2008 Arizona State Preview - Defense
Arizona State DE Dexter Davis
Arizona State DE Dexter Davis
Posted Apr 11, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devil Defense

Arizona State Sun Devils

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Arizona State Preview | 2008 ASU Offense
- 2008 ASU Defense
| 2008 ASU Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Arizona State Preview
| 2006 CFN Arizona State Preview 

What you need to know: The Sun Devil defense took a giant stride in the right direction last year, displaying more toughness and intensity than in recent seasons. Still, when the schedule became more challenging late in the season, the D got exposed by the likes of Oregon, USC, and Texas. As the players become more comfortable in Craig Bray’s system, there’ll be a greater reliance on blitzing than in the past. Five key components of last year’s defense must be replaced, particularly all-league LB Robert James and half of the secondary. Dexter Davis and Troy Nolan have become staples at defensive end and free safety, respectively, while CB Omar Bolden and LB Travis Goethel are budding stars entering their second seasons as starters.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Travis Goethel, 71
Sacks: Dexter Davis, 10.5
Interceptions: Troy Nolan, 6

Star of the defense: Junior DE Dexter Davis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Terell Carr
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Omar Bolden
Best pro prospect: Senior FS Troy Nolan
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Barrett 2) Sophomore DE Dexter Davis 3) Senior DT Michael Marquardt
Strength of the defense: The safeties, creating pressure
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, depth at cornerback

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Once again, the leading man on the defensive line will be junior end Dexter Davis. In two seasons, he’s made getting into the backfield a habit, collecting 24 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles, while earning Second Team All-Pac-10 honors a year ago.  Continuing to get stronger in the weight room, the 6-2, 253-pounder has a great first step and is equally diligent as a student of the game. 

Davis will be joined at defensive end by 6-3, 260-pound senior Luis Vasquez, who had an auspicious debut in his first season out of Arizona Western College. Showing impressive explosion off the snap, he made 43 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks into All-Pac-10 honorable mention recognition. This fall will be about cleaning up his fundamentals and catching the attention of pro scouts.

Now that Michael Marquardt has graduated, senior David Smith will assume the role as the veteran of the Sun Devil interior. Playing with a warrior’s mentality, the 6-3, 288-pounder’s strengths are his toughness and lateral quickness. In his first season as a starter, he chipped in 22 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks, respectable numbers for a tackle. 

The leader at the other spot is 5-11, 304-pound sophomore Jonathan English, a low leverage guy who picked up 13 games of experience as a freshman. One of the team’s strongest players, he’s a load to handle one-on-one.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior tackle Dave Bertrand was one of the surprises of the spring, playing his way into the rotation and even challenging for reps with the first team. At 6-1 and 283 pounds, the former walk-on and Arizona transfer showed good power and a scrappy demeanor that captured the attention of the coaching staff. 

Also providing depth inside will be 6-2, 300-pound sophomore Saia Falahola, a converted offensive linemen who’s been hampered by a multitude of injuries. When healthy, he provides a great mix of strength and agility that’ll have him looking over English’s shoulder throughout the summer.

The program is intrigued by the potential of redshirt freshman James Brooks, a 6-4, 283-pound end in a tackle’s body. Raw, yet extremely athletic for his size, he’ll have a chance to earn a letter in 2008 before vying for a starting job next season. 

Former middle linebacker Jamarr Robinson has been moved to defensive end to take advantage of his speed and pass rushing skills. A 6-2, 233-pound sophomore, he’ll be used as more of a situational player on obvious passing downs.

Watch Out For… the junior college transfers. In DE Eugene Germany and DT Spencer Gasu, Arizona State has recruited a couple of linemen who are ready to contribute as soon as they arrive. Gasu is a polished 6-2, 295-pounder who does a nice job of getting off his blocks. The 6-4, 270-pound Germany is a former USC recruit and Michigan reserve hoping to finally settle down in Tempe.
Strength: The ends. Davis and Vasquez give the Sun Devils one of the Pac-10’s best bookends, a tandem that’ll test opposing tackles on a weekly basis. If Germany finally reaches his potential, the line will have three quality pass rushers who can also defend the run.
Weakness: The tackles. The Sun Devils are home to a bunch of pedestrian interior linemen, all of whom qualify as overachievers who would be more valuable as second-teamers. After Smith, who’ll do his part to stop the run, ASU is loaded with unknowns on the inside.
Outlook: While the pass rush could be fantastic, the Sun Devils are going to be vulnerable against physical opponents that commit to the run. Unless there’s help from the back seven, they’ll struggle to match last year’s No. 21 national ranking versus the run.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Even without defensive MVP Robert James, Arizona State feels optimistic about its depth and talent at linebacker. Four players with starting experience return, headed by junior Travis Goethel at strongside. In his first season as a full-timer, he finished second to James with 71 tackles, adding 3.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles.  An instinctive and tenacious player at 6-3 and 233 pounds, Goethel is set to become the new face of this unit. 

Junior Gerald Munns had the kind of statement spring that saw him shoot up the depth chart at middle linebacker. At 6-4 and 238 pounds, he has the next-level size and range to soar past last year’s 20 tackles and become one of this season’s breakthrough Devils.

Coming out of spring, the edge belongs to junior Ryan McFoy, a 6-2, 214-pound former safety who has the athletic package to wreak havoc on the blitz and cover slot receivers in the open field. He had 15 tackles as a sophomore, and possesses the natural quickness and agility to be a defensive playmaker.

Projected Top Reserves: By far, the Devils’ most gifted and versatile reserve will be 6-3, 227-pound junior Mike Nixon. Capable of playing all three positions, the former Los Angeles Dodger farm hand is mature, intelligent, and rarely caught out of position. After bagging 58 tackles and three tackles for loss as a part-time starter, he’ll be considered at weakside if McFoy can’t hold on to the job. 

Also providing competition to McFoy will be 6-0, 200-pound redshirt freshman Oliver Aaron, last year’s Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year. A better athlete than football player right now, he needs to prove he can contribute in run defense and overcome his modest size. 

Senior Morris Wooten started eight games and made 47 tackles last season, but has been surpassed on the depth chart by Munns in the middle. Still, the 6-1, 245-pounder will be a valuable reserve for ASU, especially if Nixon vacates the inside and takes over a starting job on the outside.

Watch Out For… Munns. He played like a man possessed in March and April, flashing the instincts and the sure-tackling that could lead to a slew of tackles this season. Someone needs to pick up the slack left by the departure of James, and the junior appears ready to be one of those guys.
: Goethel. The closest thing Arizona State has to a given at the position, he has gotten better in each of the last two seasons, and is on the cusp of being an All-Pac-10 performer.    
Weakness: The weakside. If Nixon winds up handling the position, problem solved. If not, the Sun Devils will be in danger of having a glaring hole at the position, which James manned so ably in 2007. McFoy and Aaron are outstanding athletes, but lack the experience to excel right away as starters.
Outlook: The emergence of Munns and the presence of Nixon in the rotation are good news for a collection of linebackers that’ll be asked to make plays all over the field, especially against the run. The final grade for the group will depend heavily on how things shake out at the outside position opposite Goethel.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters: This glass is half filled in the Sun Devil secondary. Standouts Josh Barrett and Justin Tryon are gone, but all-league candidates Troy Nolan and Omar Bolden are back in Tempe. In his first season of action since transferring from the College of the Canyons, he made his presence known, collecting 64 tackles and six interceptions, en route to a spot on the All-Pac-10 Second Team. A 6-2, 207-pound intimidator with an NFL future, he has outstanding ball skills and knows what to do in the open field. 

Although Bolden is young and still has plenty to learn, he’s already on the road to becoming one of the league’s best corners. Aggressive in run defense at 5-10 and 194 pounds, he breaks on the ball quickly and has the hips and the acceleration to eventually be an elite cover guy. As a rookie, he capped a Freshman All-American season with 33 tackles and six pass breakups.

The fate of the ASU secondary depends on how well the replacements for Barrett and Tryon perform.  At strong safety, the defense on banking on a big year out of senior Rodney Cox. A former walk-on and career special teamer, he started a pair of games in 2007 when Barrett was injured. The team’s biggest safety at 6-1 and 215 pounds, he can deliver the payload, but has a lot to prove in pass defense. 

The favorite to play opposite Bolden is junior college transfer Terell Carr, a naturally gifted athlete who also played wide receiver at Pasadena City College. While his 5-9, 180-pound frame is cause for concern, he’s got quick feet and showed a knack for handling man coverage in the spring.

Projected Top Reserves: Carr’s chief competition at cornerback will be coming from junior Travis Smith, a bigger and more experienced, yet slightly less dynamic option at the position. The 5-11, 188-pounder earned playing time in six games as a sophomore before injuring his foot and missing the second half of the year.

Battling Cox at strong safety will be senior Jeremy Payton, a 6-1, 207-pounder who’s played plenty of football in the Pac-10. Noted for his sure-tackling and cover skills, he started three games last year, finishing with 26 tackles and 20 solos.  

Watch Out For… junior college transfer Max Tabach. Yeah, there were some blown assignments in his first spring, but Tabach laid the groundwork to be the starting free safety in 2009, playing at times as if he was channeling former Sun Devil Zach Catanese.
Strength: Nolan and Bolden. At free safety and cornerback, respectively, these guys have so much potential, you sort of forget that the other half of the secondary is a flashing question mark.  Between the two of them, Nolan and Bolden could pick off 10 passes this season.
Weakness: Depth at cornerback. For the second year in-a-row, Arizona State is going to be dangerously thin after the top corner, in this case, Bolden.  Carr and Smith showed flashes in April, but they also showed signs of being very green, not a comforting development in this conference.
Outlook: Until they prove capable of handling the position, Carr and Smith will be picked on relentlessly as opposing quarterbacks try to avoid Bolden’s side of the field. If either consistently makes them pay, the Sun Devils will be a buzzsaw to throw into.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: If he keeps this up, sophomore K Thomas Weber will go down as the best Sun Devil to ever walk on to the program. In his freshman debut, he nailed 24-of-25 field goal attempts, earning All-America recognition and winning the Lou Groza Award. More than just accurate, Weber also displayed a big leg, hitting both of his attempts beyond 50 yards and averaging 64 yards on kickoffs. 

Not content with being one of the nation’s premier placekickers, Weber also punted over the second half of the year, averaging 39.3 yards and needing to improve on his hang time. The starter heading into fall camp, he’ll be backed up at both kicking positions by redshirt freshman Zach Richards and will face new challenges in August from a couple of walk-on junior college punters.

Junior Kyle Williams is an All-Pac-10 punt returner, who averaged almost 10 yards a touch a year ago and shows good quickness in the open field. He’ll likely be joined by junior Chris McGaha, the favorite to replace Rudy Burress at kick returner.

Watch Out For… any new developments at punter. Weber’s the man for now, but unless he improves on his distance and loft, he’ll be susceptible to getting grilled in the summer by Richards or one of the newcomers.
Strength: Weber the kicker. As a freshman, he delivered one of the great seasons ever by a Sun Devil kicker, which is saying something at a school with a rich history at the position.
Weakness: Coverage units. Usually reliable in this area, Arizona State slipped to second-division status in coverage. The Devils were 85th or lower nationally, a trend coach Jamie Christian has to reverse.
Outlook: Provided Weber or someone else can get the job done at punter, Arizona State will have one of the Pac-10’s better special teams units. As the kicker, Weber is automatic, which was the difference between winning and losing three tight conference games last year, and could be again.
Rating: 8.5