2009 Evaluations & Expectations: Defense

In part two of our two-part 2009 signing day evaluations and expectations article, we talk about the defensive players in the 2009 recruiting class who signed letters of intent with the Sun Devils.

Defensive Tackle Corey Adams (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: Somewhat lost in the shuffle of ASU winning the Burfict sweepstakes is the tremendous defensive impact that Adams figures to make for the Sun Devils. The top defensive tackle in the state of Arizona and one of the very best defensive prospects in the country, the 6-3, 292-pounder earned a five-star rating by Scout.com and is listed as the nation's No. 8 defensive tackle.

A phenomenal pass-rushing presence from the defensive tackle spot, Adams made a national name for himself after his junior season in which he posted 117 tackles and 24 sacks, and for his three-year varsity career he accumulated 240 tackles and 34 sacks. Not just out for individual glory, Adams was a leading contributor on Saguaro's three consecutive 4A-I state championship squads from 2006-08.

He had scholarship offers from all over the map, but ultimately chose ASU on Jan. 13, 2009 over Ohio State, while Nebraska and USC were also in the mix.

Coach Erickson on Adams: "He's one of the better defensive linemen in the country. Obviously he has an opportunity to come in and play."

Early Expectations for 2009: Adams is an essential lock for playing time as a true freshman, and many expect that he starts beside sophomore Lawrence Guy. Similar to Guy in 2008, Adams may not start from day one, but it is expected that his talent level should guide him past the competitors to replace both David Smith and Paul ‘Unga, each of whom started at tackle last year for the Devils.

In pairing with Guy, who earned several Freshman All-America honors last year, ASU will have two tackles that specialize in terrorizing quarterbacks.

William Sutton (Corona, Calif./Centennial HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: Let it be perfectly clear, Sutton (pictured) was not brought to ASU simply to entice teammate Vontaze Burfict to follow suit. Sutton is a gamer with a tremendous motor; an active, athletic and physical lineman who wreaked havoc for opposing offensive lines while starring for one of the nation's top high school teams. There has been some concern that Sutton may not have the size to be a durable tackle, however Sutton is officially listed at 6-2, 275 pounds, a perfectly adequate size for the position.

Ranked as the No. 2 defensive tackle in the state of California behind Colorado signee Edward Nuckols and the No. 33 defensive tackle in the nation, Sutton was a force for the Huskies in 2008, posting 101 tackles and 11.5 sacks. Sutton verbally committed to the Sun Devils on Dec. 15, 2008, and although Washington earned a late official visit from Sutton, that trip only further solidified his commitment to ASU.

Coach Erickson on Sutton: "He is a heck of an athlete, makes a lot of plays. You watch him play the game, and it seems like nobody ever blocks him. He's got a lot of potential."

Early Expectations for 2009: A challenging prediction to make, Sutton may have a window of opportunity to earn immediate time. Saia Falahola will likely exit the spring beside Lawrence Guy as starting defensive tackles, and depending on the recovery time for junior Jonathan English, Sutton may have a chance for second-team reps when he arrives in the fall, but he will have his work cut out for him.

Other candidates for time at tackle include seniors Dave Bertrand and Spencer Gasu, as well as sophomore Bo Moos. A telling factor could be the development of redshirt freshman Otis Jones; if Jones is able to continue to impress, he has the ability to rise above the competition and battle for a top reserve spot. With classmate Corey Adams likely to earn more practice time off the bat than Sutton, it may be challenging for him to break into the two-deep, and it wouldn't be logical for Sutton to burn a year of eligibility as a third-stringer.

Defensive End Dean Deleone (Park City, Utah/Orange Coast College)

Signing Day Evaluation: Move over Mike Nixon, there's a new elder statesman at ASU. A matter of days older than his new teammate, Deleone spent four years serving in the U.S. Coast Guard before enrolling at Orange Coast College and is seemingly closer in age to Matt Lubick than Matt Tucker.

A versatile defender that saw action at linebacker and defensive end, Deleone has posted some freakish figures on the football field, in the weight room and on the track, not the least of which is his 4.44 40-yard dash time while weighing 255 pounds. One of two midyear junior college transfers on the defensive side of the ball, Deleone will have a shot to help replace departed starting end Luis Vasquez.

The 2008 Defensive Player of the Year for the Southern California Football Association (SCFA) National Division Southern Conference, Deleone totaled 78 tackles, 15.5 tackles-for-loss and 9.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2008. Deleone selected the Sun Devils over Oregon, committed to ASU on Dec. 17, 2008 and enrolled at ASU in January.

Coach Erickson on Deleone: "In talking to our strength coaches, he's been here working out for three weeks, since school started. He is what we thought. He can run. He's 250 pounds, defensive end, and obviously a good junior college player. He's going to have an impact."

Early Expectations for 2009: The battle to replace Vasquez on the opposite side of star returning end Dexter Davis figures to be a grueling one, and Deleone's chances are well-served by him being an early enrollee to ASU. Sophomores James Brooks and Jamaar Jarrett showed tremendous potential in their first years on the field at ASU in 2008, and will certainly throw their names in the hat to earn first-string duties.

Junior Jamarr Robinson has excellent physical attributes but has been limited, due to injury and disciplinary actions, in the first half of his collegiate career. In Deleone's corner are his measurables and his maturity, and expectations are that he finds a noticeable way to contribute in 2009, regardless his position on the depth chart.

Gregory Smith (Perris, Calif./Citrus Hill HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: An inspiring individual and a versatile athlete, the 6-3, 240-pounder (pictured) starred at defensive end, tight end and fullback for Citrus Hill, totaling 33 receptions for 712 yards and 12 touchdowns with two additional rushing touchdowns, while also wreaking havoc along the defensive line. Rated by Scout.com as the No. 60 tight end in the nation, Smith will begin his ASU career at defensive end and is believed to have a very strong upside.

Smith committed to ASU on Jan. 20, 2009 and chose ASU over offers from Fresno State, New Mexico and UTEP.

Coach Erickson on Smith: "He is an interesting story. I get to know these guys well. This guy is going to be a really good player for us. He's had a lot of tough things in his life and has fought through them. It's unbelievable. Here's a guy that's done a lot of things. He's played tight end and defensive end. We project him as a defensive end. He's going to get bigger and stronger. He's got a really good attitude about himself."

Early Expectations for 2009: The main downside of Smith's versatility at the high school level is that he will need time to settle into one position at ASU. Initially pegged at defensive end, Smith could ultimately be an impact player there and help add solid depth after Dexter Davis leaves following the 2009 season. Smith has the athleticism to help build on an already impressive defensive ends lineup and a redshirt year to help refine his talents will do him wonders in the future.

Linebacker

Vontaze Burfict (Corona, Calif./Centennial HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: Only a day has passed since he switched from Troy to Tempe, and Burfict (pictured) is already just about every Sun Devil fan's favorite player. "Tez" is an absolute beast; many insiders believe that he could possibly be the most talented prospect in the entire country. Proclaimed to be the highest ranked recruit in Sun Devil history, Burfict hits like a freight train and moves like a Lamborghini and simply makes every play on the field count.

The only thing holding back the "Tez for Prez" chants is his academic uncertainty, but it has appeared recently that he is on the right track and following in the efforts by former high school teammates and fellow Sun Devil Ryan Bass, who was equally – if not more – academically questionable at this point.

Once on campus, Sun Devil fans could be in for something very special at the middle linebacker spot; at the signing day press conference, Coach Erickson tried to refrain but couldn't resist throwing out the Ray Lewis comparison when Burfict was the topic of conversation.

Coach Erickson on Burfict: "I've been recruiting a long time, and I don't know that I've seen a better high school football player than him, when you watch him, plus all the other intangibles he has that make him a great football player. He's a guy that could have an impact next year, we would think."

More of Coach Erickson on Burfict: "I guess I could (he compares to) Ray Lewis, but I don't want to put that kind of pressure on him. Maybe a Michael Barrow coming out, that type of guy. You watch him on tape, and watch him in the all-star game, and every time he plays, he dominates. He's a football player. When he hits you, it hurts. He's got that kind of attitude. I hate to put pressure on a freshman coming in, because it's a different game, I don't care how good you are, but this guy is pretty good. He really is. He's beyond his years."

Early Expectations for 2009: The early expectation is that if/when Burfict gains academic clearance, running backs from Tucson to Pullman will start to lose a lot sleep. "Tez" has the ability to dominate the landscape of a game, and Sun Devil fans can't wait to see it. Last year's starting middle linebacker, senior Gerald Munns, is reportedly back with the team, but Burfict will give him a strong run for his money from the moment "Tez" arrives in Tempe.

Burfict has the potential to be an immediate difference-maker for the Sun Devils in a fashion that hasn't been seen since NFL All-Pro Terrell Suggs sacked his way through the Pac-10 en route to several All-America honors.

Anthony Jones (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: The top linebacker in the state of Arizona, Jones (pictured) starred for two years for Chandler Hamilton High, one of the state's premier programs, which has provided ASU with several top-notch athletes in the relatively brief existence of the high school.

A native of Mississippi, Jones was a defensive stalwart during Hamilton's 5A-I state championship run in 2008 and has the speed and tenacity to be a solid outside linebacker for the Devils. Rated as the No. 32 weak side linebacker recruit in the nation by Scout.com, Jones totaled 78 tackles and three sacks in 2008 after registering 94 tackles and six sacks the previous season.

Jones had reported offers from Arizona, Minnesota and Washington State, but took no official visits beside one to ASU, which occurred after he had committed to the Sun Devils on Nov. 30, 2008.

Coach Erickson on Jones: "He can run. He's 210 pounds, going to be 200-and-whatever down the road, but he can run. As you look at all these guys, one basic thing that they do have, they can run fast. He's going to be an outside linebacker for us."

Early expectations for 2009: Although officially listed at 6-2, 218 pounds, Jones would benefit from a year of preparation before roaming the front seven at ASU. He is a great fit at weak side linebacker, and with four seniors spread among the three linebacker spots, there will be openings in 2010 for him to battle to fill, and he'll likely compete with Oliver Aaron and Colin Parker, and perhaps eventually even Brandon Magee, for time.

Kipeli Koniseti (Sacramento, Calif./Grant HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: Lucky that Koniseti (pictured) seems to enjoy pressure situations, as he didn't receive a scholarship offer from ASU until the day before signing day, choosing ASU over an offer from Nevada. Regarded as a tough, competitive athlete, and rated as the No. 93 quarterback in the nation by Scout.com, Koniseti spent the majority of his high school career as a dual-threat quarterback and helped guide Grant to a state championship in 2008.

The 6-3, 235-pounder passed for 1,366 yards and 17 touchdowns while rushing for an additional 777 yards and nine scores in 2008. He also saw limited duty on defense, tallying 12 total tackles.

Koniseti comes to ASU as the quintessential "athlete", as even Coach Erickson indicated his uncertainty as to where Koniseti will end up.

Coach Erickson on Koniseti: "He is a guy that we knew about all the time. I watched him play. He's a guy that won a state championship, at Grant High School in Sacramento. They went down and beat Long Beach Poly for the championship. He was a quarterback, the leader of the football team.

He's 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, can run, and he's played defense, he's played every place. In watching that game, he was probably the best athlete on the field. Where are we going to play him? I don't know. I do know that he's a football player, and he loves to play. We'll find a place for a guy like that. He could be a linebacker. He could be a tight end. He could be whatever, down the road. We're excited about having him."

Early Expectations for 2009: The first hurdle for Koniseti to clear includes solidifying his academic standing, however he has reported that a plan is in place that he can follow toward qualifying achievements.

Once at ASU, most predictions indicate Koniseti will begin his collegiate career at linebacker, particularly on the strong side. Erickson indicated that it may not be out of the question that Koniseti audition for tight end, safety or perhaps in the offensive backfield, but linebacker appears to be his starting block.

A redshirt season is essentially a sure thing for Koniseti, and once active for duty he will likely begin on special teams and compete with the likes of reserves Derrall Anderson and Jeff Bereuter behind whichever linebacker replaces starter Travis Goethel on the strong side in 2010.

Cornerback

Osahon Irabor (Upland, Calif./Upland HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: Tabbed as the top cornerback target in ASU's 2009 recruiting efforts, Irabor is an all-around playmaker in the secondary and is a physical, capable cover cornerback with tremendous ball skills and sub-4.4 speed. The 5-11, 183-pounder has also endeared himself to Sun Devil fans by publicizing his desire to make Tempe proud both on and off the field.

As a senior, Irabor collected 42 tackles and also led Upland with nine touchdown catches and earned a variety of all-state and all-league postseason honors.

The No. 32 cornerback in the nation by Scout.com, Irabor was one of six pledges to commit to ASU prior to the start of the 2008 football season, giving his word to the Sun Devils on July 11, 2008, denying reported offers from Arizona, California, Nebraska, Oregon, UCLA and Washington. He remained tried and true to the maroon and gold, never taking an official visit elsewhere beside his mid-December trip to ASU.

Coach Erickson on Irabor: "He's pretty good. He's a guy that committed early to us. He was No. 1 on our board at corner from last spring. He was very heavily recruited as it was. He's a guy that might have a chance to come in and play next year."

Early Predictions for 2009: By most accounts, Irabor figures to have a role on the field as a true freshman. Although the depth at cornerback is much greater than it was through most of the previous coaching regime's duration, Irabor has the physical and mental skills to create a quick impact.

With junior Omar Bolden and senior Terell Carr likely occupying the starting spots, senior Pierre Singfield, sophomore Josh Jordan, senior Travis Smith, redshirt freshman Deveron Carr and junior college transfer LeQuan Lewis will duke it out for the remaining reps in the secondary. Likely the best addition to the secondary in this class, Irabor will have his work cut out for him to play immediately but is expected to succeed in that task.

LeQuan Lewis (Norwalk, Calif./Cerritos CC)

Signing Day Evaluation: With Erickson's obsession with hording speed at every position, for ASU's head coach to remark that Lewis may be the fastest on the entire roster indicates the value that the junior college transfer could add to the squad.

Reportedly capable of running in the range of a 4.29 40-yard dash, Lewis also boasts tremendous size (6-0, 195) and athletic ability. Perhaps most important is that he is not a vaunted case of a track athlete attempting to become a football player, but a capable athlete on the gridiron with all-world speed.

Lewis joins defensive end Dean Deleone as the only two junior college additions in the 2009 class, both of whom have already enrolled at ASU and will participate in spring drills. As a sophomore at Cerritos, Lewis posted 53 total tackles and a team-high three interceptions, while also breaking up six pass attempts. One of the top junior college returns specialists; Lewis averaged 31.3 yards on kickoff returns including an 80-yard touchdown sprint.

A prep product of Artesia High School, the same stomping ground as Sun Devil basketball standouts James Harden and Derek Glasser, Lewis received interest from a handful of schools on the west coast, however ASU was the only to extend an offer and Lewis committed to the Devils on Dec. 14, 2008.

Coach Erickson on Lewis: "LeQuan Lewis is a guy that can run. I've been told he's the fastest guy we've got on our team. We kind of thought that when we recruited him. He can add a lot at corner, (in the) return (game); he can do a lot of different things for us."

Early Expectations for 2009: With six scholarship cornerbacks and a seventh addition in incoming freshman Osahon Irabor, it appears as though the competition to round out the depth at cornerback will be quite heated. Aside from his physical excellence, Lewis benefits from having played two seasons at the junior college level, as he will generally compete against freshmen and sophomores for time. If he is unable to overtake his competition on defense, Lewis likely will be given the opportunity to excel on special teams.

Safety

Shane McCullen (Apache Junction, Ariz./Apache Junction HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: Perhaps no signee in this class has embraced being a Sun Devil as strongly as McCullen, and the Apache Junction native is garnering increasing fan support for his dedication to Arizona State.

One of the top running backs in the Arizona over the past few years, McCullen will shift his attention to safety at ASU and strikes many observers as the type of athlete that will succeed at whatever he does.

McCullen has posted incredible numbers from the running back position and has the size (6-2, 208), speed (4.35 40-yard dash at 2008 Under Armour/Scout.com Phoenix Combine) and determination to excel on defense as well. He ran for 866 yards and nine touchdowns a senior after exploding for over 1,900 yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore, followed by a junior campaign with 1,525 rushing yards and 12 scores, which earned him Pinal County Player of the Year honors. Defensively, McCullen collected 42 tackles, two interceptions and one sack as a senior.

The No. 59 running back prospect in the nation by Scout.com, McCullen reportedly received scholarship offers from California, Nevada, San Diego State, Stanford, Utah and Washington State, but wrapped up his recruitment on June 17, 2008 and never looked back.

Coach Erickson on McCullen: "Just a great athlete. You talk about a guy that wants to be here and be a Sun Devil, they all do, believe me they all do, but he's a guy that was at our camp, was at every game. He's just a great high school athlete that can run very fast. We're projecting him as a safety right now."

Early Expectations for 2009: A redshirt is likely in McCullen's immediate future, due to the benefit of the year's development and having recently undergone surgery. With Jarrell Holman departing after the 2009 season, McCullen can get the inside track to complete with likely starter Clint Floyd.

Matthew Tucker (Aurora, Colo./Grandview HS)

Signing Day Evaluation: Tucker was one of the top prospects in the state of Colorado and Mr. Everything for Grandview, playing quarterback and in the defensive secondary. His Sun Devil career will begin earlier than most of his classmates, as he joins quarterback Brock Osweiler as the only spring freshman additions.

Tucker has excellent size (6-3, 195) and although statistics are unavailable for his senior season, he was highly impressive as a junior with 82 tackles and five interceptions.

His recruitment closed down nearly a year early, as he committed to ASU over an offer from Oregon State on March 20, 2008 and earned a final ranking as the No. 61 safety in the nation by Scout.com, however having bypassed virtually a year of recruiting attention may have cost him in the eyes of many analysts, but the Sun Devil staff knows the talent he possesses.

Early Expectations for 2009: Arriving in January certainly helps Tucker's chances, and junior Max Tabach likely being unavailable for the spring due to injury is likely to elevate his opportunity even further. Tucker may have the chance to compete with redshirt freshman Keelan Johnson for possible first-team reps with Tabach sidelined, and if he is able to capitalize on the opportunity he could see game action in the fall.



Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and a guest contributor to Devils Digest. He is also a feature writer each month in Maroon and Gold Illustrated and has contributed to ASU media guides, press releases and other official athletic publications. He can be contacted by email at josephwhealey@hotmail.com.


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