Spring Preview: Secondary and Special Teams

Breaking Down ASU's Secondary, Special Teams A detailed breakdown previewing the roster, depth charts and top position battles at safety and cornerback, as well as at every special teams position.

Defensive Secondary

Safety

Spring Participants: Mike Callaghan, Soph., Jonathan Clark, RS-Fr., Rodney Cox, Sr., Angelo Fobbs-Valentino, Sr., Jarrell Holman, Jr., Troy Nolan, Sr., Jeremy Payton, Sr., Max Tabach, Soph.

Fall Arrivals: Keelan Johnson, Fr.^

Departures From 2007: Josh Barrett (11 games/eight starts, 38 tackles, seven pass breakups, four tackles-for-loss), Brett Nenaber (11 games played mainly on special teams, eight total tackles), Colin Parker, RS-Fr. (moves to linebacker)

Spring Competition to Watch: Who wants it more? Rodney Cox vs. Jeremy Payton vs. Max Tabach

^-may play offense or defense

Spring Outlook

Senior-heavy, ASU's stock of safeties should create some compelling competition, with as many as three candidates looking to replace departed starter Josh Barrett.

With Second-Team All-Pac-10 honoree Troy Nolan locking down one safety position, seniors Rodney Cox and Jeremy Payton, along with junior college transfer Max Tabach will all compete in the spring to run with the first-team defense.

Payton is the most experienced of the group, having appeared in 35 career games with seven starts (including three last season), totaling 78 tackles and five pass breakups during his ASU career. He has seen extensive action in the secondary during his career, but a lack of consistency has prevented him from lassoing a full-time starting job, as he was unable to beat out Nolan to replace two-year starter Zach Catanese prior to the 2007 season.

Cox, a former walk-on, appeared in all 13 games last year and ended the season with the edge over Payton, earning starts in the year's final two games when Barrett was shelved due to injury. During three seasons at ASU, Cox has compiled 28 total tackles in 32 games.

A Scottsdale native, Tabach had a record-setting senior season at Saguaro High School, collecting a state-record 16 interceptions. However, largely due to a frail physique he ended his prep career without a college scholarship offer. Fast-forward one year and roughly 35 pounds heavier, the 6-2, 205-pound ball hawk earned that elusive scholarship offer after playing one year at nearby Glendale Community College and joins the squad for spring drills with four seasons to play three.

The stakes won't get much larger for this trio, especially for the two seniors, as the clock is ticking on their ASU careers. Additionally, Tabach would be well advised not to get comfortable with the notion that he'll likely have an easy path to start in 2009, when Nolan, Payton and Cox graduate, and immediately fight for playing time.

Junior Jarrell Holman and freshman Jonathan Clark both redshirted last season, and both players face new tasks as they each had primarily played cornerback during his football career prior to arriving to ASU. Holman joined the team during spring drills last season and did not live up to initial expectations, motivating the position change. Both players likely will enter the spring at the bottom floor of the three-deeps at safety.

Depth at safety is rounded out by senior Angelo Fobbs-Valentino, primarily a special teams player that has recorded eight tackles in 25 career games, as well as walk-on Mike Callaghan, who enters his third year in the program and appeared in two games as a redshirt freshman last season.

Local product Keelan Johnson of Mesa High School joins the team in the fall listed as an "athlete", and if he is not used as an all-purpose offensive target he may compete for time at safety; the position at which he was recruited to play at Nebraska, a school which he had previously committed to before switching his allegiance to ASU.

Cornerback

Spring Participants: Omar Bolden, Soph., Terell Carr, Jr., Grant Crunkleton, Jr., Travis Smith, Jr.

Fall Arrivals: Allante Battle, Fr.*^, Deveron Carr, Fr.*, Clint Floyd, Fr.*^, Josh Jordan, Fr.*

Departures From 2007: Justin Tryon (Second-Team All-Pac-10, 13 starts, 56 tackles, 16 pass breakups and three interceptions), Chris Baloney (11 games, four starts, 19 tackles and four pass breakups), Littrele Jones (12 games, 18 tackles), Chad Green (did not play in 2007 due to injury)

Spring Competition to Watch: What can Grant Crunkleton bring to the table? Grant Crunkleton vs. "the field"

*-will sit out 2008 season
^-may play offense or defense

Spring Outlook

Strange, it seems, that the Devils enter 2008 returning a starting cornerback that is only a sophomore, and a potentially elite one at that, in former mega-recruit Omar Bolden. He set a grand stage for himself with his 2007 signing day announcement, popularized on YouTube, in which he publicly – and emphatically – rejected three Pac-10 foes and "surprisingly" selected ASU.

Adding reliable substance to his flashy style during his first season on the field, Bolden quickly became a starter that looked more like a seasoned pro than a green newbie, ending the year with 33 tackles, six pass breakups and an interception, while garnering Freshman All-America honors.

Making Bolden's life a little easier was the tremendous play by departed starter Justin Tryon, who netted Second-Team All-Pac-10 accolades and simply became the lock-down cornerback the Devils have longed for in recent years, totaling 56 tackles, 16 pass breakups and three interceptions as a senior.

With the graduation of "JT", ASU's top corner in all 26 games during the 2006-07 seasons, as well as the departures of reserves Chris Baloney and Littrele Jones, Bolden now holds the torch as the Sun Devils' top cornerback, while the responsibility yet again falls on a junior college transfer to virtually walk into a starting position.

Joining the team for the spring as a midyear transfer from Pasadena Community College is 5-9, 180-pound Terell Carr, who looks to continue the string of recent string of JUCO transfers at the position to immediately start for the Devils, emulating the likes of Tryon, Keno Walter-White and Chris McKenzie.

Fortunately, Carr won't be simply given the starting nod by default, as his speed and work ethic have greatly impressed the Sun Devil staff since arriving on campus. Furthermore, despite only playing cornerback during his sophomore year in junior college, the Tulsa, Okla., native was rated as a four-star recruit by Scout.com and is expected to be a reliable starter opposite Bolden.

Outside of the projected starting pair of Bolden and Carr, the remaining depth at the position will need to improve diligently to create an impact on the field. Also, ASU welcomes new cornerbacks coach Greg Burns in to replace the departed Al Simmons, a factor that makes the spring additionally crucial for quick and efficient development.

Junior Travis Smith was became a pleasant surprise in limited action last season after spending his entire redshirt freshman year on ASU's scout team, collecting six tackles and a pass breakup in 2007, while battling injuries which unfortunately derailed him for over half of the season, as he appeared in the first four and last two games of the year.

Smith will likely enter the spring as a first-string cornerback "on paper" due to the fact that Carr has yet to officially compete with the squad, but all expectations are for Smith to compete for action as a top reserve.

Grant Crunkleton returns for his junior season after spending last year on the scout team, following limited action on the field in 2006, while senior Jeremy Payton has seen scattered practice time at the position and may be called into duty if needed.

Additionally, 2007 signees Jonathan Clark and Jarrell Holman arrived on campus last year with the potential to play cornerback but will begin spring drills practicing at safety. The tremendous lack of returning depth at cornerback for ASU – the Devils return only two lettermen at cornerback from 2007 – should work to Crunkleton's advantage, despite the fact that he was relegated to scout team duty last season. However, if he does not capitalize on the opportunity, perhaps a walk-on or incoming freshman may sneak into the spotlight.

As expected, a handful of walk-ons will compete for action in the spring and fall, as will incoming freshmen Deveron Carr and Josh Jordan, who by popular assumption is a likely redshirt candidate. Fellow freshman Clint Floyd will compete for time at either wide receiver or cornerback, while classmate Allante Battle will join the squad in a similar "athlete" capacity, but has been announced, Battle will be required to redshirt the 2008 season after signing a track and field, not football, letter of intent.

As mentioned above, if a solid fourth cornerback can't emerge after the spring, the staff may look to either Floyd or Deveron Carr, although neither player primarily focused on defense in high school and would benefit from a redshirt season. Jordan, also, will likely need to redshirt to hone his talents.

Special Teams

Spring Participants: Rudy Carpenter, Sr. (H), Terell Carr, Jr. (KR), Clay Davie, RS-Fr. (SN), Nate Kimbrough, Sr. (PR/KR), Chris McGaha, Jr. (PR/KR), Zach Richards, RS-Fr. (K), T.J. Simpson, RS-Fr. (KR/PR), Brandon Smith, Jr. (KR/PR), Max Tabach, Soph. (KR/PR), Thomas Weber, Soph. (K/P) Kyle Williams, Jr. (KR/PR)

Departures From 2007: Rudy Burgess (KR), Jonathan Johnson (P/H), Jason Perkins (SN), Justin Tryon (KR)

Spring Competitions to Watch: Who will be named long snapper? How will the depth chart at kickoff returner shake up? Will Rudy Carpenter serve as the holder?

Spring Outlook

The Sun Devil special teams units feature some highs and lows, returning Lou Groza Award winner and First-Team All-Pac-10 kicker Thomas Weber, as well as First-Team All-Conference punt returner Kyle Williams, however replacements are needed and kickoff returner, long snapper and holder, while the situation at punter lacks stability as well.

With the loss of Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 recipient Rudy Burgess and Justin Tryon at kickoff returner, the two main options entering the spring are junior wide receiver Chris McGaha, along with Williams, who may pull double-duty in the returns game.

Both players have served time on both return units at ASU, and that experience combined with greatly increased overall confidence due to their improvement at wide receiver makes them capable threats.

Likely to also compete in the returns game are senior Nate Kimbrough, who has seen action on punt and kickoff returns during his career, along with junior wide receiver Brandon Smith and redshirt freshman T.J. Simpson.

Junior college transfers Terell Carr and Max Tabach have showcased abilities to be talented return men and will likely join the competition in the spring.

It seems like light years ago that Weber and walk-on Zach Richards battled fiercely at Camp Tontozona to claim the kicking job, as Weber would quickly erase any conceivable doubt by connecting on 24-of-25 field goals and earning several All-America honors as just a redshirt freshman.

Less stable, however, is the Devils' outlook at punter, where Weber took over last year for senior Jonathan Johnson midway through the season but had nowhere near the impact at punter as he did at placekicker, averaging 39.3 yards on 47 punts.

Despite inconsistency at the position, no scholarship newcomers have been added to the team, and entering the spring, Weber is likely to maintain punting duties.

Richards will compete with Weber to see action at placekicker and punter.

Also gone from 2007 is long snapper Jason Perkins, who filled in respectably for four-year player Jason Burke, who was tremendously consistent from 2003-06. The only player returning from 2007 specifically designated to the position is redshirt freshman walk-on Clay Davie, however the job is far from his to lose. If no position player steps to the plate to assume the position, a fall walk-on may have the opportunity to capture the role.

Jonathan Johnson served as ASU's holder for kicks during the final half of the 2006 season and all of last year, unofficially participating in only one missed field goal attempt between work with Jesse Ainsworth in 2006 and Thomas Weber last year.

Likely to fill the void is starting quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who did so early in the 2006 season. However, other options may be pursued as to avoid keeping the team's leading passer susceptible to "unnecessary" contact as a special teams participant.

Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and will be a guest contributor to Devils Digest during the 2007 football season. He currently writes for ASU's Maroon and Gold Illustrated and his work has also been featured in Sun Devil football media guides and other official team publications.

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