Fall Camp Preview: Defense

The Sun Devils' front seven is one of the best in the Pac-12, and once again should be one of the best run-stopping units in the league. Yet, ASU's secondary remains an area for concern. How will these two aspects ultimately affect production in 2011? Devils Digest's Joe Healey provides a thorough analysis of the Sun Devil defense listing its strengths and challenges.

Defensive Line

Position Roster (By Seniority)

Derrall Anderson, RS-Sr. (DE)

Bo Moos, RS-Sr. (DT)

Jamaar Jarrett, Sr.

Gannon Conway, RS-Jr. (DE)*

Toa Tuitea, RS-Jr. (DT)

Corey Adams, Jr. (DT)

Gregory Smith, Jr. (DE)

Davon Coleman, RS-So. (DE)

William Sutton, RS-So. (DT)

Junior Onyeali, So. (DE)

Jordan McDonald, RS-Fr. (DE)

Joita Te'i, RS-Fr. (DT)

Mo Latu, Fr. (DT)

David Moala, Fr. (DT)

Sean O'Grady, Fr. (DE)

(*-Non-Scholarship Player)

Position Preview

The outlook for ASU's defensive line in 2011 banks on first-string quality over proven quantity, as the top four linemen are as collectively good as any in the league but the reserves at tackle and end have quite a bit to prove.

With starting tackle Saia Falahola graduating and his fellow starter Lawrence Guy opting to leave ASU early for the NFL, the Sun Devils are tasked to integrate a new pair of first-teamers at tackle for 2011.

Luckily for ASU, Will Sutton (pictured) returns after being academically ineligible for 2010—a season in which he likely would have started over Falahola. Sutton is a superstar waiting to happen and it appears to be a given that big things await the third year player from Corona, Calif. Slated to start opposite Sutton is fifth-year senior Bo Moos, a veteran that uses work ethic and grit to make up for what he lacks In terms of measurable traits.

Behind Sutton and Moos, the depth chart remains to be cleanly ironed as the four likely candidates to fill the second and third-teams aren't perfectly organized heading into camp.

Corey Adams, a former blue chip prospect, is a player that has shown brief glimpses of the skills that made him a five-star prospect in 2009 and is expected to be the top reserve tackle. If he can come remotely close to providing the inside pass rush presence he did in high school at Scottsdale Saguaro, he will be a standout backup.

A participant in 14 games the past two years, junior Toa Tuitea is a utility style lineman that can play tackle or end and likely will enter camp as Adams' partner on the second team. Freshman Joita Te'i, another lineman capable of playing multiple positions, redshirted in 2010 and has shown spurts of prime ability and will get a definite shot to earn playing time this year.

Mo Latu is one of the most prized acquisitions among ASU's 2011 signing class and has the bulk and physicality to possibly contribute as a true freshman if he is able to assert himself enough in camp.

True freshman David Moala of Gardena, Calif., an active lineman that established a reputation for terrorizing quarterbacks while at powerhouse Serra High School, most likely will redshirt in 2011.

At defensive end, ASU has perhaps the prototypical combination of a speed rushing weak side end and a physical, powerful strong side end in Junior Onyeali and Jamaar Jarrett.

Onyeali (pictured), all 5-foot-11 of him, led ASU with 6.5 sacks in 2010 en route to earning Pac-10 Conference Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. Physically jacked with speed to burn, Onyeali uses his size to his advantage by darting around linemen to harass passers. A part-time starter last year, Onyeali now is a known commodity and will draw substantial attention from opposing blockers.

A role player his first two seasons, Jarrett broke out in 2010 and earned Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 recognition after tallying 40 tackles, including 10.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks. A long-framed 6-foot-5, 260-pounder, Jarrett has the power to bull rush through linemen and enough quickness to speed his way into the backfield. Similar to Onyeali, Jarrett only started half of his 12 games played on the year, so as a projected full-time starter Jarrett is expected to be a constant force for the Devils.

Though Onyeali and Jarrett combine to form perhaps the league's top pair of ends, depth is a concern as not only did former starters Dean DeLeone and Jamarr Robinson graduate, but spot starter James Brooks opted to not return for his senior season due to personal reasons.

With nothing but opportunities available for prospective backup ends, the primary candidates to be the top reserves are junior Gregory Smith and incoming junior college transfer Davon Coleman, a redshirt sophomore.

Smith owns top-notch athletic gifts and was believed to be on the verge of becoming a starting candidate before the 2010 season, but saw his role diminish as the season wore on and Onyeali and Jarrett emerged. With a solid spring behind him, Smith has a true opportunity to be a key contributor in the rotation at defense end.

Though he nearly didn't pursue recruitment this offseason, Coleman may end up as the top defensive player to have signed with ASU this offseason. After redshirting in 2009, Coleman played at Fort Scott (Kan.) this past season and has the physical ability to play multiple line positions and even linebacker if needed. In the brief time he has been on campus, Coleman has reportedly impressed in workouts and will be expected to provide forceful reps as a pass rusher to spell Onyeali and Jarrett.

In the spring, fifth-year senior Derrall Anderson was moved from middle linebacker to defensive end and had some positive results, yet it remains to be seen whether he has acclimated to the position enough to be a true factor.

Redshirt freshman Jordan McDonald, a standout pass rusher while at Scottsdale Saguaro High, first appeared to be a long-term project after arriving on campus under 220 pounds, but arrived in the spring much more physically prepared for duty than when he debuted at ASU in the fall. Like Anderson, McDonald had satisfactory moments in the spring but remains on the outside looking in as far as substantial playing time is concerned.

Walk-on Gannon Conway adds depth at end, while incoming true freshman Sean O'Grady likely will redshirt in 2010.

What We Know

The starting four has the talent to rival any Pac-12 defensive line.

Junior Onyeali is the reigning Pac-10 Conference Defensive Freshman of the Year, Jamaar Jarrett was one of the league's most improved players, Will Sutton may be the best lineman Pac-12 fans have never heard of and Bo Moos is a gritty, high-effort player that can etch out an impact in his first year as a starter.

When all added up, ASU has one of the most capable pairs of starting ends in the league, while Sutton should soon be recognized as one of the Pac's most talented tackles. Compared to other teams in the league, USC may be the only team able to legitimately compare to the capabilities of ASU's starting defensive line.

Depth? Now that is another issue, but the top four at tackle and end for the Devils is about as good as it gets in the Pac-12.

Will Sutton is poised for a breakout season.

Though many were somewhat mystified by the early departure of tackle Lawrence Guy, ultimately a seventh round NFL Draft pick, the void may not only be filled immediately by Sutton, the redshirt junior may notably exceed the standard set by Guy.

Sutton saw action in 12 games with two starts as a true freshman in 2009, collecting 17 tackles including three for loss, but was deemed academically ineligible for 2010 and redshirted.

With the 2011 season on the horizon, Sutton is back with a chip on his shoulder and hell bent on taking the frustrations of a year away from game action out on running backs and quarterbacks of the Pac-12 Conference.

Stout, aggressive and athletic, Sutton has every tool needed to be a menace to opposing blockers and is expected to excel mightily this season—outlets such as ESPN and Sports Illustrated mentioned him as an impact player this spring—to quickly fill Guy's absence.

What We Don't Know

How will depth be affected by the early departures of Lawrence Guy and James Brooks?

The first-string foursome should be able to keep the line of scrimmage battle in check, but the landscape of ASU's reserve linemen is certainly sketchy heading into August camp.

With Guy leaving campus a year early for the NFL and Brooks ending his career a year short of completion, the onus of responsibilities falls upon a group of newcomers and role players to ascend to a higher level of contribution.

At tackle, Corey Adams and Toa Tuitea have game experience as reserves, while redshirt freshman Joita Te'i and true freshman Mo Latu may be involved as well.

Adams came to ASU with lofty expectations but has not fully been physically able to fulfill them, while Tuitea has been a utility lineman that has seen brief action but has potential. Te'i might have played as a true freshman in 2010 if not for lagging responses from the NCAA Clearinghouse, while Latu is the most prominent high school defensive member of ASU's 2011 class.

At end, junior Gregory Smith will be counted on to take on more responsibilities than in his previous two years and incoming junior college transfer Davon Coleman would be somewhat of a godsend to validate the buzz that surrounded his unusual recruitment this offseason.

Behind Smith and Coleman, senior Derrall Anderson moved from linebacker to end this spring and redshirt freshman Jordan McDonald appears to be making progress in becoming physically able to take on the demands of a college lineman. Both players had some quality reps in the spring but can't yet presume to be bona fide difference makers.

In all, ASU will go three-deep with eligible, able-bodied players. Each player on the depth charts has shown skills to be viable contributors but few of them have definitively proven themselves in live duty.

Will newcomers be able to make immediate contributions?

It is entirely feasible that two first-year Sun Devils are featured in the two-deeps at tackle and end, as junior college transfer Davon Coleman is expected to be an instant impact player and redshirt freshman Joita Te'i and true freshman Mo Latu may be counted on for snaps at tackle.

Coleman is an enigmatic player, as he planned to spend an additional year at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College before making himself able to be recruited for the 2011 class. ASU was first on the scene and ultimately won his services, but schools such as Florida, Nebraska and Ohio State were rumored to have major interest in Coleman. If he can play at a level similar to the typical recruit that those three schools pursue, ASU could have a found a total gem.

At tackle, Te'i and Latu have complementary qualities as Te'i is an active, versatile lineman that can also play end, while Latu is a beastly gap-plugger that will be the Devils' largest defensive lineman this fall.

In order to avoid having more responsibility placed on the shoulders of ASU's starting linemen, it is clearly crucial that possibly a few first-year Sun Devils will need to quickly become reliable options.

Redshirt freshman Jordan McDonald likely will be a depth player at end as will Derrall Anderson, a newcomer to the position though a fifth-year senior in terms of overall team tenure.

True freshmen David Moala and Sean O'Grady likely will redshirt in 2011 barring significant need along the line.

Projected Starters: Jamaar Jarrett, Junior Onyeali (DE); Bo Moos, Will Sutton (DT)

Rising Star: Will Sutton

Though delayed a year, Sutton's academic ineligibility in 2010 may prove to be a blessing in disguise as he both learned a valuable lesson in maturity and establishing priorities off the football field and also fueled himself with determination and intensity for the 2011 season.

With both starting defensive tackles gone from last year's roster, Sutton leaps from key reserve to the team's most talented player at the position and may emerge as one of the Pac-12's better tackles by season's end.

Needs to Step Up: Corey Adams and Gregory Smith

Adams, the former five-star prospect from Scottsdale Saguaro High School, has faced multiple injury issues through his first two years in Tempe, greatly limiting his productivity and development.

Currently, Adams is slated as a top reserve defensive tackle behind projected starters Bo Moos and Will Sutton. Adams showed some promise as a sophomore last year by recording a pair of sacks in nine games, but would benefit tremendously from the ability to be healthy and consistent enough to start to validate his ranking as a recruit. Also, with unproven players such as Toa Tuitea, Joita Te'i and possibly true freshman Mo Latu on the depth chart at tackle, Adams would do the defense a wealth of good to become a more proven commodity.

Smith appeared in 10 games as a true freshman and appeared to be on the upswing toward a productive career as a rush end, but his contributions diminished in 2010 as he fell down the depth chart and only played in eight games.

Thankfully for the sake of ASU's depth at defensive end, Smith had a highly productive spring and appears to be in good spirits and good standing with the coaches. With James Brooks recently making an early departure from the team, Smith and junior college transfer Davon Coleman likely will be the two primary backups behind Jamaar Jarrett and Junior Onyeali. Due to the fact that Coleman has high potential but no FBS experience, it would calm many minds if Smith can provide a reliable presence in 2011.

Linebacker

Position Roster (By Seniority)

Oliver Aaron, RS-Sr.

Colin Parker, RS-Sr.

Shelly Lyons, Sr.

Brandon Magee, Sr.

Charles Beatty, RS-Jr.*

Vontaze Burfict, Jr.

Anthony Jones, RS-So.

Kipeli Koniseti, RS-So.

Brandon Johnson, RS-So.*

Grandville Taylor, RS-So.*

Carl Bradford, RS-Fr.

Jesse Clark, RS-Fr.*

Isreal Marshall, Fr.

(*-Non-Scholarship Player)

Position Preview

If there's a position on the roster that creates zero concern and total excitement In Sun Devil fans, it's definitely linebacker.

In many ways, the Devils have a spoil of riches at linebacker as not only do they have potentially the nation's best player at the position, but incredible depth and diverse talent at all three spots.

At this point, Vontaze Burfict needs no introduction; the junior middle linebacker is one of the most fearsome and intimidating defensive forces in the college game and what may be most scary for opponents—he's maturing and showing signs of self-discipline.

Burfict has been picked by multiple publications as the National Defensive Player of the Year and a First-Team All-American, while also being named to the watch list for every major defensive award in college football. He plays with brutality and anger, but based on preseason efforts it is clear that Burfict has taken on a greater leadership role and may hush the critics that belittle his value due to multiple costly personal foul penalties.

If not for Burfict, Brandon Magee (pictured)—a high school teammate of Burfict's—may earn greater recognition as the speedy weak side ‘backer ranked second on the team in tackles and has excellent range and persistence. A multi-faceted athlete, there was concern that Magee would sign a professional baseball contract and perhaps forego his senior football season. After being selected in the 21st round by the Oakland Athletics this summer, all signs point to Magee returning to the gridiron where he projects as one of the Devils' defensive leaders.

Strong side linebacker is a spot that may see the most competition of any starting role on the defense, as seniors Shelly Lyons and Colin Parker, both with prior starting experience, will duel for a first-team nod.

Lyons began 2010 as the top option on the strong side—making ASU's starting trio consist of all Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School alums—but after a midseason injury that sidelined him for the year, Parker, who had already come on as surprise star in a reserve role, overtook the starting role. As the season concluded, Parker became one of the defense's most consistent performers and has a strong argument toward his mission to remain a starter.

Both Lyons and Parker saw first-team duties in the spring due to Magee's participation on the baseball team, but with Magee back in the lineup for the fall it's Highlander time for the two seniors on the strong side, as there can be only one.

Weak side linebacker Oliver Aaron, who similar to Parker enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2010, may not have prototypical size at 6-feet, 208-pounds, but the Florida native plays fearlessly and in an opportunistic fashion. A highly qualified reserve or starter if needed, Aaron brings a tremendous boost of the bench and isn't much of a drop off talent-wise from ASU's starters.

Two exciting newcomers will enter the fold at linebacker in 2011, including redshirt freshman Carl Bradford, slated to be Burfict's backup and future replacement at middle linebacker, and sophomore Anthony Jones, an ultra-athletic outside linebacker.

Bradford redshirted in 2010 after spending his high school career as a fullback leading the way for Deantre Lewis among others, but his pure power and physicality give him a very steep ceiling and tremendous potential.

Jones, a product of nearby Chandler Hamilton High School, was forced to sit out the 2010 season due to academic ineligibility, but is now back in action. According to his position coach, Jones is the team's most athletic linebacker and has stood out in several practices and scrimmages. Jones' role in 2011 may be a situational one, but he likely will be groomed for a starting position in 2012.

ASU's 2011 class brought two linebackers to the roster in junior college transfer Kipeli Koniseti and freshman Isreal Marshall.

Koniseti, an ASU signee in 2009, arrives in Tempe after time spent at the community college level and the former dual-threat quarterback is a determined, tenacious athlete and will compete for time at middle linebacker.

The state of Arizona's top senior linebacker, Marshall has the athletic ability to follow the trend set by Sun Devils such as Brandon Magee, Anthony Jones and Oliver Aaron. Though he most likely will redshirt in 2011, Marshall figures to have a bright future at ASU.

Sophomore walk-ons Brandon Johnson and Grandville Taylor, highly talented despite the fact they pay their way through school, both saw action on special teams last year and were more than stable at linebacker in the spring.

Charles Beatty, also a walk-on, had solid moments in the spring and adds depth at linebacker, as does walk-on Jesse Clark.

What We Know

From top to bottom, ASU's group of linebackers is one of the nation's best.

Though ASU's defense features arguably the nation's best linebacker in Vontaze Burfict, the position group for the Sun Devils is far from a one-trick pony.

The depth that ASU has is outstanding and as good as the program has seen in decades. In addition to Burfict, a candidate for every major defensive award, Brandon Magee is a vicious, athletic player while Colin Parker and Shelly Lyons are reliable options at outside linebacker.

Oliver Aaron and Anthony Jones are highly-skilled athletes, while Carl Bradford packs a major punch in the middle. Heck, even walk-ons Brandon Johnson and Grandville Taylor are excellent special teams players and have shown promise on defense in practice.

The reserves are capable of playing at a level comparable to the starters.

Perhaps the most dangerous threat about ASU's linebackers is that they can rotate without missing much of a beat. While Burfict and Magee are the main headliners, Aaron, Lyons and Parker, all seniors, bring a multitude of skills to the lineup that are effective and important.

Backup outside linebacker Anthony Jones (pictured) is regarded as the team's most athletic linebacker while second-string middle linebacker Carl Bradford recently set team weight room records for linebackers.

On top of the massive talent among scholarship athletes, walk-ons Brandon Johnson and Grandville Taylor undoubtedly have the skill levels to be scholarship members of half the teams in the Pac-12 Conference.

Lastly, junior college transfer Kipeli Koniseti and local high school standout Isreal Marshall will join the team this fall adding even more quality to the present and future linebacking corps at ASU.

What We Don't Know

Will Vontaze Burfict play a more composed style of football?

Though much of the offseason has been discouraging with recruit decommitments, player injuries, early departures and disgruntled whiners, a bright spot has been the level of commitment and leadership that Burfict has shown since the end of last season. This offseason, Burfict has been notably more active in formal and informal workouts and has taken charge of leading players-only training sessions.

Known the college world over for his propensity to draw attention—both deserved and fabricated—from the zebras, Burfict's maturation as a team leader this offseason is certainly refreshing for Sun Devil fans.

The question, however, is how this will be applied to live action and whether Burfict can remain composed and that he ultimately plays violently and aggressively but in a collected fashion.

Projected Starters: Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Magee, Colin Parker

Rising Stars: Carl Bradford and Anthony Jones

Both Bradford and Jones almost made their debuts last season—Bradford as a true freshman and Jones as a redshirt freshman—but Jones was ultimately ruled academically ineligible while coaching staff intelligently opted to redshirt Bradford.

Now that both players are poised to begin their college careers on the field for ASU, the sky truly is the limit as they represent the future at linebacker for the Sun Devils.

Bradford is an absolute beast in the middle while Jones offers elite athleticism at outside linebacker, so both players may be liable of some impressive moments in 2011. Though their contributions likely won't be of massive magnitude this year, when as many as five linebackers depart after this season Bradford and Jones will then be turned to as the team's key forces at linebacker.

Needs to Step Up: Shelly Lyons

Whether due to injury or inconsistency, Lyons has been unable to match the efforts of his Centennial brethren Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Magee, totaling only 17 and 22 tackles, respectively the past two seasons after a 36-tackle effort as a true freshman in 2008.

Last year, Lyons showed measures of improvement as a starter in four of the seven games he played but suffered a season-ending injury against California in the season's seventh game. Lyons was able to bounce back this spring and saw ample first-team reps while Magee was occupied with ASU's baseball team, but it truly is "now or never" for the senior.

Entering 2011, Lyons likely will be in a dogfight with classmate Colin Parker to start at strong side linebacker and after the surprisingly solid season Parker submitted last year, Lyons will need to play the most consistent ball of his Sun Devil career to return to the starting lineup.

Secondary

Position Roster (By Seniority)

Omar Bolden, RS-Sr. (CB)

Austin Williams, RS-Sr. (CB)*

Eddie Elder, Sr. (S)

Clint Floyd, Sr. (S)

Deveron Carr, RS-Jr. (CB)

Keelan Johnson, RS-Jr. (S)

Kevin Ayers, Jr. (S)

Rashad Ross, Jr. (CB)

Harrison Evens, RS-So. (CB)*

Osahon Irabor, RS-So. (CB)

Ronald Kennedy, Jr., RS-So. (CB)*

Shane McCullen, RS-So. (S)

Matt Tucker, RS-So. (S)

Alden Darby, So. (S)

Jeremy Sawyer, So. (CB)*

Devan Spann, RS-Fr. (CB)

Ezekiel Bishop, Fr. (S)

Joe Eason, Fr. (CB)

Preon Evans, Fr. (CB)*

Rashad Wadood, Fr. (CB)

(*-Non-Scholarship Player)

Position Preview

Though ASU's front seven can compete with any in the Pac-12, the secondary collectively was far from a strength in 2010 as the Devils rated 101st in the country in pass defense.

To make matters worse, reigning First-Team All-Pac-10 cornerback Omar Bolden may very well miss the entire season due to injury, while starting safety Max Tabach and high quality reserve cornerback LeQuan Lewis both have graduated.

In Bolden's absence at cornerback, junior Deveron Carr (pictured) and Osahon Irabor are the clear top two options. Though both players have prior starting experience, Carr missed the final seven games of the 2010 as well as spring drills due to injury. Carr is expected back for August camp, but for ASU to have any measure of stability at cornerback he will have to find a way to shake the injury bug that has plagued his first two seasons at ASU.

Redshirt freshman Devan Spann saw consistent first-team activity in the spring due to Bolden and Carr's injuries, experiencing some bumps and bruises but also earning valuable reps to help expedite his development. In his rookie season on the field, Spann likely will be the team's third cornerback and should see significant playing time.

Behind Spann, sophomore Alden Darby may see action at cornerback but also will play safety, while walk-on Harrison Evens and true freshman Rashad Wadood could be options for playing time.

Junior college transfer Rashad Ross will be one to watch in camp, as the two-time Junior College All-American returns specialist moves to defensive back after predominately playing wide receiver the past two years. Though he may be physically ready for the role, Ross' development will be closely monitored as he could be an immediate option this year or could redshirt in 2011 to hone his cornerback skills for future use.

True freshman Joe Eason will also practice at cornerback but very likely will redshirt, while walk-ons Preon Evans, Ronald Kennedy, Jr., Jeremy Sawyer and Austin Williams add depth at cornerback.

At safety, the Sun Devils will field as many as eight scholarship players yet a multitude of questions still exist in regards to both the starting lineup and the different rungs of the depth chart.

Eddie Elder (pictured) made an instant, noteworthy impact last year after transferring from the junior college level and is locked in as a starter, but fall camp will determine who stands next to him on the first team.

Senior Clint Floyd brings more game and starting experience to the position than any other candidate and may be the leader to return to the starting lineup, while junior Keelan Johnson and sophomore Alden Darby—also a cornerback—will vie for time as well.

Sophomores Shane McCullen and Matt Tucker return after seeing limited action as freshmen in 2010. Tucker drew praise in the spring for his improvement, but McCullen is still clearly learning the position.

Newcomers Kevin Ayers, a junior college transfer, and freshman Ezekiel Bishop, who withdrew a verbal commitment to Arizona in order to sign with ASU, may also be factors at safety. Both players are more qualified as weapons in the box in defense of run plays than as pass coverage specialists, and playing time could be had if the formula of their play and that of others at the position works in their favor.

What We Know

If healthy, ASU's starting cornerbacks can still be very solid even without Omar Bolden in the lineup.

When strictly evaluating the talent level of the starting lineup, ASU is certainly not devoid of quality at cornerback with Deveron Carr and Osahon Irabor as starters. By all means, the Sun Devils certainly are not a better team with Omar absent from the lineup—far from it—but Carr and Irabor have the necessary collective skills to form a qualified first-string duo.

The overall talent level is improving at safety.

Entering 2011, ASU has eight scholarship safeties on the roster and it appears as though the position, a weakness last season, should get better before it gets worse.

Senior Eddie Elder submitted a noteworthy debut season last year and appears to be on the radar for postseason honors in 2011, and there are multiple scholarship candidates that will compete to start beside him.

Though the team loses starter Max Tabach from last year, veterans Clint Floyd and Keelan Johnson return and players such as Alden Darby—who also will play cornerback—and Matt Tucker have noticeably improved from last season. Additionally, newcomers Kevin Ayers and Ezekiel Bishop could contribute quickly as well, giving ASU options—though not yet substantial answers—to help improve the overall quality of play at safety.

What We Don't Know

Will ASU be able to survive with such inexperienced depth at cornerback?

Last year, Deveron Carr's injury placed Osahon Irabor into the starting lineup as a true freshman. Before that, Omar Bolden missed substantial time—enough to earn a medical hardship redshirt. Translation: ASU cornerbacks recently have had tough luck in remaining healthy, a trend that this year's Sun Devils can ill-afford to continue.

With the preseason loss of Bolden which may sideline him for the year, Carr and Irabor currently at the top two at cornerback. In and of itself, the pair is no slouch; however if the seemingly annual cornerback injury occurs this year the viable options are few and far between.

Redshirt freshman Devan Spann was thrust into the starting lineup in the spring due to both Bolden's injury and Carr being out of the lineup. What must be remembered is that Spann himself was injured much of last year; therefore his overall development may not yet be at a level of a qualified starting corner. Can he be a stable reserve this year? Very likely, but if placed in the starting lineup the "trial by fire" element could be overwhelming.

Including Spann, ASU's depth at cornerback behind Carr and Irabor does not include a player that has seen FBS game action, as true freshmen Joe Eason and Rashad Wadood and sophomore walk-on Harrison Evens are among the most notable reserves. Evens played well in the spring when given opportunities and it is not out of the realm of possibility to consider Wadood to be a candidate for immediate playing time.

Incoming junior college transfer Rashad Ross is an option as well, though his talents in the secondary remain to be seen as he was primarily a wide receiver and returns specialist over the past two years. Physically, Ross brings solid size and excellent speed to the position but his technical capabilities will have to be evaluated in camp.

In addition to Ross, sophomore Alden Darby is an option as Dennis Erickson commented recently that Darby likely will rotate between safety and cornerback this season, though the ratio of work between the two positions remains to be seen.

Since the depth is still uncertain, how will the pecking order at safety unfold?

Eddie Elder can be confident in keeping his job as a starter, but beyond him there are several bodies but not a great deal of certainty. There are a handful of players physically capable to claiming a starting role, but each has drawbacks that may enable other candidates to emerge.

The odds-on favorite likely will be senior Clint Floyd, ASU's most experienced safety, though he has been in and out of the starting lineup for the majority of his career. Last season, Max Tabach emerged as a more consistent option and saw increased playing time paired with Elder as the season matured, relegating Floyd to a lesser role.

In the spring, sophomore Alden Darby played well in place of the injured Elder, but his lack of experience at the position may create obstacles for him to firmly grasp a first-string role, as well as his potential to be featured at cornerback.

Junior Keelan Johnson remains an option due to his athletic gifts, but as has been the case since his arrival to ASU, the technical requirements of the safety position continue to suppress his potential. Similar to Elder, Johnson was unable to participate in full-contact activities this spring.

In addition to these three, wild card candidates could include sophomore Matt Tucker and junior Kevin Ayers, a fall junior college transfer and the brother of former UCLA All-American linebacker Akeem Ayers. Tucker was a surprisingly consistent performer in the spring, while Ayers has a reputation of being a capable plug in the box.

Rounding out the depth chart at safety are sophomore Shane McCullen and true freshman Ezekiel Bishop. Bishop could be an option to see immediate time due to his physical style of play, but McCullen appears to remain at the lower rungs of the depth chart at safety.

Would-be senior Jonathan Clark appeared to have a breakout spring that would propel him into substantial playing time for the first time in his Sun Devil career, but his playing days were recently cut short due to injury.

Projected Starters: Deveron Carr, Osahon Irabor (CB); Eddie Elder, Clint Floyd (S)

Rising Star: Devan Spann

Coming from powerhouse Gardena (Calif.) Serra High School, nearly a mini college program, Spann came to ASU battle-tested after matching up in practice every day with the likes of Paul Richardson (now at Colorado by way of UCLA), Robert Woods, George Farmer and Marqise Lee (all at USC).

Though he didn't receive extensive recruiting attention, by the time his career is over Spann may be a factual case of the famed "diamond in the rough" reference often assigned to recruits with minimal fanfare.

This spring, Spann was thrust into the first-team due to injuries suffered by Omar Bolden and Deveron Carr, and though his performances at times were up-and-down, he has shown the skill set that should translate to on-field stability before long.

Entering his redshirt freshman season, Spann is slotted to be ASU's third cornerback, a fitting position or him to earn enough time to contribute yet still develop, but not a role too demanding for a first-year collegian.

Needs to Step Up: Keelan Johnson

If Johnson could ever match his top-notch physical traits with the cognitive requirements of the safety position, he could be a surefire all-conference candidate. Unfortunately, that "if" qualifier has been present virtually since his arrival to ASU in 2008 and improvement still needs to be made.

Athletically, Johnson has no peer at safety as he has the requisite size, speed and physicality to thrive in the secondary but has been too inconsistent with the assignment-based needs of the position. A starter in only three games through two years despite his physical gifts, the Mesa native has always remained in the conversation to be a full-time first-stringer, but has been unable to unquestionably solidify a starting spot.

Also, though ASU must replace starting safety Max Tabach, Johnson was unable to participate in contact drills in the spring, giving players such as Alden Darby and Clint Floyd first-team reps and a likely advantage to fill the first-string void.


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