2009 Arizona State Preview - Defense
Arizona State DE Dexter Davis
Arizona State DE Dexter Davis
Posted May 16, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devil Defense

Arizona State Sun Devils

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Arizona State Preview | 2009 ASU Offense
- 2009 ASU Defense
| 2009 ASU Depth Chart
- 2008 ASU Preview | 2007 ASU Preview
| 2006 ASU Preview 

What you need to know: Raise your hand if you thought the defense would be ahead of the offense after two years with Dennis Erickson at the helm. Craig Bray and his assistants have quietly done an outstanding job of closing some holes and turning the Sun Devils into a tougher and more intense unit. The defense will again be ahead of the offense in Tempe, and it might not even be close. Most of the key components are back from a group that was a respectable 45th or better in total defense, scoring defense, run defense, and pass efficiency defense. It’ll all start up front, where DE Dexter Davis is one of the nation’s best pass rushers and DT Lawrence Guy is on the verge of stardom. The linebackers are deep and experienced, led by Mike Nixon, a borderline All-Pac-10 player. If there are question marks, they’ll come from a secondary that loses both starting safeties and can be inconsistent in pass coverage.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Mike Nixon, 90
Sacks: Dexter Davis, 11
Interceptions: Mike Nixon, 5

Star of the defense: Senior DE Dexter Davis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior SS Ryan McFoy
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Lawrence Guy
Best pro prospect: Guy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Davis 2) Senior LB Mike Nixon 3) Guy
Strength of the defense: The front seven, run defense, red zone defense
Weakness of the defense: Safety, breakdowns in pass coverage

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
: With an inside-outside presence of 6-5, 293-pound Lawrence Guy and 6-2, 255-pound Dexter Davis, the Sun Devils have the starting points of one of the Pac-10’s best front lines. Davis is an All-America candidate and one of the premier pass rushers in the country. An explosive force off the edge since his freshman year, he combines speed and tenacity with great technique to blow past opposing tackles. Through three years, his resume includes 113 tackles, 39 tackles for loss, 27.5 sacks, and eight forced fumbles.

Guy was supposed to be good when he was plucked out of Las Vegas, but not this good, this fast. While certainly built like a tackle at 6-5 and 293 pounds, he moves with the quickness and agility of an end, providing constant penetration from the inside. In a stellar Freshman All-America debut, he had 44 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and two sacks, already looking as if he’ll play on Sundays in a few years.

Joining Guy on the interior will be 6-1, 298-pound junior Saia Falahola, a converted offensive linemen, who has struggled with injury problems. Coming off his best offseason with the program, he’s being counted on as a run-stuffer, who can clog up the middle of the line. With Guy commanding so much attention, Falahola should have no problem exceeding last year’s 18 tackles.

Although the final verse has yet to be written on the other end spot, 6-5, 278-pound sophomore James Brooks will have the inside track. He’s still raw, but has the size and athleticism to complement Davis and take on more of a strongside, run-stopping role. As a key member of the rotation last year, he chipped in 11 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

Projected Top Reserves: Once he comes off the disabled list from an ACL tear, 6-0, 282-pound junior Jonathan English will resume his role as one of the first tackles off the bench. One of the program’s strongest defenders, he plays with good leverage and pad level, getting under blockers and knocking them off their base. He lettered for the second time last year, making a dozen tackles and 3.5 behind the line.

Brooks’ stiffest competition is coming from 6-5, 268-pound sophomore Jamaar Jarrett, an intriguing combination of power, size, and quickness. Fueled by a terrific work ethic, he’s made strides since his debut, which included nine tackles in occasional mop-up duty.

Watch Out For… JUCO transfer Dean DeLeone. He hasn’t played a snap in Tempe, yet has already had an auspicious debut. One of the stars of the spring, the 6-2, 245-pounder showed tremendous speed around tackle, soaring up the depth chart to the No. 2 hole behind Davis. A 25-year old former member of the U.S. Coast Guard, he’s primed for immediate playing time.

Strength: Pressure. With Davis on the outside and Guy on the inside, it’s going to be perilous to double player. The Sun Devils were just 58th nationally in sacks a year ago, but should be much improved, especially if the supporting cast is able to clean up when the quarterback is flushed out of the pocket.
Weakness: The “other” end. In order to ease some of the pressure off Davis, Arizona State needs a viable complement now that Luis Vasquez has graduated. A lot of players have potential, but until one of them actually creates havoc, Davis’ life is going to be a whole lot more complicated.
Outlook: There’s more work to be done and everyone needs to be healthy, but this looks like Arizona State’s best defensive line in years. Davis is a bona fide Pac-10 star, who makes his linemates better, and Guy is on the same path, provided he keeps working as hard off the field as he does on it. With the uncertainty facing so many of the league’s offensive lines, the Devils have an opportunity to take games over in the trenches.
Rating: 8.5


rojected Starters
: With a multitude of familiar faces returning and some dynamite recruits on their way, Arizona State feels good about its linebacker situation. Setting the tone from the weakside will be 6-3, 224-pound Mike Nixon, a 25-year old former Los Angeles Dodgers farm hand coming off a dynamite all-around season. An instinctive playmaking with a knack for being around the ball, he took off as a junior, making a team-high 90 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and Pac-10-best five interceptions. He also brings a level of maturity and leadership that impacts the entire defense.

The biggest move of the offseason has 6-3, 237-pound senior Travis Goethel moving from strongside to middle linebacker. One of the unit’s most physical and tenacious defenders, he’s been in the lineup since his freshman year and has had 71 tackles in each of the last two seasons. His versatility could become a factor if one of the young kids bumps back outside.

Assuming Goethel stays put, 6-2, 225-pound sophomore Shelly Lyons, a quality backup and high-profile recruit from a year ago. A tremendous athlete with the toughness of a much bigger player, he has a great future as a Sun Devil. In his first season out of high school, he mostly played in the middle, collecting 36 tackles.    

Projected Top Reserves: The Sun Devils’ depth inside got a big boost when 6-4, 242-pound senior Gerald Munns returned in the spring. He left the team for personal reasons midway through last season, leaving his future with the school in doubt. While not an elite athlete, he plays with a warrior’s mentality and passion, hunting down ball carriers wherever they roam. He just knows how to make plays, which isn’t such a bad thing.

Sophomore Oliver Aaron is proving to be one of the fastest rising players among the linebackers. While no threat to Nixon, he’s shown that weakside will remain in good hands in 2010 and 2011. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by his 6-0, 205-pound frame. He’s a punishing tackler with the range to make plays all over the field.

Watch Out For…incoming freshman Vontaze Burfict. More than just a good recruit, he is a signature recruit and arguably the nation’s best linebacker in the class of 2008. Built to contribute immediately, could he actually displace Goethel in the middle? It’s possible if he’s dedicated to learning on the field and in the classroom.
Strength: Intangibles. No, that’s not code for a group that lacks athleticism. They move just fine, but in terms of intangibles, like maturity, intelligence, and intensity, they’re well ahead of the curve. With players, such as Nixon, Goethel, and Munns, roaming around the field, Arizona State is flush with passionate, dedicated linebackers.
Weakness: Strongside. Absolutely no disrespect is meant to Lyons, who has a bright future, but he’s just a second-year player and would benefit from another year of seasoning. Ideally, Burfict can hold down the middle, allowing Goethel to slide back to his familiar strongside.
Outlook: The linebackers are a largely a blue-collar, lunch pail collection that just goes out and makes a ton of plays. And there’s nothing wrong with that recipe. If Burfict is truly perfect, he’ll provide an extra injection of excitement, giving the program considerable depth and talent at the second level.                             
Rating: 7.5


rojected Starters
: While losing Troy Nolan to graduation hurts, Arizona State has enough veterans to offset his departure. One, in particular, is 6-1, 209-pound senior Ryan McFoy, who is moving from linebacker to strong safety, a more natural position for his size and skills. A nice package of size, speed, and pop, he’s determined to bring an attitude and physicality to the secondary. In limited reps a year ago, he had 18 tackles and a couple of pass breakups.

First dibs at free safety belong to 5-10, 198-pound sophomore Clint Floyd, who had seven tackles as a reserve and special teamer in his injury-riddled rookie year. A smooth and speedy athlete, he has the hips and instincts to be excel in pass coverage once he packs away some more live action.

Which Omar Bolden shows up, the one who was a sensational Freshman All-American or the one who regressed as a sophomore? It’s one of the key questions for the secondary heading into the season. Yeah, he definitely struggled in pass coverage more than anyone expected, but the base is there, including good hips and instincts, to make a quick rebound. In his second year as the starter, the 5-10, 195-pounder had 49 tackles, two picks, and seven pass break ups. 

It took a while, but once the light went on for 5-9, 177-pound senior Terell Carr, he really took off in his debut out of Pasadena City College. More feisty than his size would indicate and blazing fast, he had the type of offseason that points to an even better finale in Tempe. As a testament to his physicality, he had 46 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a pick, despite not being a starter for the first month of 2008.

Projected Top Reserves: Quality, veteran depth at cornerback will come from 5-11, 196-pound senior Pierre Singfield. That is, if he doesn’t recapture the job he held at the beginning of 2008, his first after walking on from Pasadena (Calif.) City College. He wasted no time earning a scholarship, flashing surprising cover skills and finishing his first year with 22 tackles and a couple of batted balls.

While he’s about as raw as you’d expect from a redshirt freshman, 6-0, 199-pound Keelan Johnson has shown enough physically to sneak up behind McFoy at strong safety. Coming off a fantastic year on the scout team, he has the straight-line speed and pop in run defense to be the successor at the position beginning in 2010.

Watch Out For… Bolden’s play. If Bolden is golden, it’s going to be tough completing passes on Arizona State, especially when the front four is flushing the pocket. If, however, he fails to bounce back from his sophomore slump, the Devils become a little more vulnerable through the air.
Strength: The cornerbacks. The Sun Devils really like their depth at the position, now that Carr and Singfield have a full year behind them, and sophomore Josh Jordan has played as if he’ll be a mainstay in the rotation.
Weakness: The safeties. McFoy has played linebacker the last two seasons. Floyd is just over a year removed from high school. And the backups are light on experience. Yeah, the program has concerns about the position heading into the season.
Outlook: While there are a number of “ifs” swirling around the defensive backfield, the building blocks are in place for this to be a solid back end of the defense for the Sun Devils. Of course, that’s only if Bolden recaptures his 2007 form and if McFoy makes a smooth transition back to the secondary.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

rojected Starters
: The return of junior Thomas Weber for a third season means the Sun Devils will once again boast one of the nation’s premier placekickers. While not as sharp as his All-America, Groza Award-winning debut, he still managed to nail 19-of-25 field goal attempts. He had some issues beyond 40 yards, hitting just 3-of-7, but some of the problems could be traced to nagging injuries. When he’s on, he’s a boomer with incredible accuracy.

Weber wore multiple hats as a sophomore, averaging 41.4 yards as the team’s punter. Although he has clearly shown punter and has good leg strength, he has a long way to go before approaching his proficiency as a placekicker.  

Senior Kyle Williams provides the program with the luxury of one of the nation’s top punt returners. An all-leaguer the last two seasons, he averaged 17 yards a return in 2008, and is always a threat to go the distance. A pair of redshirt freshmen, A.J. Pickens and Keelan Johnson, are battling it out for the right to be the primary kickoff returner.

Watch Out For… any new developments at punter. Weber is the man for the time being, but Dennis Erickson would like someone to relieve him of that duty, so he can concentrate solely on kicking. Junior Trevor Hankins is a possibility, but he’ll have to prove that he’s clearly better or else Weber won’t be unseated.                          
Strength: Weber. He’s so good that he’s actually a weapon, a rarity among placekickers. He’s clutch, frighteningly accurate, and able to reach from 50 yards when he’s completely healthy. After being just honorable mention All-Pac-10, he enters 2009 looking for a rebound.   
Weakness: Blocks. If it seemed like the Sun Devils were having a kick blocked every other game, that’s because they were getting a kicked blocked every other game. In a stark contrast from the previous season, Arizona State had three kicks deflected and two punts, which needs to be reversed this fall. 
Outlook: With Weber and Williams as the foundation, Arizona State will continue to have one of the Pac-10’s more complete special teams units. The primary objectives of special teams coach Jamie Christian will be to solidify the situation at punter and settle on the right man to be the kickoff returner.
Rating: 9