Pac-10 Impact Defensive Newcomers Part I

In 2007, both college and pro football proved to the sports world that defense, in fact, does win championships. Although the Pac-10 carries a stigma of an offense-only conference, in reality there are several dynamic defensive players and in many cases first-year players are given the chance to make immediate contributions.

In the first part of this analytical series, we focus on the defensive newcomers for Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, UCLA and USC.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Defensive Line

In year two of the Dennis Erickson tenure at ASU, the defensive line has the potential to be a major force, with a handful of first-year players likely to contribute.

Without a doubt, the defensive emphasis in the Sun Devils' 2008 signing class was placed on the defensive line, with six linemen agreeing to attend ASU.

One of the top overall standouts of this year's class of newcomers is Las Vegas product Lawrence Guy, one of the most dynamic and dominant prep pass rushers in the nation. Ranked by Scout.com as a four-star prospect and the No. 7 defensive tackle recruit in the nation, Guy is currently awaiting official word on his attempt to gain academic clearance, and if allowed into school he will likely be a prime candidate to be a top reserve at virtually any spot along the defensive front four.

A newcomer with immediate starting potential, defensive tackle Spencer Gasu (pictured) comes to ASU via the junior college ranks and looks to provide an imposing presence for the Sun Devil interior defensive line. Combining great size and athletic ability, Gasu, who had originally committed to Oregon before switching allegiance to ASU, was a four-star prospect in 2008 and will quickly enter the battle with Jonathan English and Saia Falahola to replace Michael Marquardt as starting tackle next to David Smith.

An exceptionally gifted athlete, redshirt freshman James Brooks capped off his first session of spring ball with the Devils as the top reserve to returning starter Luis Vasquez at left defensive end. As the biggest end on the roster at 6-4, 283, Brooks has the raw physical tools to wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines.

Freshman tackle Bo Moos and end Eric Tanner, a junior college transfer that joined the team last spring, also redshirted in 2007 and will look to earn time this season.

Like Gasu, true freshman end Jamaar Jarrett defected from his pledge to Oregon to attend ASU, and the 6-5; 250-pounder boasts a tremendous frame to develop into an excellent member of the Sun Devil defensive line. A likely candidate to redshirt in 2008, Jarrett was rated as the No. 35 defensive end prospect in the nation by Scout.com and will be expected to be a factor in the future Devil defense as current starting ends Dexter Davis (junior) and Luis Vasquez (senior) are both upperclassmen.

Also signing with ASU in February were tackles Otis Jones and Zeb Togiai and end Toa Tuitea. Jones, the No. 71 defensive tackle prospect by Scout.com, saw a tremendous hike in recruiting attention in the later stages of the process and is viewed as one of the "sleeper" candidates in the 2008 class, while Togiai was the top senior defensive lineman in the state of Arizona last season at nearby Phoenix Desert Vista High School and was listed by Scout.com as the No. 55 defensive tackle recruit in the country.

Tuitea, ranked as the No. 69 defensive tackle prospect last year by Scout.com, has the ability to play either tight end or defensive end, but is likely to end up on the front four. All three players will most likely redshirt in 2008.

Junior college defensive lineman Eugene Germany, who originally committed to play for USC in 2004 and attended the University of Michigan from 2005-06 signed with ASU in February; however it has become highly unlikely that he will ultimately play for the Sun Devils.

One of the more intriguing storylines of the spring was that which follows walk-on tackle Dave Bertrand, a Scottsdale native who came into the light from the dark side last season by transferring to the Devils from rival Arizona. Already one of the strongest players on the team, Bertrand, who spent the past three seasons on the Wildcats' roster, was applauded for his consistency in spring practice and worked his way into the top rotation at defensive tackle. Although pegged for likely reserve duty in the fall, Bertrand is expected to see significant field time at ASU unlike his career in Tucson.

Linebackers

With the four most experienced linebackers for ASU - including all three projected starters - entering their junior season in 2008, it becomes increasingly important for younger talent to develop this year either in game action or on the scout team as redshirts.

The most competitive of three linebacker depth chart battles is on the weak side, where pair of redshirt freshmen look for immediate starting action.

Florida native Oliver Aaron, the No. 44 weak side linebacker prospect in 2007, an athletic and aggressive if undersized defender, and local product Colin Parker, a Sun Devil legacy, the No. 49 national weak side linebacker recruit in 2007 and one of the state of Arizona's top linebackers during his prep career, played very well during the spring and will continue to push probable first-stringer and junior Ryan McFoy.

Also from ASU's 2007 class is Derrall Anderson, who joined Aaron in a cross-country trip from Florida to be a Sun Devil. Anderson exited the spring as one of the top backups to starter Travis Goethel on the strong side.

Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee (pictured) will roam the defensive front seven at ASU together just as they did at the prep level at Corona (Calif.) Centennial High.

Magee, a clone of former First-Team All-Pac-10 member and current Atlanta Falcon Robert James, combines 4.44-second 40-yard speed and a 300-plus-pound bench press and was ranked as the No. 22 weak side linebacker prospect by Scout.com. The 6-0, 230-pound defender is still waiting to gain full academic clearance from the NCAA before beginning his Sun Devil career.

Not to be largely outdone by his prep teammate, Lyons, who can play middle or strong side linebacker, was rated as the No. 24 national recruit on the strong side.

Defensive Backs

The first-year Sun Devil most likely to make a quick impact is four-star cornerback Terell Carr (pictured), who joined the squad in the spring as a mid-year junior college transfer. Exceptionally fast, the 5-9, 180-pound junior spent his first collegiate season playing wide receiver at Santa Monica JC before transferring to Pasadena (Calif.) City College to play in the secondary. A four-star prospect by Scout.com, Carr's lack of game experience at the D-I level leaves him slightly rough around the edges, however he generally had a solid spring and is heavily favored to supplant departed All-Pac-10 performer Justin Tryon, now with the Washington Redskins, as ASU's starting corner opposite Omar Bolden.

One of the most notable surprise stories of spring ball was the play of 5-11 210 Pierre Singfield, a walk-on transfer from Pima (Ariz.) Community College. With his solid size, Singfield skyrocketed his way up the depth chart, even earning first-team reps throughout the course of the spring. Singfield will have to ward off returning veterans Travis Smith and Grant Crunkleton - as well as a handful of incoming freshmen - to remain among the top of the depth chart; however his play in the spring showed his ability to compete at the FBS level.

Three true freshmen cornerbacks will begin their ASU careers in 2008, including Deveron Carr, Clint Floyd and Josh Jordan. Carr (no relation to Terell) has phenomenal size and speed for the position and was also a standout running back and return man threat at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral High School, while Floyd also played quarterback and wide receiver at Los Angeles' Crenshaw High School and may compete at either cornerback or receiver as a Sun Devil.

Jordan was the top defensive back in the state of Nevada and the nation's No. 82 cornerback prospect while playing at power program Bishop Gorman High. With an overall lack of experience in the depth at cornerback, there could be a window of opportunity for a member of the freshman group to earn game action immediately, perhaps Jordan due to his experience advantage at cornerback over his two classmates.

With the graduation of starter Josh Barrett and the recent departure of would-be senior Jeremy Payton, there are immediate holes to fill at safety and first-year players will likely be called up on to play significant roles.

Junior Jarrell Holman and sophomore Max Tabach are in line to earn ample action in 2008 as the top reserves to Rodney Cox and Troy Nolan at strong and free safety, respectively.

After transferring to ASU from Phoenix College last spring, Holman was unable to make much of a mark at cornerback and was relocated to safety and redshirted in 2007. One year after his arrival to ASU, Holman was one of the most improved players during the spring and enters this season with great momentum.

Like Holman before him, Tabach joined ASU in the spring after a one-year JUCO stay at Glendale (Ariz.) Community College. A ball-hawking free safety and the Arizona state high school record holder for interceptions in a season (16 in 2006), Tabach added 35 pounds of bulk to his frame from his senior season at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro High School, enabling him physically adapt to Pac-10 football.

Redshirt freshman Jonathan Clark will add depth at safety as well as true freshman Keelan Johnson. Clark came to ASU projected at cornerback after an excellent career at Arlington (Texas) Seguin High School and Johnson, who is currently in the process of gaining full academic clearance, has the ability to play as an multi-purpose offensive threat but the minimal current and projected future depth at safety may land him in the secondary.

Arizona Wildcats

Defensive Line

A major area of concern entering 2008 for the Arizona defense is replenishing virtually its entire defensive line from last season, having lost three seniors from 2007 and the fourth starter's standing with the team remaining in serious peril.

Tackles Yaniv Barnett and Lionel Dotson, the starting duo in all but one game last year, combined for over 80 tackles and 17 stops behind the line of scrimmage, while end Louis Holmes added 27 tackles and two sacks. Would-be senior Jonathan Turner, who started six games last year and would have been one of the expected impact players on defense, has endured tremendous turmoil off the field and his status with the team is uncertain at best.

Looking to take advantage of the need for new talent will be a vast group of newcomers, including a large list of athletes from Arizona's 2008 class.

Redshirt freshman Ron Jackson, a former two-star signee in 2007, exited the spring as one of the top reserves at left defensive end, while Apaita Tuihalamaka, a classmate of Jackson's, a four-star prospect and the No. 20 national defensive end prospect in 2007, will compete for time at right defensive end.

Freshman Hans Phillipp, also of the 2007 class and the No. 72 defensive tackle prospect by Scout.com that year, was among the three-deep nose tackle lineup following spring drills.

Arizona acquired the services of five total defensive linemen in its recruiting efforts this past offseason, including a trio of talented tackles and a pair of potent ends.

The headliner of the quintet is tackle Solomon Koehler (pictured), a four-star prospect by Scout.com and the nation's No. 9 defensive tackle recruit in 2008, who has the talent to contribute quickly. Joining Koehler are freshmen Chris Merrill of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro High, the No. 62 defensive tackle prospect in the country, as well as two-star prospect Jowyn Ward of Katy, Texas.

Soon to begin their careers on the ends are Kenny Barnes and Dominique Austin, each of whom earned two-star rankings by Scout.com in 2008. Barnes of Glendale (Ariz.) Raymond S. Kellis High is the speedier of the two, while Austin boasts a larger frame, measuring 6-4, 240 pounds.

Although not new to college football, junior Earl Mitchell relocates from having played fullback/H-back to defensive tackle due to Arizona's offense de-emphasizing his former role.

Linebackers

Losing the services of Spencer Larsen, one of the Pac-10's most productive linebackers, is a major setback, but with the added graduation of one of his running mates, Dane Krogstad, who combined with Larson to collect over 180 tackles and 19 tackles-for-loss in 2007, the Wildcats face an uphill battle to reestablish a strong linebacking corps.

A pair of first-year players exited the spring listed as top competitors for either outside linebacker spot, as junior college transfer Vuna Tuihalamaka (pictured) will compete with Adrian McCovy for time on the strong side, while Sterling Lewis, also a community college product, will battle Xavier Kelly for action on the weak side. Both players bring high credentials to the Wildcat front seven, as Tuihalamaka was rated as a four-star recruit when he originally signed with Arizona in 2007 before academic issues required him to wait until 2008 to join the Wildcats, and Lewis, an athletic 5-11, 225-pounder, was rated as a three-star prospect.

True freshman Zander Fabbri, rated as the No. 39 middle linebacker by Scout.com in 2008, will look to earn action quickly among Arizona's thin group of inside ‘backers, while classmate R.J. Young, the No. 47 weak side prospect will enter the fray as well this fall.

Defensive Backs

Undoubtedly the top high school signee that Arizona's gained under in five years under Mike Stoops, five-star cornerback Robert Golden (pictured) will be counted on to jump immediately into action in 2008.

With the graduation of Arizona's four-year starting cornerback combo of Wilrey Fontenot and 2007 Thorpe Award winner Antoine Cason, a huge hole exists in the Wildcat secondary this season and Golden, the No. 4 cornerback prospect in the country last year by Scout.com, figures to play a major role in UA's reloading process.

While there's little doubt that Golden will see ample action in his rookie season, he'll have to overtake either Devin Ross or Marquis Hundley to earn starting reps.

Redshirt freshman Trevin Wade, a three-star prospect in 2007, will vie for time as a reserve cornerback, while incoming true freshman Mark Whatley will begin his collegiate career competing for action in the secondary.

Joe Perkins, a 6-2, 190-pound junior who redshirted in 2007 after coming to Arizona from El Camino College, exited the spring as the top backup to starter Cam Nelson at strong safety.

Although not currently listed on the team's official website roster, junior college transfer Anthony Wilcox, a late signee who became a Wildcat in May, recent reports out of Tucson detail that he's expected to compete for time at nickel back.

UCLA Bruins

Defensive Line

Quality, not quantity is the emphasis regarding the newcomers along the defensive line for the Bruins. As the team gears up to replace departed superstar rush end Bruce Davis, a duo of premier prep products and a first-year player with a year at the school under his belt will look to make immediate contributions in Pasadena.

Damien Holmes and Datone Jones (pictured) form a pair that Bruin fans hope to terrorize opposing signal callers as much as Davis did, and each of the two brings impressive qualities to the college level.

Holmes, the No. 9 defensive end recruit in the class of 2008, is explosive and quick, and has solid size (6-3, 250) despite his youth. An absolute force behind the line of scrimmage, the 6-5, 250-pound Jones was regarded as the No. 23 defensive end prospect by Scout.com and a four star recruit.

With very limited depth at both ends for the Bruins, it's highly feasible that at least one of the two will see action as a true freshman.

Redshirt freshman Justin Edison, a three-star defensive end prospect in 2007, exited the spring behind sophomore Reginald Stokes as reserves to starting right end Tom Blake.

Linebackers

A slew of new faces will be available for action at linebacker in 2008 for UCLA, with six scholarship athletes with no previous FBS experience looking to roam the Bruin front seven.

The only of the group with any collegiate experience is Mike Schmitt (pictured), a graduate of Peoria (Ariz.) Cactus High School and a former transfer from Phoenix (Ariz.) College, where he was a teammate of ASU's Jarrell Holman and Eric Tanner. A late signee that agreed to attend UCLA in April of 2007, Schmitt redshirted last season and will battle for reserve action at weak side linebacker.

Redshirt freshmen Akeem Ayers and Steve Sloan are believed to have tremendous upside and may have the opportunity to exhibit their skills quickly in 2008, as both players exited spring drills earning second-team duties. Ayers, the No. 12 ranked defensive end by Scout.com in 2007, will battle first-stringer John Hale for time at strong side linebacker, while Sloan, the No. 9 strong side linebacker in 2007, will move to middle linebacker, where he is first in line behind standout defender Reggie Carter.

True freshmen Donovan Carter, Patrick Larimore and Sean Westgate will compete for snaps at linebacker in the early stages of their collegiate careers.

Carter was listed by Scout.com as the No. 18 strong side linebacker in 2008, while Larimore was rated the No. 18 middle linebacker. Westgate, who decommitted from Arizona to become a Bruin, was evaluated at safety and was rated No. 83 in the nation at that position.

Defensive Backs

When a team loses three of the best defensive backs in its conference, it's challenging to be excited for the future of that squad's secondary; however UCLA gained several incredible talent defensive backs to help ease the losses of All-Conference members Trey Brown, Chris Horton and Dennis Keyes from the UCLA secondary.

Rahim Moore (pictured) and E.J. Woods were two of the most highly-acclaimed high school safeties in the nation last season, and come to UCLA with expectations to contribute early and often as the Bruins look to replace Horton and Keyes in the starting lineup.

Moore, a five-star prospect ranked by Scout.com as the No. 2 high school safety in the nation in 2008, has tremendous speed and ball skills and is an excellent fit for the free safety position, and can also play cornerback if needed.

A highly-accomplished boxer, Woods looks to add a youthful punch to the strong safety position for the Bruins, and the 6-1, 205-pounder was rated as a four-star recruit and the nation's No. 9 safety prospect last season as a senior at Crespi High School.

Further boosting the talent of the secondary are Tony Dye and Aaron Hester, both of whom earned four-star rankings by Scout.com in 2008. Dye was rated the No. 9 national cornerback prospect, while Hester was ranked the No. 19 recruit at the position and both athletes will have the opportunity for early playing time as the Bruins lack any sort of proven depth at cornerback.

Also looking to impact the secondary in 2008 are redshirt freshmen Glenn Love, a product of Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton High School and the No. 47 safety prospect in 2007, and Courtney Viney, the No. 10 national cornerback recruit that year.

USC Trojans

Defensive Line

"They don't rebuild; they reload." This cliché seems to surface with the Trojans virtually every year, and 2008 looks to be no different.

Despite All-Pac-10 phenom defensive linemen Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson advancing to become first-round NFL Draft selections, USC boats enough elite-level linemen to ensure a spectacular defensive front now and in the future.

Da'John Harris (pictured) and Trey Henderson, both redshirt freshmen and members of USC's 2007 class, will compete for time at defensive tackle and exited the spring among the team's three-deep at either tackle spot. In 2007, Harris was a five-star prospect and regarded as the nation's No. 6 defensive tackle recruit while Henderson was evaluated by Scout.com as a tight end and earned a three-star designation at the position.

As excellent as the current state of the Trojan defensive line is, the future is even brighter as a star-studded collaboration of five linemen were brought in by head coach Pete Carroll and staff on Signing Day this past February.

Four-star end Nicholas Perry, one of the most dominant defenders in Michigan prep football history, earned the highest ranking of the lot and was listed by Scout.com as the nation's No. 5 defensive end prospect. Not far behind in terms of accolades was tackle Armond Armstead, the No. 19 prospect at his position, while three-star recruits Jurrell Casey, Wes Horton and Malik Jackson will also fortify the Trojan line for years to come.

Linebackers

USC's linebackers in 2008 are likely the nation's best, guided by star seniors Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga. Despite upperclassmen locking down starting spots, reserve roles will be up for grabs this season as the Trojans prepare to replenish a senior-heavy lineup.

The heir apparent to Maualuga at middle linebacker is redshirt freshman Chris Galippo (pictured), formerly a five-star recruit and the No. 1 prospect in the nation at his position in 2007. The 6-2, 255-pounder will spend 2008 as the top back-up to the frightening Maualuga and is likely to assume full-time staring duties as a sophomore in 2009.

Jordan Campbell, also a member of USC's 2007 class, joins a host of competitors for time at weak side linebacker after the departure of All-American and NFL first-rounder Keith Rivers. Rated the No. 9 prospect at the position and a four-star recruit by Scout.com in 2007, Campbell faces the challenge of battling veterans Luthur Brown and Kaluka Maivia for reps.

Joining Campbell in competition for action in 2008 is true freshman Maurice Simmons, regarded by Scout.com as a four-star player and the No. 12 high school weak side linebacker last season. Fellow 2008 signee Uona Kaveinga, a prep teammate of ASU's incoming freshman Otis Jones at Lawndale (Calif.) Leuzinger High, was also awarded four-star recognition and was rated as the nation's No. 9 weak side linebacker; however at USC the 6-1, 235-pounder will participate at middle linebacker.

Defensive Backs

Despite losing cornerback Terrell Thomas, a first-day NFL Draft selection, USC's secondary remains stocked and figures to place among the nation's elite. Due to the depth and talent level, the coaching staff has lightly recruited defensive backs in the past two seasons.

A trio of true freshmen defensive backs joins the team in 2008, including cornerbacks Brian Baucham and T.J. Bryant (pictured) and safety Drew McAlister.

Bryant, a Tallahassee, Fla., native, was applauded as the nation's No. 6 corner by Scout.com last season, while Baucham was one of the lesser-hyped prospects of USC's 2008 haul, earning a two-star designation at running back.

McAllister will have the luxury of learning from standout safeties Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison during the early stages of his Trojan career after being rated by Scout.com as the No. 34 high school safety in 2008 as a senior at Danville (Calif.) Monte Vista High School.


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