State Sun Devils
Preview 2007 - Defense
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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.
Tackles: Zach Catanese, 107
Sacks: Zach Catanese, 2
Interceptions: Several at 1
Star of the
Senior FS Josh Barrett
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CB
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Strength: 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
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
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.
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
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.