Bandit / Spur
Ideal Scholarship Roster Number: 7-8
Potential Returning Number: 5 (Marcus Ball, Das Tautalatasi, Tyler Whiley, J'Marcus Rhodes, Chad Adams*)
*Adams played primarily field safety (cover safety) in the spring.
Likely Returning Number: 5
2017 Signees: 4 (Ty Thomas, K.J. Jarrell, Evan Fields, DeMonte King)
With the transfers of Coltin Gerhart and James Johnson and move of Deion Guignard from Spur to inside linebacker, Arizona State is down to as few as four or five returning players at the Bandit/Spur positions, returning to balance at an area that was frankly a glut of non-starter level talent. ASU's not been particularly successful with its recruiting decisions at safety but the 2017 class is a chance to demonstrate clear improvement in that regard because the Sun Devils signed four-star recruits K.J. Jarrell, Evan Fields and Ty Thomas.
On Saturday ASU coaches elected to additionally fortify the safety position with the signing of DeMonte King, an older player who is three full years removed from high school. King, 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, redshirted at Montana State out of Los Alamitos High School in the greater Los Angeles area before starting for the Bobcats as a redshirt freshman. He left the Big Sky program two games before the conclusion of the season due to an internal team incident, ending up at Long Beach City College for his third year of college.
King said Boise State, Cal, Nevada, Oregon State, UNLV and Washington State expressed interest, but the Sun Devils were the only major college program to offer a scholarship at the time of his visit and signing. King will move to Tempe in mid-June, with two years to play two seasons.
Why did the Sun Devils make this decision? There are a couple primary reasons:
1. ASU's going to end up at least a few scholarships shy of its maximum allotment of 85 for the fall semester and King is a relatively low burden addition because it's only a two year commitment.
2. Marcus Ball will be a senior in 2017 and beyond that, no returning player on the roster has to this point demonstrated average or better Pac-12 play at the Bandit/Spur positions. ASU did sign three young players who are well regarded, but they'll all be freshmen and there's no guarantee any of the three will be ready to play effectively this season.
King has played all over the field at Montana State and Long Beach City College. He's aligned as a center field single high safety, a normal alignment field safety, a boundary safety, and played quite a bit up in the box like ASU uses its Spur. It's very clear from watching a lot of his film that King is much more functional as a zone defender than in man coverage situations, and better served playing tighter to the line of scrimmage and in more confined spaces.
The strengths of King's game are his relatively solid tackling ability when he's in position to make the play, his willingness to play with physicality but not sacrifice form to do so, and his ability to handle the demands of playing in the box. He doesn't play with superfluousness, which is another positive, and he presents as someone who is focused on the field. He tends to bring down the ball carrier or disrupt the play when he has the opportunity to, and has the ability to execute some of the techniques of the Bandit and Spur positions. There are not a lot of mental errors to be found on his film.
What's also abundantly clear is that man coverage situations won't be King's strength and he's not ideally suited to play on the field side in ASU's defense. He's not a peddler, not going to run with Pac-12 receivers and stick through route breaks, etc. From a pass defense standpoint he's almost exclusively a zone defender, but one who can see the field well enough to have some level of effectiveness reacting to the pass and getting into position to make a tackle. He's decently capable as a blitzer and at handling would-be blockers coming into his space. Athletically, he is below average in the Pac-12 at safety as far as a junior college transfer.
ASU has real questions at its safety position and wants to give itself some more options at the position, which is understandable. King isn't likely to be an impact player, but given his experience, mental and physical maturity and serious approach to the game, he may be able to see the field immediately for the Sun Devils.
One of the major challenges the team has going into 2017 on defense is that almost all of the safeties on the team are better operators in zone coverages. That's something we'll likely see more of under new coordinator Phil Bennett, even when pressuring, but there will likely be a lot of situations in which defensive backs will have to make a tackle to prevent a big play. Whether it'll be able to handle that is a huge unknown going into the off-season.