ASU Football Preview – Defense

To say the Sun Devils' defense was heavily maligned last year, would be like saying that Tempe feels a bit uncomfortable during these summer months. Nevertheless, a year older should make this unit a year wiser. Couple that with the return of several starters, along with a strong showing in spring practice, and the pessimism surrounding this side of the Football could easily turn into positive anticipation in 2002.

Here's a breakdown by position of the ASU defense:

Defensive Line:

The Sun Devils have to be excited when it comes to the prospects of their defensive line. The team returns good depth with added speed and size in the middle, and just like the rest of the team they are all in better shape compared to a year ago. Leading the unit is All American Terrell Suggs. Suggs has recorded back-to-back double digit sack totals in his first two years at ASU. However, he has struggled as the team faced tougher competition. Whether it was Suggs' smaller size, or the opposing team's effective game plans, the junior didn't do enough against the Pac-10 foes. A stronger commitment with some added pounds, could make him a lethal passing rush thereat regardless of the opponent. The Sun Devils need Suggs in the backfield running down ball carriers, breaking up screens and being extremely disruptive to the opposing signal caller. The arrival of some talented newcomers, should prevent offenses to game plan solely against Suggs. The arrival of junior college transfer Matt Mason gives the defensive line a major upgrade. He can get to the quarterback from both the end and the interior of the line. Right now Mason is projected to play at tackle in order to bolster the thin numbers there. Senior tackle Danny Masaniai has had an injury plagued career at ASU, and now due to some off the field trouble will miss the first two games of the year. His effectiveness once he returns is a big unknown, and for good or bad could dictate the fortunes of the team's defensive tackle position this season. JC All American Shane Jones, another junior college transfer, gives the Sun Devils great size and speed at the other defensive tackle. Jones had a nice spring, and his early arrival should allow him to be more productive in his inaugural season at ASU. Senior Phil Howard, senior Khoa Nguyen, redshirt freshmen Josh Kirkwood, and graduate James Beal (who already completed his undergrad degree) round up the depth chart at defensive tackle. Howard and Beal stand the best chance out of that group for some significant playing time. The emergence of sophomore Jimmy Verdon at defensive end, coupled with the injury forced retirement of defensive tackle Chad Howell may force junior Brain Montesanto to move to defensive tackle. Ironically, Montesanto had a great spring at defensive end, and was the most productive he has ever been at ASU since Camp Tontozona prior to his freshman season. Montesanto's steady but unspectacular play may be better suited to his new position. On the other hand, Verdon really stepped up last year at the weak side end spot. He has a great physique, a great motor, and is still growing. As a sophomore, it isn't inconceivable to think he could be playing tackle in his last two years at ASU. Many expect freshmen Ali Likio, Ricky Parker, and Nick Johnson to compete for playing time as true freshman. While it is doubtful that all three will play, Likio seems like a good bet with the lack of depth at defensive tackle. It would come as no surprise if Johnson developed into a defensive tackle later on with his great physique.


The Sun Devils have two positions to fill with several good players from the past, and some new players with bright futures. Solomon Bates and Mason Unck at one time gave ASU a great linebacker tandem when teamed up with St. Louis Rams' standout Adam Archuletta. Since then Unck has been riddled with injuries, and, Bates with weight issues. Of the two Unck figures to see the most playing time if healthy. He is a great team leader and shows up for every game. Bates literally ate himself out of a starring role with the ASU, while still trying to be the leader of the team. To his credit he's been shedding pounds in a dramatic fashion. Both players are seniors and have much to prove before their time is done in Tempe. Ironically, both will battle each other for playing time at one linebacker. Fellow senior Josh Amobi figures to cemented his starting position following a sensational spring practice. He is the fastest linebacker on the team, and some may argue that he has really been underused during his ASU career. Backing him up is sophomore Barton Hammit, who was solid when playing sparingly as a true freshman. Hammit is fast and hits like a bull, which is the desired recipe for a linebacker in the 4-2-5 scheme. JC transfer Ishmael Thrower showed promise during spring ball and has great speed and size for a linebacker in this scheme. He will press for playing time, but could be somewhat of a permanent fixture during passing situations. Connor Banks will be a valuable special teams player, and may get some looks at defensive end as well. Big things are expected from Jamar Williams the true freshman from Houston. Whether he plays or not remains to be seen, but Greg Biggins of Pac West Football said he would be one of the best players in the Pac-10 two years from now. Transfer Jordan Hill, who was recruited while Koetter and his staff were at Boise State, may be a little rusty coming off his two-year mission. However his talent and burning desire to be a Sun Devil may make his transition smoother than expected. Overall, the linebacker core will be steady, but its success hinges on being freed up by the big boys in front of them.


One player that will surely be playing every snap this fall is sophomore free safety Jason Shivers, who was ASU's leading tackler as a true freshman. There had been some rumblings that he would be asked to play cornerback this season, but that's highly doubtful because of his All Pac-10 like performance at his original position. Another safety whose starting position is guaranteed is Al Williams. Currently he has a broken finger, but that shouldn't prevent him from starting against Nebraska. The graduate student struggled at times with the new scheme, but rebounded nicely towards the end of the season, which earned him an honorable mention in the All Pac-10 team. Williams is the ultimate team player and leader, which is vital for an inexperienced safety group. JC transfer Brett Hudson looks to be the third starting safety. He came with high accolades, and his performance in the spring reaffirmed his extraordinary talent. Sophomore Riccardo Stewart actually started last season at free safety, and proved later that year that he could effectively play the strong safety as well. Thus, his versatility should grant his a lot of playing time this season. Fellow sophomore Joey Smith was the scout player of the year in 2001, and was poised to be a starter until he was slowed down by injury in the spring. He may find it hard to crack the starting lineup, but he figures to be an essential player on special teams. Freshman Matt Fawley could play in his first year. Local high school star freshman J.W. Lucas rounds up the dept chart. This position has gone through the biggest adjustment when switching to a 4-2-5 scheme. Nevertheless, it should reap the benefits of having a year of learning and playing under their belt. The leadership and quality depth here should materialize into a much improved performance this season.


Last season starters R.J. Oliver and Lamar Baker will retain their status in 2002. Unfortunately, the lack of depth does very little to challenge those two. The two sophomores had different experiences during spring practice. Oliver was highly praised by coach Koetter for his coverage of standout receiver Shaun McDonald. Oliver is one of the fastest players on the team, which more than compensates for his 5-9 stature. On the other hand, Baker was injured in the later parts of spring and to this day he has been vigorously rehabbing his leg. Luckily, he's not expected to miss any time during Camp Tontozona. Baker is a nice combination of size and speed, and progressed nicely as the season winded down. The Sun Devils will sorely miss Emmanuel Franklin, whose career is in serious jeopardy due to a serious head injury he sustained in the spring. Freshman Mike Davis Jr. is a virtual lock not to redshirt. The 6-2 Davis fits the coveted bill of a fast and physical corner that will need to go up against opposing receivers with similar physical attributes. The freshman comes to the Devils with great bloodlines (his father played for the Raiders), and a confident cornerback attitude. The rate of his adjustment to the college game will determine the level of his contribution. Freshman Josh Golden comes to ASU under the recommendation of fellow Grossmont JC teammate Brett Hudson. His 5-11 frame and 4.4 speed make him an intriguing prospect, not to mention that he's a JC transfer who has four years of eligibility. Fans should expect him to get some early playing time. O.J. Hackett and Adrian Thomas had nice spring showings, and will also figure in the mix at this position.

Last year's Camp Tontozona featured a suffocating defense, which caused the maroon and gold faithful to envision this unit carrying the Football team. Judging by the results of 2001, that prophecy never came close to fruition. Regardless of the type of performance coach Guy's players will have up in Payson, it would be prudent to expect once again that the defense will be the dominant group on this Football squad. However, unlike last year this prediction should pan out, which is crucial for the team's quest to improve on its 4-7 record last season.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories