Player Capsule: Tashon Smallwood
Position: Defensive Tackle
Weight: 285 pounds
2014 season quick review: A Scout.com freshman All-American selection, Smallwood earned high praise from head coach Todd Graham in fall camp and started his first career game as the 3-technique tackle position, on of just eight true freshmen to ever do so in a Sun Devil uniform. For the season, Smallwood had 23 tackles including 5.5 for loss. Thrown into the fire, Smallwood often played a majority of the team's defensive snaps and had perhaps his best game against Duke in the Sun Bowl, with six tackles.
Defensive Line coach Jackie Shipp's take: "He's quick but here's the thing you gotta understand, he got worn down because he didn't know. He had never played that many games or practiced that much. But the thing that was special about him was that he fought through it. He fought through it, and pushed through it, and did some good things. When you see him doing that, that told me something right there about him. Does his technique need to improve, his hands, his steps? Yes. But will they improve? Oh, most definitely. But did he do a very good job for us, especially for a guy coming out of Fresno High School to playing in the PAC-12? Yeah he did. Did he have some ups and downs? Most definitely. But did he fight through it and perceiver? Yeah."
SunDevilSource.com analysis: The Sun Devils didn't have great options with experience at defensive tackle last season and as a result Smallwood and defensive tackle convert Viliami Latu were given a great opportunity to learn on the job. Results were mixed, but at a minimum the two players earned a lot of experience, and clearly got better. Smallwood was among the most improved players on the ASU defense from August to December, as he started to get a better idea of how to use his athletic gifts.
Smallwood is a bit undersized but has quick feet, his best attribute. He gets off the snap well and has enough burst to put himself into advantageous leverage situations, or occasionally even get clean through a gap in an way that enables him to make a play in the backfield. Now he'll have to take his game to new heights by improving from a technical standpoint and continuing to add strength. A lot of times last season even when he won a rep at the point of attack he wasn't able to finish a play due to not being strong enough to bring down a running back or quarterback with an outstretched arm.
This spring, Smallwood had reconfigured his body to some degree, getting a bit leaner and adding strength. As he continues that progression he'll make more plays, and also especially as he becomes more assertive with using his hands and arms in a technically proficient manner. Right now he'll get his feet and body in position to make a play initially off his first couple snaps, but then not be able to complete it with a forceful enough rip to power through a leverage advantage. Part of the battle is being more determined and having an even better motor and increased tenacity. He should be able to use better strength to hold his ground a little better when trying to anchor a gap. Too much last year he was moved right out of the area he needed to be as offensive linemen used his path of movement to steer him in that direction.
Projected depth chart status: It figures to be a real battle at the 3-technique tackle position, with Latu and Smallwood now likely to play the same position and true freshman George Lea making it clear in the spring he'll factor into the conversation as well. Then there is incoming freshman Joseph Wicker, perhaps the most heralded of all high school defensive additions in the class. He's got a real chance to impact the depth chart as well. Put it all together and nothing is certain. Smallwood could be a starter, or could find his way out of the two-deep. August will be crucial.