2007 Arizona State Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 24, 2007

Preview 2007 Arizona State Sun Devil Defense

Arizona State Sun Devils

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Arizona State Preview | 2007 ASU Offense Preview
2007 ASU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Arizona State Preview 

What you need to know: Six starters return to a defense that improved in 2006, yet still allowed more than 40 points in four of the final ten games.  The Sun Devils will continue to run out of a 4-3 base while asking their linebackers and safeties to freelance and make plays all over the field.  There are building blocks—and question marks—at each unit heading into 2007.  Tackle Michael Marquardt and Dexter Davis have all-league potential, but both are going to need support from a couple of new starters.  Although the linebackers have considerable upside, the man in the middle, Morris Wooten, is a first-year player.  And while safety Josh Barrett and corner Justin Tryon will play on Sundays, the pass defense is in deep trouble if the other cornerback gets routinely exposed.  The net result?  A nice collection of talent that’ll still allow plenty of yards to the Pac-10’s finer-tuned offenses.  

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Zach Catanese, 107
Sacks: Zach Catanese, 2
Interceptions: Several at 1

Star of the defense: Senior FS Josh Barrett
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Chris Baloney
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Mike Nixon
Best pro prospect: Barrett
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Barrett 2) DE Dexter Davis 3) DT Michael
Strength of the defense: The safeties, creating pressure
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, depth at cornerback

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: In senior tackle Michael Marquardt and sophomore end Dexter Davis, the Sun Devils have all-league type players, but after those two, the line is full of question marks.  Davis wound up being a revelation for the defense in 2006, leading all Pac-10 freshmen with 10.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and three forced fumbles.  Undersized for the position at just 6-2 and 247 pounds, he relies on a sudden first step and linebacker quickness to school opposing tackles. 

In his first season after transferring from BYU, Marquardt developed into the run stuffer that the defense sorely needed on the interior.  As a 12-game starter, ASU’s impact newcomer turned 25 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks into honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors.  Powerful enough to plug the gaps at 6-4 and 295 pounds, he also has the quickness to make stops behind the line.

The coaching staff is hoping that JUCO transfer Luis Vasquez can win a job and provide some much needed support to Davis at the other end position.  A two-time All-American at Arizona Western College, he was a sack machine, piling up 31 in two seasons against overmatched competition.  Quick off the snap and technically sound, he’ll get every opportunity to be an every down player. 

Next to Marquardt will be David Smith, a career backup getting his first shot at being a regular.  A mobile, hard-working junior, he could have problems playing at only 280 pounds once league action begins.      

Projected Top Reserves: If Vasquez fails to live up to expectations, senior Kellen Mills will fill the void at end.  A veteran of 36 games, mostly on special teams, he’s got a great motor and work ethic that’ll earn him no worse than a key role in the D-line rotation this season. 

At 6-6 and 275 pounds, senior Tranell Morant has the raw physical skills of a future pro, but has contributed little since transferring from Florida because of nagging injuries.  Dennis Erickson flirted with the idea of moving him inside this fall, a move that’s been hampered by Morant’s inability to stay on the field in the spring. 

In order to bolster lagging depth at tackle, redshirt freshman Saia Falahola has been relocated from the offensive line.  Looking leaner and just as mighty, he has quickly elevated to the spot behind Marquardt, and represents an interesting long-term project. 

Watch Out For… Vasquez.  While it’s obviously a huge step up in competition, Vasquez flashed the potential in junior college to be the complementary edge rusher the Sun Devils need in 2007.  If he fails to deliver, Davis is going to get much more attention than he’s used to seeing.    
Strength: Davis.  In a league known for its prolific passing attacks and pro-style quarterbacks, Davis gives the Devil D a necessary antidote, a speedy edge rusher that’s going to get better with more playing time.           
Weakness: Depth, especially on the inside.  When a freshman, such as Falahola, switches positions and immediately becomes an integral cog in the line, it says more about the dearth of talent than anything else.               
Outlook: Although Marquardt and Davis are solid building blocks, this will be no better than an average Sun Devil defensive line if additional reinforcements aren’t developed at both end and tackle.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Led by sophomore outside linebackers Travis Goethel and Mike Nixon, there’s a youth movement going on at linebacker in Tempe.  Both played extensively as true freshmen, laying the groundwork for bright futures with the program.  Nixon has three years of eligibility remaining, yet isn’t exactly youthful at the age of 23.  A former Los Angeles Dodger farm hand, he played 13 games in his gridiron return, starting four and notching 32 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three sacks.  Well-sized at 6-3 and 232 pounds, he plays with exceptional range from the weakside and possesses the maturity that this unseasoned unit needs. 

Goethel wasted no time showing why he was one of the program’s headline recruits of 2006.  A four-game starter and member of the Freshman All-Pac-10 squad, he had 29 tackles and steadily improved throughout the year. He’s an instinctive linebacker who’ll be a fixture through 2009. 

Junior Morris Wooten was supposed to win the middle linebacker job in his first year out of Glendale (Ariz.) Community College, and that’s exactly what he did in the spring.  Showing good run stopping skills and lateral quickness, he’s poised to become the next in a growing line of mid-year transfers that make an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball.     

Projected Top Reserves: After an outstanding debut as a safety, sophomore Ryan McFoy is moving to outside linebacker in order to give a jolt of athleticism to the corps.  He started eight games in the secondary in 2006, finishing seventh on the team with 34 tackles and picking off a pair of passes.  Undersized at 6-2 and 205 pounds, McFoy will be used as a designated blitzer and should be one of the unit’s best pass defenders. 

A serious knee injury to redshirt freshman Jamarr Robinson has elevated sophomore Gerald Munns to the No. 2 spot behind Wooten.  A 6-4, 240-pound letterwinner as a true freshman, he had 15 tackles, flashing good instincts for the position. 

Senior Robert James is the most experienced member of the linebackers, but has been suffering from headaches that have limited his availability since last season.  A part-time starter at weakside in 2005, his presence would give a much-needed dose of veteran leadership to the second team.        

Watch Out For… Nixon and Goethel.  Everything was new for them in 2006, but with a season of experience under the belt, they’re ready to form an exciting tandem at outside linebacker for Arizona State.                                      
Strength: Outside linebacker.  Assuming James can suit up this season, the Sun Devils will have four outside linebackers with starting experience at some point in their careers. 
Weakness: Athleticism.  The ASU linebackers are more instinctive than off-the-charts quick, which is one of the reasons Dennis Erickson chose to shift McFoy from the defensive backfield to one of the outside positions.        
Outlook: While the linebackers will be good in September, they’ve got a chance to be much better than that by the second half of the year.  With all of the key components expected back for anther season, this could be a sneaky good group by 2008.                             
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: Senior free safety Josh Barrett is the star of the 2007 defense and one of the premier players at his position in the country.  A 6-3, 230-pound enforcer in a linebacker’s body, he led last year’s team with 82 tackles and three interceptions en route to All-Pac-10 recognition.  A starter since his freshman season, Barrett brings a toughness and no-nonsense presence that’s helps give the defense an identity. 

Barrett will be joined in the defensive backfield by junior strong safety Jeremy Payton, who’s 6-1 and 210 pounds, yet has the cover skills to get looks from the staff at cornerback.  A gifted all-around athlete, he had 25 tackles a year ago to earn the second letter of his career.

The return of senior Justin Tryon for his second season in Tempe means the defense is set at one cornerback spot.  In his first year removed from the College of the Canyons, he played with next level speed and quickly became the Sun Devils’ best cover man.  After leading the team with seven pass breakups in 2006, Tryon will be counted on to turn more of those tips into picks in 2007.  His partner in the secondary, however, is far more uncertain.

Senior Chris Baloney is the leading candidate after lettering in his first year out of the College of the Sequoias.  The 6-1, 194-pounder was a starter last September, but had his season curtailed by an injury, and finished with 17 tackles and two interceptions in six games.  With Tryon on the other side, Baloney will be a marked man that must deliver consistency in 2007. 

Projected Top Reserves: Junior strong safety Troy Nolan was a spring standout and the reason Ryan McFoy could be switched to linebacker and the staff flirted with moving Payton to cornerback.  After redshirting in 2006 to rehab an injury, he played inspired ball in April, using his 6-2, 205-pound frame to muscle his way to the second unit and considerable playing time in the fall.  The competition to find the top backup corner will be fierce and closely watched by the defensive staff. 

Junior college transfer Jarrell Holman has already participated in a spring session and might have the biggest upside of the contenders.  At 6-0 and 195 pounds, he’ll bring 4.5 speed and a physical element to Tempe after doing his apprenticeship at Phoenix College.                    

Watch Out For… true freshman CB Omar Bolden.  With the defense pining for more capable bodies at cornerback, Bolden is in an ideal position to avoid a redshirt in place of immediate playing time.  While still learning the position, he has the size-speed combo to be real special before too long.
: The safeties.  With one All-American and a pair of rising headhunters in Payton and Nolan, Arizona State is set at the position even after losing Zach Catanese to graduation.
Weakness: Depth at cornerback.  As if things weren’t  troubling enough already, senior Chad Green was seriously injured in a car accident, robbing the defense of a key reserve.  After Tryon, it’s hit-or-miss for the Sun Devil cornerbacks.               
Outlook: Although Barrett and Tryon are a terrific first half to a secondary, the pass defense will struggle badly in Pac-10 games if reliable complements at cornerback aren’t developed before the calendar says September.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Over the last few years, Arizona State has done a real nice job on special teams, but that had plenty to do with two departed players, four-year starting kicker Jesse Ainsworth and returner Terry Richardson.  The task of replacing Ainsworth falls to Thomas Weber, a redshirt freshman that walked on to the program two years ago.  He displayed a strong leg and decent accuracy during the spring, but all bets are off until he shows he can get it done in front of a big crowd and in the face of an opposing rush. 

Although it’ll be tough succeeding Richardson, there are a handful of viable candidates with long ball potential.  Senior Rudy Burgess and sophomores Kyle Williams, Brandon Smith and Chris McGaha will all get long looks as punt returners.  On kickoffs, the options include Burgess, Williams and senior Justin Tryon.  Tryon is particularly enticing after averaging more than 41 yards on his five returns in 2006.

The Sun Devils are set at punter, where senior Jonathan Johnson returns for his second and final season in Tempe.  In 2006, he almost single-handedly solved the program’s punting problems, averaging 41.5 yards and fueling the biggest net punting improvement in the Pac-10.  A two-step punter Johnson has great fundamentals, and is a candidate for postseason honors.

Watch Out For… Weber’s development in his debut as the starter.  Ainsworth is a real tough act to follow, but the redshirt freshman did quell some fears in March and April with a surprisingly steady spring session.                          
Strength: Punt coverage.  Thanks in large part to Johnson’s hang time and directional kicks, the Sun Devils allowed only 148 total yards on 20 punts in 2006, more than half of which came on an 80-yard explosion from Cal’s DeSean Jackson.                 
Weakness: Uncertainty at kicker.  The Sun Devils have grown accustomed to consistency and stability from their placekicker in recent years.  With a freshman replacing a four-year starter at the position, expectations are going to be markedly lower this fall.                      
Outlook: Even without Richardson, Arizona State will continue its recent tradition of a solid return game and above average coverage teams.  If Weber surprises by making the kicks he’s supposed to, the Sun Devils have the parts to contend for one of the league’s two or three best special teams units.             
Rating: 7.5


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2007 Arizona State Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 24, 2007
2007 Arizona State Preview
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2007 Arizona State Preview - Depth Chart
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