozen tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks as a reserve, but promises to be far more active in 2012.
Watch Out For … the fate of junior DE Junior Onyeali . It was just two years ago that Onyeali a budding star in Tempe, the Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year. However, it's been all downhill since, including an injury-shortened sophomore season and a suspension from the team in the spring. In a best case scenario, he'll return in the summer to push Bradford at Devil.
Strength: The interior of the line. The two-deep at tackle consists of four upperclassmen, Sutton, Adams, Sheffield and graybeard Toa Tuitea . As a whole, it's an undersized unit, but one with enough quickness to shoot the gap and amass a bunch of plays for minus yards.
Weakness: Proven pass rushers. Onyeali would certainly help if he can tap into his rookie self, when he had 6.5 sacks during the second half of the year. However, he's hardly a sure-thing these days. And no returning player on the roster had more than 2.5 sacks last season.
Outlook: The big news up front is that Sutton appears to be on the verge of busting out into an All-Pac-12 type tackle. He could warrant double-teams, which would make life simpler for the linemen around him. After No. 90, the Sun Devils D-line won't be especially dynamic unless some combination of Bradford, Coleman and Onyeali ignites the pass rush from the edge.
Unit Rating: 7
The Arizona State linebackers are essentially being stripped bare following the loss of four regulars who each posted at least 50 tackles a year ago. Hope for 2012 comes in the form of senior Brandon Magee who returns to weakside after missing all of 2011 to a ruptured Achilles' tendon. The 5-11, 233-pounder is arguably the most important of the Sun Devils defenders for what he brings to the field and the locker room. He's one of the fastest and most disruptive players on this side of the ball, using his speed and instincts to make stops from sideline to sideline. Magee is also the emotional leader of the D, the player from which the other Devils take their cue. His return could not have come at a more opportune time.
In the middle, the program is expected to pop the cork on new recruit Kipeli Koniseti who comes by way of College of the Sequoias (Calif.). After playing sparingly in nine games behind Vontaze Burfict, the 6-3, 244-pounder could be set to take flight. He's tough and physical, and unlike his peers in Tempe, has the desired size to excel in run defense from the second level. Currently lining up behind Koniseti at middle linebacker is 6-2, 214-pound junior Brandon Johnson who tallied 13 tackles on defense and special teams last season.
At the Spur, which is part linebacker and part safety, the program is excited to unleash 6-2, 212-pound junior Anthony Jones , one of the best size-speed Sun Devils on this side of the ball. He can blitz off the edge, transitions well into coverage and has started to get a better feel of where he belongs on the field in various situations. He has a high ceiling as a potential nuisance for opposing teams.
Watch Out For … a new attitude. In large part because of the disappointing final season of Burfict, there was a guilt-by-association stigma tagged to last year's linebackers. Don't expect this year's group to suffer from the same issue. With Magee setting the tone, these Sun Devils will be a hard-working that plays to the whistle.
Strength: Speed. Particularly on the outside with Magee and Jones, Arizona State will pursue with ferocity, closing quickly ballcarriers. This group takes good angles, and is improving in its ability to read and react in the shortest time possible.
Weakness: Holding up at the point of attack. While Koniseti is going to be a welcome exception, the program's linebackers are largely a collection of undersized athletes prone to getting swallowed up by opposing linemen. They're also not very tall, which could cause issues in pass coverage.
Outlook: Last year's linebackers looked as if they'd rate among the best in school history, yet disappointed. The current edition, with the modest expectations, hopes to confound the experts as well. Magee is a special player who'll contend for All-Pac-12 honors as long as his health isn't an issue. He'll help elevate the play of Koniseti and Jones, who look to him for guidance. The Sun Devils will have particular problems standing up physical, north-south ground games.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Arizona State never quite recovered from the preseason ACL tear to current Denver Bronco Omar Bolden, finishing near the Pac-12 basement in pass defense. The good news is that the program got a jump on life without its top cornerback. Junior Osahon Irabor looks as if he might follow Bolden to the NFL in two years. After playing well as a first-time starter, notching 48 tackles and seven pass breakups, he took another step forward in the spring. The 5-11, 176-pounder still needs to add some thickness, but plays the position with an attitude, and does a nice job of recognizing routes before the ball goes airborne. Irabor is on the brink of turning the corner in his third season.
The favorite to start alongside Irabor at field corner is 5-11, 193-pound senior Deveron Carr , who has started 21 career games, including 13 last season. He has good size and speed, but still needs to tighten up in coverage in his final year at this level. As a junior, he established career-highs with 45 tackles and 10 passes broken up. Inching closer to Carr on the depth chart is 5-10, 167-pound junior Robert Nelson , a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe with the speed to cling to receivers running deep routes.
His junior season upon him, 5-10, 187-pound Alden Darby took a big step forward as the boundary safety. Another one of the terrific all-around athletes on the Sun Devils D, he has the experience and the ball skills of a cornerback. Much like Irabor, Darby is about to blossom into a more influential defender than he was in 2011, when he bounced around the depth chart and finished with 51 tackles, three picks and six pass breakups.
Leading the brigade at field safety will be 6-0, 202-pound senior Keelan Johnson , a starter in four games a year ago. He has good size and outstanding range, but needs to play the position with a little more discipline and attention to detail. The past season was his most productive to date, including 48 tackles and a pair of interceptions. Behind Johnson will be 6-0, 202-pound senior Kevin Ayers who earned a letter as a backup in his first year out of junior college.
Watch Out For … Irabor and Darby to emerge as the leaders of the defensive backfield. Both players showed signs of really percolating in the spring, and harbor the requisite skills to be fringe all-league contenders this year. Arizona State is craving an identity in the secondary, which the juniors are capable of providing.
Strength: Ball skills. This athletic group of defensive backs does a nice job of jumping routes and transforming into wide receivers when the ball is within their catch radius. Last year's squad picked off 15 passes, good for third highest among Pac-12 programs.
Weakness: Softness in coverage. The Sun Devils are home to some terrific athletes, but when it's time to shut opponents down, too often they came up short. This unit still has plenty to prove after the 2011 edition ranked 108th nationally in pass defense, and was a big why the program stood 73rd in the country in red-zone defense.
Outlook: Even with a couple of new faces in the starting lineup the pass defense will be improved this fall. The team has up-and-comers at corner and safety with Irabor and Darby, respectively, and the two-deep is dominated by upperclassmen. With a little more help from the pass rush, finishing in the top half of the league against the pass is not an unrealistic goal.
Unit Rating: 7
Everyone of significance returns on special teams, lending hope that the unit will be even better in 2012. Sophomore Alex Garoutte did a solid job replacing Groza Award winner Thomas Weber, hitting 15-of-22 field goals, capped by a career-best 49-yarder. With a season behind him, and good fundamentals, he's capable of inching closer to becoming one of the league's better placekickers.
Arizona State also broke the seal on senior P Josh Hubner , who responded in his first year by averaging more than 41 yards. The former JUCO All-American from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College is a fine all-around athlete, with a very strong leg. The objective in Year 2 will be to improve his hang time and consistency.
Watch Out For … Garoutte to take a big step forward in his evolution as the team's placekicker. He was a little shaky at times during his debut, especially in a key loss to UCLA, but has the necessary leg strength and technique to become a valuable and underrated weapon for the Sun Devils offense.
Strength: The return game. In senior Jamal Miles , Arizona State boasts one of the country's most dangerous return men. Shifty and blazing fast, he took three back for touchdowns a year ago, two on kickoffs and one on a punt. He's one of those unique weapons who can change the mood of a game with one seam or one timely block.
Weakness: The coverage teams. The Sun Devils are hoping to plug the holes that existed on punts and kickoffs last season. The special teams was soft in both areas, but especially on kickoffs, ranking 90th nationally at more than 23 yards an attempt, and allowing one to be taken back for six.
Outlook: An average unit in 2011 is headed for someplace above average this fall. First-time starters Garoutte and Hubner figure to be far less inconsistent in their second seasons on the job. And Miles is a bona fide game-changer who'll force the opposition to specifically scheme to keep him from putting his explosive stamp on games.
Unit Rating: 7.5
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