2010 Arizona State Preview – Defense
Arizona State CB Omar Bolden
Arizona State CB Omar Bolden
Posted Jun 6, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devil Defense

Arizona State Sun Devils

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Without any national attention, coordinator Craig Bray did a phenomenal job with the D, piloting a unit that was first or second in the Pac-10 in run defense, pass defense, and scoring defense. Now, besides keeping the momentum going, he wants to make sure the Devils don't vanish in the face of better offenses, like it did versus Stanford and Oregon last fall. While only five starters return, the coaches like the core of this unit, namely Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola up front, Vontaze Burfict at linebacker, and Omar Bolden on the last line of defense. The defense will again strive to force the action, playing with intensity and wrapping up in the open field. Although the talent and athleticism is undeniable, remaining one of the league's better defenses requires more edge pressure. Dexter Davis is no longer around to draw attention, meaning James Brooks, Greg Smith, and Jamaar Jarrett have to start playing above their pay grade.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Vontaze Burfict, 69
Sacks: Lawrence Guy, 4.5
Interceptions: Several at 1

Star of the defense: Sophomore LB Vontaze Burfict
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE James Brooks
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FS Keelan Johnson
Best pro prospect: Burfict
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Burfict, 2) Junior DT Lawrence Guy, 3) Junior CB Omar Bolden
Strength of the defense: Inside pressure, linebackers, pass defense, run defense, creating turnovers, third down defense, red zone defense
Weakness of the defense: Edge pressure, proven depth

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Virtually intact from a year ago, Arizona State's biggest objective is finding a replacement for DE Dexter Davis. Sophomore Greg Smithis aiming to pick up some of the slack as a pass rusher. Impressive enough to get on the field for 10 games as a true freshman, making four tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. More important, he's grown physically and as a player since arriving, showing good quickness and get-off for a 6-3, 255-pounder.

At strongside end, the Devils are banking on the continued emergence of 6-5, 280-pound junior James Brooks. As a starter in all nine of his 2009 games, he contributed 17 tackles, seven tackles, and 3.5 sacks. Beyond just the numbers, he has the size to be a force against the run, yet has the athleticism to also collapse the pocket. With a full season as the team's top end, he's poised to become a borderline conference all-star.

The budding superstar of the first line of defense is 6-5, 300-pound junior Lawrence Guy, a reigning honorable mention All-Pac-10 choice with next-level potential. He has all of the physical gifts coaches seek in a defensive tackle, blending the size, strength, and burst to be a frequent visitor into opposing backfields. Halfway through a career flush with upside potential, he took another forward in 2009 by making 37 stops, seven tackles for loss, and a team-best 4.5 sacks.

The pleasant surprise of the interior a year ago was 6-1, 300-pound senior Saia Falahola, who finally showed what he can do when fully healthy. In his first season as a full-timer, he produced 26 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks. Tough to handle for one man, he goes to the whistle and is very difficult to move off his base. While not overly flashy, he has a great presence on the inside for the Sun Devils.

Projected Top Reserves: On the outside, Brooks is being pushed by 6-5, 252-pound junior Jamaar Jarrett, who has trimmed down and is playing with more passion this season. A good blend of size, power, and quickness, he's lettered in each of his first two seasons on campus, making a career-best 16 tackles and three stops behind the line in 2009.

Fighting for time on the opposite side behind Smith will be one-time junior college transfer Dean DeLeone. In his first season out of Orange Coast (Calif.) College, he started three games and posted 14 tackles. At 6-2 and 250 pounds, he's an outstanding all-around athlete, with the maturity of a 26-year-old former member of the U.S. Coast Guard.

The staff is excited about the future of 6-2, 300-pound sophomore William Sutton , who'll be the backup for Guy at one tackle spot. Fresh out of high school, he's already started a pair of games and made 17 tackles and three tackles for loss in his debut. A tenacious defender, he's succeeded in adding weight without sacrificing his ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Though not as active in his rookie year, 6-3, 294-pound sophomore Corey Adams was far more highly-regarded than Sutton coming out of high school. One of the nation's top recruits of 2009, he could have played for the likes of Ohio State and USC, deciding to be a Sun Devil instead. He earned a letter before injuring his back, making four tackles as an eight-game reserve, but hasn't even begun to scrape the surface of his enormous potential.

Watch Out For … the kids at tackle. Yes, Guy and Falahola are safe, but that doesn't mean Sutton and Adams will be content to be buried in the rotation. Both players have tremendous future, especially after earning valuable reps in their first year on campus. One might be starting in 2001, or two if Guy decides to bolt for the NFL.
Strength: Inside pressure. The program is absolutely loaded with the kinds of tackles, who can beat the block, shoot the gap, and get penetration. Each member of the two-deep is capable of blowing up plays before they start, a key reason why Arizona State led the Pac-10 in run D and yielded just 3.4 yards a carry.
Weakness: Edge pressure. The Devil ends accounted for just eight sacks last season, and that was when Davis was still on campus. While Brooks is a quality lineman, it's not as if he has the explosiveness to take over a game. It's incumbent upon Smith or one of the other young ends to prevent quarterbacks from having all day to throw the ball.
Outlook: Arizona State could have one of the better defensive lines in the Pac-10 depending on how well the ends perform. On the inside, the Sun Devils are loaded with playmakers and a terrific mix of youth and experience. This group has the talent to win the battles on the inside and control the line of scrimmage against most opponents.
Unit Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: Every so often a can't-miss recruits winds up being a bust. Sophomore Vontaze Burfict has no chance of falling into that category. The kid, who turned away USC among many others, was as dominant as advertised in his debut, starting nine games in the middle and finishing with 69 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two sacks, and two forced fumbles. Already imposing at 6-3 and 245 pounds, he's light years ahead of his peers from a physical standpoint. Solid in all phases of the game, he's particularly ornery in run defense and as a blitzer from the interior.

The Sun Devils need a couple of new starters to flank their star. At strongside, 6-2, 230-pound junior Shelly Lyons has essentially locked up one of the jobs. He's enjoyed an outstanding offseason, arriving in the best shape of his career and looking more comfortable with his assignments. A terrific athlete, with the toughness of a much bigger player, he's staring at an outstanding second half of the career. In his first two seasons, he's played in 23 games, making 17 stops in 2009.

At weakside, 5-11, 230-pound junior Brandon Magee will take a big edge into the summer. In a reserve role, he really turned it up a notch last year, making 34 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. Playing with outstanding range and intensity, he showed a knack for fighting through blocks and diagnosing plays before they could develop. With a chance to be an every-down player, he could be one of this year's defensive upstarts.

Projected Top Reserves: Providing a veteran presence in the middle will be 6-4, 242-pound senior Gerald Munns, who has started eight games and played in 36 during his career. An ideal individual to have on the second unit, he's one of the smartest defenders and the kind of leader others will rally around. Solid against the run, he posted a career-high 31 tackles last season, five for minus yards.

At weakside, it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep 6-0, 208-pound junior Oliver Aaron off the field. Even if he can't jump Magee, he has the sideline-to-sideline speed and ferocity that will warrant ample reps in the rotation. Lost in a deep corps a year ago, the former safety managed just four tackles in eight games.

Watch Out For … Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School to feel an inordinate amount of pride whenever the Sun Devils suit up. As hard as it is to imagine, if Burfict, Lyons, and Magee maintain their leads on the depth chart, the entire Arizona State starting corps will be comprised of kids from the same high school.
Strength: Range. In Burfict, Lyons, and Magee, the Devils boast three outstanding athletes, who will cover large chunks of ground with their speed and instincts. Whether it's defending the run, covering receivers, or blitzing the quarterbacks, they're all equipped with the athletic ability to deliver results.
Weakness: Leadership. In Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel, the Devils lost more than just a pair of starters. They parted with two of their brightest veterans and a pair of galvanizing figures. Out of the holdovers, someone needs to rise up and assume the role of vocal leader that's missing right now.
Outlook: At linebacker, it's all about the future in Tempe these days. Burfict is the reigning Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year and a budding star on a national level. He should get plenty of support from Magee, Lyons, and a second unit that'll serve as a terrific insurance policy.
Unit Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: In the defensive backfield, all eyes will be on 5-10, 195-pound junior CB Omar Bolden, who was awarded a medical hardship after sitting out the final eight games with a knee injury. If he can recapture his Freshman All-American form from 2008, the potential exists for him to be one of the Pac-10's better cover corners. If his play in the spring is any indication, he's poised for a bounce back season, parlaying those soft hips and good instincts into a bunch of picks and batted balls.

Although he sat out the spring due to injury, 5-11, 184-pound sophomore Deveron Carr is a favorite to join Bolden at the other cornerback spot. Thrown into the deep end of the water as a rookie, he responded rather well, starting three games, making 10 tackles and three breakups, and generally handling the challenge. Extremely fast and stronger than his size might indicate, all he needs now is more reps and a better feel for the defense.

At free safety, 6-0, 201-pound sophomore Keelan Johnson has pulled away and isn't looking back. Looking far more comfortable than a year, he has stood out in the offseason for his athletic fluidity and ability to make plays. A little lost at times, he had an uneventful 11 tackles and even started a game in 2009. However, the way he breaks on the ball and catches it like a former wide receiver, he's poised to turn the corner in a big way this fall.

Barring a surprise, strong safety should belong to 5-10, 198-pound junior Clint Floyd, who has bounced around a bit and worked hard to get to this point. Although his speed is his calling card, he'll use it to fly around and pummel whoever is in his path. Having started five games and made 15 tackles in 2009, he should find the transition to a full-timer a smooth one.

Projected Top Reserves: While Carr was laid up in the spring, 5-11, 193-pound senior LeQuan Lewis received valuable reps with the first team defense. One of the fastest Sun Devils on the roster, he made his debut out of Cerritos (Calif.) College, playing one game on defense and the final nine as a receiver. However, he's staying put in the secondary, with a chance to push for the job opposite Bolden.

Caddying for Johnson at free safety is 5-10, 186-pound junior Eddie Elder, who arrives in the Pac-10 after spending the last two seasons College of San Mateo (Calif.). He has a penchant for being around the ball and knows what to do when he gets it in his hands. A playmaker, the staff wants to get him up to speed as quickly as possible.

Watch Out For … redshirt freshman Osahon Irabor. While no threat to Bolden's job at cornerback, he's already served notice that he's a huge part of the future in the secondary. At 5-11 and 180 pounds, he has good size, crisp technique, and a maturity that belies his age. His growth might be more about 2011, but it'll still be worth following.
Strength: Lockdown coverage. Sans any all-stars, Arizona State did a brilliant job of defending the pass a year ago. No. 2 in the Pac-10 and No. 20 nationally in pass efficiency D, the Sun Devils held opponents to 53% completion percentage and just 6.2 yards an attempt. Even with turnover, they have the athletes and the staff to keep this trend going.
Weakness: Experienced depth. While graduations may not be felt on the first unit, it will as you travel down the depth chart. Of the projected second-teamers, two are redshirt freshmen, one is JUCO transfer, and the other had just four tackles in 2009.
Outlook: It's not as if the Sun Devils sent any defensive backs to the 2010 NFL Draft, so there's hope that last season's stellar performance can be duplicated. The secondary is flush with quality athletes and a good mix of youth and experience. The key will be Bolden, who can really help the overall cause by cutting off half the field for opposing passers.
Unit Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The program has one more season with Thomas Weber, one of the best kickers in the country and one of the best in Arizona State history. An ace from just about anywhere on the field, he's hit 51-of-63 career field goal attempts and was the winner of the 2007 Groza Award. He was a little off a year ago, making only 8-of-13 tries, but only played in eight games and was hampered by nagging injuries. When healthy, he's a next-level missile launcher, who can reach from beyond 50 yards.

Returning to punter will be linebacker-sized senior Trevor Hankins, a former transfer from Glendale (Ariz.) Community College. A huge success in his first year on the job, he averaged a whopping 44.2 yards, which was tops in the Pac-10 and No. 10 nationally. He'll be vying for All-Pac-10 honors after being bypassed in 2009.

Slated to handle both punt and kickoff returns will be speedy sophomore Jamal Miles. As the kick returner a year ago, he averaged just 19.7 yards, a number the coaching staff hopes he'll surpass this fall.

Watch Out For … the health of Weber. He was a different performer last season because of the injuries and it showed in the final results. When he's at full strength, he's one of the most accurate placekickers in America and Arizona State's top offensive weapon.
Strength: Legs. It used to be that Weber was the lone star of this group, but Hankins has thrown his resume into the discussion. It's quite possible the Sun Devils could have an all-star placekicker and punter in the same season.
Weakness: Punt coverage. Even with an improved Hankins booming the ball, the Devils were still just 50th nationally in net punting and 92nd on covering punts. For the sake of the defense, it's an area that must be tightened up before the start of the season. Outlook: With Weber and Hankins as the foundation, Arizona State has the starting points of one of the Pac-10's premier special teams units. Just how effective it winds up being will depend on the play of the coverage units and the development of Miles as the primary return specialist.
Unit Rating: 9

- 2010 Arizona State Preview | 2010 Arizona State Offense
- 2010 Arizona State Defense | 2010 Arizona State Depth Chart
- Arizona State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006