Tontozona: Defensive depth chart analysis

Arizona State is very deep up front, but how talented? It will likely play a lot more players along the defensive front. How do some of these position battles look heading into Camp Tontozona?

Defensive Line

This is the most fluid and competitive position group on the ASU defense, along with Devil backer, and the two are intertwined, as we'll get to in a bit. The best way to think about the defensive line is there's three positions -- 5-technique end (field side end), 3-technique tackle (Tiger) and 1-technique tackle (nose tackle) -- in ASU's base look 30 front (three down linemen) look. There are nine players jockeying for position on the depth chart at these three positions: senior Demetrius Cherry; juniors Viliami Latu and Edmond Boateng; sophomores Corey Smith, Tashon Smallwood and Emanuel Dayries; redshirt freshmen Renell Wren and Connor Humphreys; and true freshman Joseph Wicker.

Cherry is a swing player who can play end or nose tackle, as needed. Boateng is an end who can also play Devil backer when ASU transitions to a 40 front (four down linemen). Ami Latu is a nose tackle option who can play some 3-technique tackle if needed. Smallwood is a 3-technique tackle and the likely starter at the position, though he may be pushed by Wicker. Corey Smith has been the surprise of camp and is now working at the nose tackle position instead of the end spot he was at in the spring. Wrenn can play all three positions and has done so in practice. Dayries is primarily a nose-tackle option. Humphreys is being used at both interior tackle spots.

The most likely scenario is ASU ends up rotating six or seven guys here. Cherry, Boateng, Smallwood and Wicker are safe picks, especially because they're all good nickel/passing down players. Wren will probably make the cut. Smith is looking like at worst a second-teamer unless he really falls off in the next couple weeks. Ami Latu, Dayries and Humphreys are the players who could wind up as third-teamers unless they elevate their profile in coming practices. Perhaps one of them, maybe Ami Latu, can push Smith.

Senior Mo Latu probably won't be in the mix unless he can substantially improve his fitness.

Devil Backer

Ideally, ASU would find a full service player who could operate from a 3-point stance or 2-point stance at this position, like Carl Bradford was able to. That's the personification of the Devil backer position. Right now, that's very much in doubt. There are hybrid stand up edge rusher options, namely sophomore D.J. Calhoun, redshirt freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson and sophomore two-way player Kalen Ballage, and then there are 3-point stance players who are more like defensive ends than Devil backers, from an athletic standpoint.

When ASU goes to more of a 40 front look, Boateng will play the Devil as a boundary side end with the first-team, Graham has said. Sophomores A.J. Latu and Chas Cox are other options in this capacity, though Latu seems to prefer operating from a 2-point stance despite not being a quick twitch athlete like Calhoun, Murphy-Richardson and Ballage.

What we're likely to see ASU do is play 40-front base defense against pro-style teams like Stanford, and more 30-front looks against spread teams, though this will depend on its overall personnel capability in each look. Our best guess right now is the players we see the most of at Devil backer are Boateng, Calhoun and Murphy-Richardson, in some order. That may take into the season to sort out.

Inside Linebacker

This is relatively straightforward. The starters are going to be senior Antonio Longino at WILL and junior Salamo Fiso at SAM, unless one of them really falters and allows Calhoun to push up. Longino appears poised for a big season and could end up garnering NFL Draft conversation if that materializes as we expect.

At worst, Calhoun is the second-team WILL unless he absolutely becomes a hit at Devil. In the event that happens, there's potential for true freshman Khaylan Thomas to see his way off the redshirt list. Sophomore Chrisitan Sam is a high ceiling athlete who will be the second-team SAM. He's still adjusting to playing inside linebaker with the right disposition.

Junior Carlos Mendoza and redshirt freshman Jamal Scott look like down depth players right now based on how ASU's using its personnel.

Spur

Junior Laiu Moeakiola is the starter and one of ASU's best players. He's had a foot issue that's kept him off the field for most of camp. Sophomore Marcus Ball has received most of the second-team looks and he received praise from Todd Graham Monday for how much he's improved in the last year. Even so, sophomore James Johnson could push for the second-team spot here. Another possibility is Calhoun, if he doesn't work out at Devil or someone else solidifies that role. That's something ASU might do anyway against pro-style teams.

Cornerback

Senior Lloyd Carrington is one of ASU's best players and a guaranteed starter on the boundary side. The field side corner was expected to be closely contested between senior Kweishi Brown and senior Solomon Means, but it looks as though Brown might be pulling ahead a bit, especially because the knee that bothered him in the spring isn't appear to be a lingering issue. They'll all be on the field together in nickel looks, with Brown playing the nickel corner.

True freshman Kareem Orr is likely to play this year on special teams and could push ahead of sophomore Ronald Lewis for the No. 4 cornerback spot and maybe even challenge Means at some point for the No. 3 spot. Orr is very well put together and should at a minimum set himself up to be a starter next season.

Safety

Senior Jordan Simone is locked in at the Bandit (boundary side) position. There's a competition between sophomores James Johnson and Armand Perry at the field side role. Perry's a better coverage option but Johnson is more experienced and very sound as well as good against the run. Johnson is also capable of playing back up to Simone at Bandit. These are the top three safeties in some combination, and sophomore Chad Adams appears to be the No. 4 safety going into Tontozona. Others are probably going to have a tough time playing unless there are injuries.


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