2008 Pac-10 Preview: Key Defensive Departures

A stout defense is usually a recipe for a great season. Several Pac-10 teams yearning for a successful 2008 campaign are wondering this off-season who will replace their key defensive players from last season. We identified the top 12 players in the league we feel will be the hardest to supplant.

12. Trey Brown, CB, UCLA

A fixture in the Bruin secondary as a starter in all 38 games of his final three seasons, Brown was one of the top lockdown corners in college football, notching a nation-high 23 passes defended as a senior in 2007. A sound overall defender, the 5-9, 189-pounder collected 208 career tackles with 12 interceptions, while earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 accolades in 2006 and 2007.

Fifth-year senior Michael Norris, who has predominately seen action on special teams but started one game in the secondary last season, leads to replace Brown in the Bruin starting lineup. Norris has collected 39 career tackles with one interception, and redshirt freshman Courtney Viney will press Norris for action in the secondary.

In preseason camp, elite high school products Anthony Dye, rated by Scout.com as the No. 9 cornerback prospect, and Aaron Hester, ranked as the No. 19 cornerback recruit, will begin to call the Rose Bowl home and hope to make a quick surge for UCLA in 2008.

11. Thomas DeCoud, FS, California

Despite only becoming a full-time starter as a senior, DeCoud's leadership will be greatly missed in the defensive secondary and on special teams. After collecting 82 total tackles in 32 games during his first three seasons as a reserve safety and cornerback, the 6-2, 204-pounder triumphed as a senior at Berkeley, ranking fourth in the Pac-10 with a team-high 116 tackles in 2007, earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 recognition as well as team defensive MVP honors.

DeCoud's persistent activity on the field is marked not only by his tremendous improvement as a senior, but also in that he blocked six kicks during his collegiate career. Brett Johnson appeared in 12 games as DeCoud's top reserve last season and enters his junior season looking to work his way into the starting lineup.

10. Keith Rivers, LB, USC

The Trojans don't just pass around jersey No. 55, and Rivers held his own in order to staple his name alongside the legends to share the number at USC, including NFL standouts Chris Claiborne, Willie McGinest and Junior Seau. A three-year starter at weak side linebacker, the 6-3, 220-pounder was considered the prototype athlete for the position, while collecting 240 career tackles with 18.5 tackles-for-loss, while earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors after his junior and senior seasons and honorable mention All-America recognition by CollegeFootballNews.com in 2007.

Despite Rivers' accolades, the Trojans will be far from reeling due to his absence as Kaluka Maivia enters his senior season atop the depth chart on the weak side, and the nephew of celebrity Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has seen ample action during his first three seasons in Los Angeles, appearing in 38 games over the past three seasons. The 6-0, 225-pound Maivia has collected 98 tackles, including a career-high 10 total stops in his first and only start (replacing Rivers) at Arizona State on Thanksgiving night, 2007.

9. Chris Horton, SS, UCLA

One-half of one of the finest safety duos in college football, Horton joined free safety Dennis Keyes as the perfect one-two punch for the Bruin secondary. After collecting 238 career tackles and first-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2007, the 6-1, 216-pound two-year starter, along with Keyes, both depart from last year's roster, leaving substantial holes for first-year Bruin head coach Rick Neuheisel to fill.

Senior Bret Lockett prepares for a promotion with Horton's graduation, after seeing duty on special teams and in sub packages during his first three years on campus. A player to keep an eye on down the road, and a potential future star at safety for UCLA, is 6-1, 192-pound incoming true freshman E.J. Woods, a former prep linebacker and a competitive boxer, ranked by Scout.com as a four-star prospect and the No. 9 safety recruit in the nation for 2008.

8. Lawrence Jackson, DE, USC

A dominant pass rusher off the edge, a team captain and a two-time first-team All-Pac-10 selection, Jackson was simply a force for the Trojan defensive line. A third-team All-America member by CollegeFootballNews.com in 2007, Jackson tallied a career-best 10.5 sacks as a senior, giving him 30.5 for his career, in addition to 181 total tackles as a four-year starter at defensive end for the Trojans.

Although Jackson will now "fight on" to the NFL, the Trojans remain well-stocked at both defensive end slots and will look to 6-6, 275-pound senior Kyle Moore to continue to be a solid starter at one end, while ushering sophomore sensation Everson Griffen, who earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors as a true freshman last season despite starting only twice, into a full-time role as a first-string end.

Senior Gerald Washington and redshirt freshman Trey Henderson will scrap for time as reserves, and USC's defensive ends group will enjoy a jumpstart in the fall with the arrivals of Nicholas Perry, the nation's No. 5 defensive end prospect, as well as Wes Horton, the No. 42 defensive end recruit in the country.

7. Derrick Doggett, SLB, Oregon State

The most accomplished of Oregon State's All-Pac-10 trio of linebackers in 2007, Doggett earned second-team All-Conference accolades at linebacker after his final two seasons in Corvallis and started 27 consecutive games to end his career. He led the Beavers in tackles (93), tackles-for-loss (14.0) and interceptions (four) as a senior, after leading OSU in tackles-for-loss (14.5) as a junior in 2006, while ranking second on the team in total tackles (87) and interceptions (three).

Fellow all-league members, middle linebacker Alan Darlin and weak side ‘backer Joey LaRocque join the versatile 6-3, 210-pound Doggett as OSU alums, and first in line to supplant Doggett at strong side linebacker is 6-3, 227-pound Fountain Hills (Ariz.) native, junior Keaton Kristick, who collected 15 tackles in 13 games in 2007, while senior Isaiah Cook will also compete for action on the weak side. As a whole, the 2008 Beaver linebackers will need to accelerate their collective development, as the eight returning OSU ‘backers to have seen time last season combined for merely 65 tackles, compared to the 211 collected by the departed starting combination of Doggett, Darlin and LaRocque.

6. Justin Tryon, CB, Arizona State

As the revolving door at cornerback continues to spin for the Sun Devils, head coach Dennis Erickson and staff faces the unenviable task of replacing Tryon, a former junior college All-American and the most consistent cornerback the team has showcased in nearly a decade.

A second-team All-Pac-10 honoree in 2008 and an honorable mention recipient the year before, Tryon started all 26 games of the past two seasons at ASU and ranked third in the Pac-10 in pass breakups as a senior (16), while adding three interceptions and 56 total tackles. Consecutive years of starting cornerbacks are as rare in Tempe as unappealing co-eds, as not since the pair of Kevin Minifield and Philippi Sparks in 1990-91 has ASU started the same duo of corners in back-to-back seasons.

First in line to replace "JT" beside returning starter Omar Bolden is spring junior college transfer Terell Carr, rated as a four-star prospect by Scout.com after totaling seven interceptions and 13 pass breakups as a sophomore at Pasadena (Calif.) City College. Still relatively new to the position after spending only one full year at the community college level on defense after playing his freshman season at wide receiver, the speedy 5-9, 180-pound Carr showed some slight growing pains during the spring but has the athletic ability to be well up to speed by the fall.

Also looking to gain more playing time are juniors Travis Smith and Grant Crunkleton, while 5-11, 210-pound walk-on junior Pierre Singfield has been perhaps the team's most intriguing story during the spring, having worked to elevate himself into second-team and spot first-team duties in his first action at ASU.

5. Bruce Davis, DE, UCLA

Pac-10 quarterbacks will breathe easier in 2008 knowing that Davis no longer remains to explode from his right defensive end spot to wreak absolute havoc in opposing backfields. Despite being undersized at defensive end (6-3, 234), he racked up 29 career sacks and 42.5 tackles-for-loss.

A first-team All-American by CollegeFootballNews.com as a junior in 2006 and a second-team All-Pac-10 selection as both a junior and as a senior, Davis tied for the conference lead in sacks in 2006 (12.5), good enough for fourth in the nation. His stellar junior campaign was followed with a phenomenal senior season, again tying for the Pac-10 lead in sacks (12.0), while adding 15.5 tackles-for-loss.

New head coach Rick Neuheisel and veteran defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker will usher in the services of a new right end, with senior Tom Blake relocating after starting eight games in 2007 at left defensive end, collecting 32 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss and 3.0 sacks, while tying for the Pac-10 lead with four fumble recoveries. Sophomores Reginald Stokes and David Carter look to push Blake for time, as will redshirt freshman Justin Edison.

In the fall, the Bruin defensive line will welcome prep standouts Damien Holmes, rated as the No. 6 defensive end recruit in the nation and a four-star prospect by Scout.com, as well as Datone Jones, listed by Scout.com as a four-star recruit and the No. 23 defensive end prospect in the nation.

4. Robert James, WLB, Arizona State

One of the top "feel-good" stories in the Pac-10 last season, James began his college career in academic peril and nearly became an injury casualty near the end of his tenure, but as a senior in head coach Dennis Erickson's defense, "The Beast" exploded into one of the country's top linebackers, netting first-team All-Pac-10 honors and was named ASU's Most Valuable Defensive Player of the Year in 2007.

After collecting only 68 tackles in 29 games during his first three seasons in Tempe, James started all 13 games at weak side linebacker last year and led ASU and ranked seventh in the conference with 106 tackles, adding 9.5 tackles-for-loss, four interceptions and 2.5 sacks. A sideline-to-sideline terror, the 5-11, 229-pound Phoenix native made as big an impact in one year as a full-time starter as any in recent history for the Devils.

Mainly battling to replace James are junior Ryan McFoy and redshirt freshman Oliver Aaron. McFoy, who like James began his career at safety, spent the majority of 2007 on special teams as he learned to play linebacker, but the 6-2, 214-pounder has shown great improvement since last season, as has the 6-0, 200-pound Aaron, who earned ASU's Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2007. Joining the competition is 6-1, 220-pound redshirt freshman and Chandler, Ariz., native Colin Parker, a Sun Devil legacy whose father, Anthony Parker, starred at defensive back for ASU in the 1980's and later in the NFL.

3. Spencer Larsen, LB, Arizona

The epitome of a "lunch pail" defender, Larsen was virtually all over the field for the Wildcat defense, earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2007 after leading the league with 131 tackles, while ranking fourth in the conference with a team-high 15.5 tackles-for-loss. Larsen also tied for the Pac-10 high of four fumble recoveries, while adding four sacks and three forced fumbles last season.

Dominant in the classroom and on the field, the 6-1, 240-pounder received first-team Pac-10 All-Academic recognition his final two seasons in Tucson. One of the most significant among many defensive departures for the Wildcats from 2007, fellow starting linebacker Dane Krogstad also departs, leaving senior Adrian McCovy and junior Xavier Kelley as the top candidates to start at strong side and weak side linebacker, respectively. Junior college transfers Vuna Tuihalamaka (strong side) and Sterling Lewis (weak side) will also battle for significant action at the outside linebacker positions in 2008.

2. Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona

Any program would suffer to lose a Jim Thorpe Award winner, but for a program in a state similar to Arizona's, the loss becomes agonizing. A first-team All-Pac-10 selection during his last two seasons in Tucson, while also earning Walter Camp All-America distinction in 2007, as a senior Cason totaled 71 tackles, 14 pass breakups and five interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), while leading the Pac-10 with two punt return touchdowns and ranking among the league-leaders with a 10.0-yard punt return average.

The 6-0, 185-pound four-year starter is joined in departure by running mate Wilrey Fontenot, also a career starter at cornerback for the Wildcats. The main candidates to replace the sturdy pair are junior Devin Ross, a special teams standout that recorded 16 tackles with one interception last year, and former junior college transfer, senior Marquis Hundley, who collected seven tackles in 11 games in 2007. Also pining for action will be sophomore Mike Turner and redshirt freshman Trevin Wade, however true freshman star Robert Golden, a five-star prospect rated by Scout.com as the No. 4 cornerback recruit in the nation and Arizona's 2008 signing class gem, will look to make an immediate impact when fall camp rolls around.

1. Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC

It is no coincidence that Ellis, the 2007 Pat Tillman Pac-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year, is deemed as the toughest player to replace, as the 6-1, 285-pounder routinely terrorized opposing offensive lines during his days as a Trojan. Ellis racked up a load of accolades during his USC career, including unanimous All-America honors and first-team All-Pac-10 recognition as a senior, which followed with first-team All-America and All-Pac-10 honors in 2006 and honorable mention All-Pac-10 accolades the year before. A two-time Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-10's top lineman, the three-year starter totaled 58 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks as a senior, while making a living by occupying opposing backfields.

First in line to help fill the giant shoes vacated by Ellis is 6-2, 290-pound junior Averell Spicer, who has recorded 12 tackles in duty as a reserve nose tackle in 19 career games, while sophomores Christian Tupou and redshirt freshman DaJohn Harris will also look to capitalize on the open starting spot. Also looking to compete for action in the fall will be 6-6, 290-pound true freshman Armond Armstead, rated by Scout.com as the No. 19 defensive tackle prospect in the country, as well as classmate Jurrell Casey, listed by Scout.com as the nation's No. 32 defensive tackle recruit.

Other Key Defensive Departures

DL: Kevin Brown, UCLA; Curtis Coker, Oregon State; Lionel Dotson, Arizona; Greyson Gunheim, Washington; Gerard Lee, Oregon State; Michael Marquardt, Arizona State; Jason Parker, Arizona; Jordan Reffett, Washington; Dorian Smith, Oregon State; Jeff Van Orsow, Oregon State

LB: Alan Darlin, Oregon State; Joey LaRocque, Oregon State; Justin Moye, California; Christian Taylor, UCLA; Thomas Williams, USC

CB: Wilrey Fontenot, Arizona; Gerard Lawson, Oregon State; Roy Lewis, Washington; Nick Sanchez, Stanford; Terrell Thomas, USC

S: Husain Abdullah, Washington State; Josh Barrett, Arizona State; Daniel Drayton, Oregon State; Dennis Keyes, UCLA; Matt Harper, Oregon

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