Player Capsule: D.J. Calhoun

D.J. Calhoun is one of Arizona State's best attacking defenders and most intense competitors. How's he evolved as a player over the last two years and what does 2016 have in store for him?

Player Capsule: D.J. Calhoun

Position: WILL (boundary side) linebacker

Eligibility: Junior

Height: 6-foot-0

Weight: 225 pounds

2015 season quick review: A regular in ASU's nickel grouping, Calhoun finished second on the defense with 6.5 sacks as an attack oriented weapon in ASU's blitz-heavy scheme. Playing behind junior Christian Sam at WILL on base downs, Calhoun totaled 26 tackles on the season including 7.5 for loss. 

2014 season quick review: Calhoun was named a Scout.com Freshman All-American after tallying 35 tackles, including seven for loss and two sacks last season. He started the first game of his career, one of just eight players to do so in ASU history. Calhoun toggled between Spur and WILL through the season and was used quite a bit on third downs as an extra pass rusher.

Defensive coordinator/linebacker coach Keith Patterson's take: "D.J. has all the intangibles, the toughness and the ankle flexibility, the explosiveness, the physical tackler. He's got everything you look for in a linebacker...Have you seen how wide his neck is? Plus his attitude and his maturity is really coming along. It's like, 'D.J., you've got all the God given ability. So that's all well and good, you can get away with that in high school, paying fast and physical in high school, a little out of control. Let's take it to another level. Let's start studying practice and game film like you never have. I'm not asking you to try, I'm asking you to commit to it and see what happens.'"

SunDevilSource.com analysis: (05/2016) Calhoun has significantly evolved as a player since arriving at ASU in January of 2014. From a physical standpoint he initially looked somewhat like former ASU safety Alden Darby at the time, no more than 195 pounds despite being a linebacker. There were some questions we had about whether his frame, at no more than 6-foot-0 and not especially wide or long, would be able to support all the weight he'd have to carry to be a true linebacker size. He's eliminated any concerns about that question at this stage of his development, as he was 233 pounds in the spring. 

The additional size and strength comes in the form of dense muscularity and it is befitting for Calhoun, a player whose demeanor on the field resembles a junkyard dog. He's an extremely intense and physical competitor who attacks and displaces would-be blockers quite well for not being long-armed by using proper technique and having the correct mindset. He's got a lot of suddenness as a blitzer, who blends well with his disposition and has made Calhoun a real weapon on third downs for the Sun Devils. 

Where we've seen the most development with Calhoun as a player is his understanding of the game. He became a Scout.com Freshman All-American in 2014 on sheer will and toughness, but at times he was running around at full speed without a good sense of where he needed to be on a given play and why. That's changed now. He's clearly started to study film and become more of a student of the game. He's carrying running backs on routes out of the backfield now with quicker diagnostics, and starting to understand when it's prudent to be patient as opposed to taking himself out of a play prematurely and creating a voided gap. That's the area Calhoun has to continue to work on, studying film and becoming a master of the craft so as to understand why and how to best use his positive physical and mental attributes. 

(03/2015) A undersized linebacker who plays bigger than he is, Calhoun is a bundle of energy, which is a great attribute to have when properly harnessed. He has terrific short space explosiveness, is very sudden from idle, and is a potent blitzer due to that coupled with his physical approach to the position. He aggressively attacks blockers in a way that mitigates his size and length limitations. Short arm span and a smallish linebacker frame should be a bigger problem than it is for Calhoun, but in the box he's still at risk of being absorbed by linemen and tight ends reaching the second level more easily than others who are bigger and longer.

ASU tinkered with Calhoun at two different positions last year, hoping he could back up Laiu Moeakiola at Spur, but it isn't as good of a fit for his athletic type than WILL, and he is expected to exclusively play WILL moving forward as a result. Specifically, Calhoun struggled with key read identification and covering in space on passing plays both at Spur and WILL, but the movement/range demand in this regard are less at WILL. He needs to more quickly read pass and react to carry running backs releasing into the boundary as route runners, and have better foot discipline and patience when needed against the run on the interior. Pac-12 offenses are good at using athleticism against opposing defenses with misdirection and an extra year of experience and film study should yield improvement in these areas.

Projected depth chart status: One of ASU's biggest challenges this year is figuring out how to get Calhoun on the field as much as possible alongside starting inside linebackers Salamo Fiso and Christian Sam. All three are certainly among ASU's best 11 defensive players. The question is whether Calhoun can play Spur or even perhaps Devil backer on base downs in a defensive formation and/or approach that is a bit different from what we've seen as ASU's most traditional look. In a true 4-3, there's no problem, and even in a 3-4 it would seemingly work fine. But the Spur is such a hybrid safety position in the way ASU tends to use it that it's unclear. We think it's worth a shot though, particularly if ASU's going to play Laiu Moeakiola as a back level safety. At a minimum, Calhoun's going to be a vital nickel defender, often aligning where he can exploit an interior gap but sometimes shifting to an edge rush position. 


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