Player Capsule: Tashon Smallwood
Position: Defensive Tackle
Weight: 275 pounds
2016 season quick review: Smallwood started all 12 games last season and finished with 28 tackles, nine of which were for loss including 2.5 tackles. He was second on the team in all categories among defensive linemen (not including the Devil backer position) behind JoJo Wicker. He played some 5-technique end in addition to his normal 3-technique tackle position.
SunDevilSource.com analysis: Having significantly improved his body since arriving at ASU, Smallwood lost a lot of weight early in his career and has increasingly improved his functional strength to become more physically competitive. He had some setbacks in the middle of his career due to a series of hernia and other core issues that negatively impacted his training.
Smallwood is now relatively light to be a full service player at defensive tackle and be able to anchor an interior gap against a double team, particularly considering this was already not his strongest attribute and he had a tendency to sometimes get his shoulders turned instead of keeping square to the line of scrimmage. He's improved to some degree in the last year, but it's still not a strength. He doesn't tend to bully offensive linemen or move players in a brute manner.
Increased strength and better technique and approach should help to counteract this, and ASU coaches have said Smallwood's made solid progress in the last year and a half. But Smallwood is a small framed player for a tackle and it's a difficult to have great body composition but also enough size to handle the physicality of the position. Striking that balance to the best degree possible is important to his ability to maximize his play as a senior.
As a sophomore, Smallwood took a clear step forward by becoming a little more gap sound and productive against the run and better at finishing plays he put himself in position to make. But he had 15 fewer tackles as a junior and didn't take another step forward, with a big part of it being broader issues with ASU's defensive structure.
Quick feet and low center of gravity have always been Smallwood strengths, and it enables him to be a destabilizing force as an interior gap exploiter against the run and pass. It's very much a marriage with the schematic approach of ASU coach Todd Graham, who favors a lot of aggressive slants and gap cancellation via pressure into the run fits.
This is why Smallwood is a good fit for the ASU scheme. He's usually asked to exploit a gap and try to destabilizing the offensive backfield, rather than anchor and read the play. The keys for his continued success and development are to keep adding strength and good size so he can increasingly progress in the more physically demanding aspects of the position.
He's often been in position to make a play but not be able to get the ball carrier or quarterback to the ground with his arms extended due to grip and overall strength. Smallwood works as hard as anyone on the team at developing technique, usually the last one to leave practices.
From a leadership standpoint, few players on the ASU defense are more credible and authentic than Smallwood. He's played extensively for three years, doesn't talk a lot, and works as hard as anyone on the team. That's a great combination to have your voice matter, and particularly on a team that doesn't have a lot of leaders with a long track record of playing at a high level.
Projected depth chart status: Smallwood will start at the 3-technique tackle position as ASU's most experienced and reliable defensive tackle. Against some opponents that use heavier personnel groupings we may see Smallwood kick outside to end in some situations.