2013 Arizona State Preview - Defense

Posted May 24, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devil Defense

Arizona State Sun Devils

Preview 2013 - Defense

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- 2013 Arizona State Defense | 2013 Arizona State Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: Then-rookie coordinator Paul Randolph used different looks last season, mixing his formations and personnel to fit the situation. And it largely worked. The Sun Devils were one of the Pac-12's top defenses of 2012, ranking No. 2 in total D. However, there were too many breakdowns late in the year, especially when the other guys committed to the run; Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State, USC and Arizona each hung at least 34 points on Arizona State. The program will begin this season with one of the nastiest and most aggressive D-lines in the league, if not the country, a unit bolstered by All-American candidates Will Sutton and Carl Bradford. The Devils are going to make a ton of plays in the backfield, but can they improve against the run? While LB Chris Young, S Alden Darby and CB Osahon Irabor are fixtures in the back seven, ASU needs LB Steffon Martin and the two new starters in the defensive backfield to step up and have a more profound impact when the opposition goes back to basics.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Chris Young, 82
Sacks: Will Sutton, 13
Interceptions: Alden Darby, Robert Nelson, 3

Star of the defense: Senior DT Will Sutton
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior LB Steffon Martin
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Jaxon Hood
Best pro prospect: Sutton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sutton, 2) Junior ‘Devil' Carl Bradford, 3) Senior S Alden Darby
Strength of the defense: The pass rush, the D-line, swarm-tackling, pass defense, takeaways, third-down D
Weakness of the defense: Run stuffing, weakside linebacker, red-zone D

Defensive Line

Senior Will Sutton had the kind of junior season that makes NFL scouts sit up and take notice. Except Sutton decided not to parlay his All-American campaign into NFL riches … yet. In a surprise move, the 6-1, 288-pound package of perpetual energy opted in January to return to Tempe for his final season as a Sun Devil. Sutton erupted into a game-changer in 2012, racking up 63 tackles, Pac-12 highs with 23.5 stops for loss and 13 sacks, five passes defended and three forced fumbles. The double-team magnet creates mismatches with his speed, strength and lateral quickness. Sutton plays with tremendous effort and a great motor, schooling opposing guards and centers with his technique and moves. Think young Warren Sapp, with one more season to challenge as college football's most dominant and feared defensive player.

Shortly after arriving in Tempe, head coach Todd Graham immediately installed the ‘Devil' position, a linebacker-end hybrid that spends most of his time near the line of scrimmage. Junior Carl Bradford has been grateful for the move ever since. The former linebacker was ideally suited for the job, channeling his inner Clay Matthews en route to making 81 tackles, 20.5 stops for loss, 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. The 6-1, 241-pound Bradford plays the game with maximum energy and speed, flying all around the field with reckless abandon. He's the perfect complement to Sutton, especially when the latter is attracting the attention of multiple blockers.

Lining up next to Sutton at defensive tackle will be 6-0, 287-pound sophomore Jaxon Hood, who'll make opponents pay for not giving him enough attention. He started all but a single game of his rookie year, finishing with 26 tackles, four stops for loss and three sacks to earn honorable mention All-Pac-12. A gritty, high-motor defender, he maximizes all of his skills, operates with a chip on his shoulder and employs quick hands to beat blockers.

At least for now, the most unlikely member of the starting unit is DE Gannon Conway, a 6-4, 261-pound former walk-on awarded a scholarship last year. The senior backup over the last two years collected nine tackles and a sack in 2012. He's strong, works very hard and can support the run. Breathing down his neck will be 6-2, 276-pound senior Davon Coleman. Yeah, he's slipped in the pecking order during the offseason, but he's the same Sun Devil who made 66 tackles, 11 stops for loss and five sacks a year ago. He will not go away without a fight. Nor, for that matter, will 6-0, 241-pound senior Junior Onyeali. The former Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year has been hampered by a career's worth of injuries, but can still be dangerous off the edge when he's healthy.

Watch Out For … Hood to be sneaky-dominant this season. Sutton and Bradford, naturally, will receive most of the pub, but No. 92 is perfectly situated to make the most out of the attention that his linemates receive. Hood plays with a chip on his shoulder, constantly out to prove that he never should have been overlooked coming out of high school.
Strength: The pass rush. The Sun Devils were No. 2 nationally in sacks and top-ranked in tackles for loss. With everyone back, there's no reason to believe that this frenetic and lightning-quick group won't be just as chaotic in 2013. Arizona State brings the heat from all angles, crushing the spirit of opposing O-lines with their speed, moves and penchant for swarming in the backfield.
Weakness: Run-stuffing. For all of the up field push that Arizona State generates, it still needs to do a much better job of anchoring against the run. The Sun Devils ranked 81st nationally, while yielding 4.2 yards per carry. The front line has shown a bad habit for over pursuing the play, which allows opposing backs to get through the first line of defense and into the secondary.
Outlook: Yeah, Arizona State needs to tighten the screws against the run, but very few teams in America are going to wreak as much havoc in the trenches as the one from Tempe. From the moment that Sutton decided to return to school for his senior year, the Sun Devils were destined to be a force up front. Bradford and Hood are vastly underrated playmakers, and whatever the D gets from the other end position will be an unexpected bonus.
Unit Rating: 9


The new staff arrived last season looking for a ‘Spur', a blend between a linebacker and a strong safety. It found Chris Young, an Arizona Western College transfer who would end up performing as if he was born to play the versatile position. He was just the kind of multi-dimensional athlete that Arizona State is seeking, a compact 6-0, 232-pound run-stuffer, with the speed to be unleashed on the blitz. With no prior experience at this level, Young finished third on the Sun Devils with 82 tackles, 14 of which were behind the line, and added two sacks and five passes defended.

Strongside looks as if it'll be the domain of senior Steffon Martin, who is coming off a terrific spring camp. The junior college teammate of Young at Arizona Western College enjoyed a nice debut as a Sun Devil, making 27 tackles and 6.5 stops for loss as a 10-game starter. However, he's looked far better prepared for success in Year 2, improving his conditioning and his reads against the run.

The least secure position for the Sun Devils linebackers is at weakside, where former walk-on Grandville Taylor is hoping to fill the gaping void left by the graduation of Brandon Magee. The 6-0, 221-pound senior brings value off the bench and as a special teams performer, but it still remains to be seen if he's ready for a full-time role. Taylor had a career-high 18 tackles last season.

The team's most experienced linebacker off the bench will be 6-1, 212-pound senior Anthony Jones, Young's backup at ‘Spur'. Jones is coming off his best season with the program, spot-starting and making 26 tackles. He's one of the better size-speed Sun Devils on this side of the ball. Jones will 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.

Watch Out For … Young to possibly move from ‘Spur' to weakside before the start of the season. The Sun Devils clearly want to get their three best linebackers on the field, which could mean shifting Young, benching Taylor and promoting Jones. It'll depend on how Taylor performs this summer as the reality of a full-time gig begins to set in.
Strength: Speed and range. They're undersized, they're quick and they can make things happen all over the field. In many ways, the Arizona State linebackers are glorified safeties, which is a good thing as it pertains to coming hard off the edge, and when dropping back into pass coverage.
Weakness: Holding up at the point of attack. While a stronger Martin hopes 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. Arizona State struggled against the run in 2012, with the Sun Devils sharing culpability in the results.
Outlook: The ASU linebackers are going to make plays, but they're also going to make some mistakes. While Young might contend for All-Pac-12 honors, wherever he lines up, and Martin is going to be improved, it remains to be seen if this unit can become more of an asset against the run. And the question mark at weakside is likely to linger right up until the start of the season.
Unit Rating: 7


The defensive backfield glass is half-empty. Or half-full, depending upon your point of view. The Sun Devils must replace two starters from a secondary that took a monumental leap forward in 2012. At corner, Deveron Carr is off to the NFL, leaving boundary corner Osahon Irabor to become the veteran leader of the group in his senior year. The honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick has become a fixture in the ASU defensive backfield, starting 33 consecutive games. He led the team with 14 passes defended a year ago to go along with 37 tackles and a pick, Even more impressive, he went the entire year without being flagged for pass interference. The 5-11, 181-pound Irabor would still benefit from a little more muscle and a few more picks, but he's bucking to become one of the league's better cover corners this fall.

At safety, Keelan Johnson has exhausted his eligibility, leaving 5-11, 188-pound senior Alden Darby to carry a little more weight. He was plenty effective a year ago at boundary safety, landing on the All-Pac-12 Second Team in his first full season in the lineup. A playmaker, with boundless energy and enthusiasm, he contributed 80 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss, two sacks, three interceptions and a forced fumble to last year's D. However, beyond the numbers, Darby jumps off the film as well, for his athleticism and for the infectious attitude he brings to the field each Saturday. On a defense that lost a few central figures, such as LB Brandon Magee, No. 4 is expected to assume more of a vocal leadership role this fall.

At the all-important field corner position, 5-11, 169-pound senior Robert Nelson, a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe, is on the verge of winning the job. He's game-tested after one year in Tempe, starting at nickel and winding up with 16 tackles and three interceptions. While Nelson will contend to become the team's best all-around cover guy, he's also susceptible to being bullied by physical receivers.

Exiting spring, redshirt freshman Laiu Moeakiola had risen to the top of the depth chart at field safety. The 6-0, 209-pounder had worked his way into the rotation as a rookie, but was lost to an injury after just four games. He brings an aggressive and fearless presence to the last line of defense, which will be especially important on running downs.

The coaching staff really likes the potential of 5-11, 186-pound sophomore Rashad Wadood, who is listed as a backup at both cornerback positions. He used a redshirt season in 2012 to get healthy, but did play as a rookie in 2010. He'll caddy this year before filling an opening in the lineup next fall. If Moeakiola fails to hold his starting job, 5-11, 194-pound sophomore Ezekial Bishop will be the likely beneficiary. The Denver native lettered a year ago, making 10 stops in nine games.

Watch Out For … there to be an air of competition wafting through Camp Tontozona at two positions this August. Irabor and Darby are set. But the staff wants to be 100% sure that Nelson and Moeakiola are ready for their promotions. Bishop, Wadood and CB Lloyd Carrington will all operate this summer as if there's a job opening up for grabs.
Strength: Sticky coverage between the twenties. Yeah, two starters need to be replaced, but the Sun Devils boast a very solid foundation from a team that ranked no lower than No. 2 in the Pac-12 in completion percentage, interceptions, yards per attempt and pass efficiency D.
Weakness: Red-zone D. As good as the secondary was in 2012, it did have problems with its back against the end zone. Arizona State yielded 23 touchdown passes, showing particular problems in the second half of the year. The unit needs to come up big when it matters most by forcing more field goal attempts than in recent years.
Outlook: Set at two positions with Darby and Irabor, Arizona State will turn its attention the rest of the offseason to solidifying the opening at field safety and field corner. They got a head start, with Moeakiola and Nelson, respectively, getting a jump on the competition. It's also worth noting that the pass defense will get a huge boost throughout the year from one of the nation's feistiest pass rushes.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Junior Alex Garoutte is back for his third season as the Sun Devils placekicker, though he'll need to improve his accuracy if he plans to attempt any three-pointers. He connected on just 6-of-11 field goal attempts a year after hitting only 15-of-22. He's yet to hit a 50-yarder, despite the fact that he has good leg strength. Garoutte is expected to handle kickoffs and PATs, while junior Jon Mora takes care of field goals. Mora seized the duty mid-season, and wound up going 9-of-12.

With the graduation of Josh Hubner, junior Dom Vizzare gets first dibs on the punting job. The 6-5, 237-pound former walk-on is coming off a nice spring in which he showed excellent hang time and distance on his boots.

The favorites to handle kick returns and punt returns are sophomore D.J. Foster and sophomore Richard Smith, respectively. Foster has game-breaking potential, but neither player contributed much on special teams in 2012.

Watch Out For … reinforcements. The Sun Devils made special teams a priority on Signing Day, landing PK Zane Gonzales and P Matt Haack. Haack, in particular, is one to watch, a three-star punter from West Des Moines, IA who was ranked No. 6 nationally at his position.
Strength: The return game. Arizona State always seems to have a couple of speedy athletes back on punts and kicks who are capable of dictating field position. Smith and Foster are just the kinds of jackrabbits this program needs to keep opposing teams on their heels.
Weakness: Inconsistency in the kicking game. Arizona State has missed too many field goals since the graduation of Thomas Weber in 2010. Over the last two seasons, the Sun Devils are just 30-of-45 on three-pointers, with the majority of the conversions coming from close range.
Outlook: Special teams could be Arizona State's most mediocre and inconsistent unit of 2013, a concern in games that are determined by the little things. Neither kicking specialist is going to bring much certainty to the field, and the coverage teams have struggled to maintain gap integrity the past few seasons.
Unit Rating: 6

- 2013 Arizona State Preview | 2013 Arizona State Offense
- 2013 Arizona State Defense | 2013 Arizona State Depth Chart