State Sun Devils
Preview 2008 - Defense
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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.
Tackles: Travis Goethel, 71
Sacks: Dexter Davis, 10.5
Interceptions: Troy Nolan, 6
of the defense:
Junior DE Dexter Davis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
Strength: 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.