Player Capsule: Christian Sam
Position: WILL (field side linebacker)
Weight: 240 pounds
2015 season quick review: With his 98 tackles Sam finished sixth in the Pac-12 and second on the ASU team, just one tackle behind fellow inside linebacker Salamo Fiso. Sam's 69 solo tackles were fourth in the Pac-12, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He tied for the team high with two forced fumbles and had one interception.
2014 season quick review: Sam played several linebacker positions last year and had 16 tackles on the season, including five against Colorado playing Spur following a shoulder injury to Laiu Moeakiola, and five against USC. His versatility allowed him to be plugged into different positions along the unit even as a true freshman, which was a benefit for the team.
Co-defensive coordinator/linebacker coach Keith Patterson's take (before spring football) on Sam: "We want him to become an enforcer. Don't just be satisfied with making a play. I call it pursuit with a purpose. Once you get there, man, have a purpose about yourself. Have a bat for their ass. I want to see you play behind your pads, finishing plays, playing through the whistle. I've told the whole group, what people are going to see next year when they put that video on, is, 'holy crap, look how well they run to the ball.' We haven't run to the ball even close to what we've done in the past. We're going to do that this year...He looks great right now. I expect big things. I'm going to raise the standard for him. He's smart, he prepares, he studies the game-plan as well as anyone. If we get him to develop a linebacker mentality to where he's just not satisfied with making a play, he's getting there with a purpose and wants to become a dominant player, there's no excuse why that guy can't be a star player."
SunDevilSource.com analysis (05/2016): In the last year Sam has transitioned from being one of the best prospects on the ASU roster to one of its best players. He also has great athletic attributes for his size and frame, with quick feet and the ability to get out a run and make plays with a wide coverage range. The move to inside linebacker only further enhanced that advantage, as Sam can run as well as a lot of safeties despite being in the neighborhood of 240 pounds.
Playing with proper technique and pad level against the run has been one of the biggest adjustments Sam's had to make to the position and he's shown significant improvement in this area but still has room to further develop as he prepares to put film on display that will resonate with NFL scouts. He has the patient, gathering feet that all great linebackers have, diagnoses plays increasingly well, and comes unhinged through the hips with a lot of suddenness for his size in reaction to the play. The next phase is dropping his center of gravity and becoming a more functional Hawk tackler, tracking his eye to the near hip of the ball carrier. As a sophomore he had a tendency to be too upright and catch approaching rushers, which is a leverage issue transitioning to the next level.
Sam can run, blitz and zone drop very well for an inside linebacker, which makes him a particularly versatile player. He's a true three down inside linebacker. To become the player he's capable of being, a more consistent high-revving motor is going to be important. At times Sam will get very fired up on the field, but he's just too good of a player to not dominate the game with consistency via blowing up blocks and tracking to the football with relentless purpose.
(03/2015): One of the better looking freshmen on the roster last season, Sam is rare in that he has the athletic ability to play Spur, WILL and SAM. Ideally suited to be an inside linebacker, especially as he continues to add strength and size, Sam is built like a prototypical linebacker, with dense muscularity, and yet he is light on his feet. He can change directions fluidly for a linebacker and run effectively in space.
The Sun Devils are planning to put Sam at the field-side linebacker spot starting this spring, which requires the least amount of coverage range, a position he will easily be able to look good at from an athletic standpoint. He is solid at contact against the run and has shown that he can physically hold up on the inside when reached by offensive lineman reaching the second level and as an interior gap plugger. With his plus mobility, Sam has a lot of potential in this role. His challenges are mostly related to getting more familiar with the scheme and understanding the game at a high level. The mistakes he made last season were primarily being out of position or making read and react mistakes due to a lack of experience.
Projected depth chart status: Sam won't come off the field much for the remainder of his time at ASU. He's too good to not be on out there at all times. He should be one of the best linebackers in the Pac-12 in the year ahead if he maximizes his potential.