Time To Get Defensive

When former Boise State head coach Dirk Koetter was hired in 2000 to replace Bruce Snyder as head coach at ASU, we knew the program was going to be shifted toward a more offensive-oriented one. Which in the minds of fans, was fine considering the poor offensive performance of the Sun Devils during their 2000 campaign (capped off by a sluggish 31-17 loss to Boston College in the Aloha Bowl).

For all the criticism Snyder took during the 2000 season, the one characteristic about his football program during his 9-year tenure was that it was relatively balanced. Snyder believed in a power running game, tough defense and discipline. The highlight of his coaching career in Tempe was an undefeated regular season in 1996 and a trip to the Rose Bowl. That Sun Devil team was the finest of the past two decades: a deep and talented team on both sides of the football.

On the flip side, his successor was all about offense. We all knew about Koetter and his offensive wizardry, the young offensive mastermind from Boise State. His schemes were contemporary and explosive. His offenses were some of the best in college football. For the 2000 season, the Broncos were ranked No.1 in scoring offense, No. 2 in total offense and No. 4 in passing offense in the entire nation.

At ASU, Koetter finished with a 41-33 record (.554 winning percentage) and four bowl games– a moderate amount of success. But it was not enough to satisfy fans, boosters and the administration. And thus Koetter was let go and replaced by Dennis Erickson.

The cupboard is not bare for Erickson. There are some good young players in the program. But the one glaring weakness, and perhaps the one area that led to Koetter's downfall, is the defensive line.

Defensive coordinator Craig Bray was brutally honest of the Sun Devils defensive performance in 2006.

"I saw a lack of overall athleticism and speed, especially in the front seven," Bray said. "I was disappointed. As you visualize a place like this you would assume the one thing you can recruit is speed because speed likes warm weather and we get plenty of warm weather. So I was disappointed in that."

And that's an indictment on Koetter's ability (or lack of ability) to recruit defensive linemen to play at Arizona State.

Snyder recruited defensive linemen who were not only capable of playing in the Pac-10, but the NFL as well. The long list of former Sun Devil defensive linemen recruited by Snyder includes Derrick Rodgers, Jeremy Staat, Erik Flowers, Junior Ioane, Terrell Suggs and Jimmy Verdon – all of whom were drafted into the NFL.

The number of ASU defensive linemen recruited by Dirk Koetter and drafted into the NFL? Zero. And to add insult to injury, the most talented high school player in the state -- Agua Fria defensive lineman Everson Griffen -- never took Koetter and ASU seriously and signed with USC. The year before, Louis Holmes, a blue chip defensive lineman from Scottsdale Community College – just minutes from the ASU campus – spurned ASU and signed with Arizona. Plain and simple, Koetter failed miserably recruiting defensive linemen.

And I haven't even discussed the offensive line, which is equally as disturbing.

You win games in the trenches. And Erickon's success will depend on his ability to recruit defensive linemen who can play at the next level. This is not a knock against the defensive linemen who have busted their tails at ASU and laid it all out on the field. They were overmatched. This is about the ability to recruit defensive linemen who have the skills, athleticism and talent to play at the next level. That's how you win football games, that's how you go to bowls games, and that's how you record undefeated regular seasons.

Erickson is a master at recruiting and you can best believe that he's already circled the defensive line as a no.1 priority for the upcoming recruiting season. I'm looking forward to the day when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell steps to the podium and announces, "With the seventh pick in the NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select Arizona State defensive lineman …"

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