If Lawrence Guy's phenomenal freshman season wasn't enough to excite Sun Devil fans for the future of ASU's defensive line, the fact that he's added roughly 20 pounds to be near the 300-pound mark should send that excitement raging. The coaching staff tinkered with Guy at defensive end in early fall training but his home was shortly found at tackle and he burst into one of the nation's elite freshman defensive linemen, largely living up to the hype he attained as a U.S. Army All-American and four-star prospect by Scout.com as a senior at Western High School in Las Vegas.
With added size, maturity and development, Guy figures to be a true defensive standout in 2009, after starting eight of 12 games, leading all ASU defensive linemen with 44 tackles as well as 10 tackles-for-loss and two sacks and also receiving multiple Freshman All-America honors and Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 accolades.
One of the players with the most to gain this spring is junior Saia Falahola, the most likely candidate to – at least for the time being – fill the void left by David Smith and Paul ‘Unga, departed seniors from 2008 that shared starting duties beside Guy.
With Jonathan English unable to compete this spring while recovering from offseason surgery, there's a wide experience gap between Falahola and the rest of the unit and most importantly, with five-star recruit Corey Adams arriving in the fall with perhaps more lofty expectations than Guy carried last year, Falahola needs to embrace this opportunity to cement a spot in the upper part of the tackle rotation.
After arriving to ASU as an offensive lineman, Falahola has become acclimated to the defensive line and appeared in every game last year at tackle and earned starts in the first four contests, totaling 18 tackles on the year.
Outside the likely spring starting pair of Guy and Falahola, much of the remaining depth will be formed through spring competitions.
Redshirt freshman Otis Jones has opened many eyes since his arrival last fall and his play on the field on the scout team and his weight room work, including a 400-plus pound bench press, make him a highly intriguing defensive prospect. With little established depth behind him, his athletic prominence may be enough to vault Jones over his older teammates and he should find his way to extended action in the spring. Rated by Scout.com as the No. 71 defensive tackle recruit in the 2008 class, Jones figures to be one of the key defenders for observers to closely track in the spring.
Senior Dave Bertrand, another weight room powerhouse and one-time Arizona Wildcat, may be more prominently known for having switched teams from Tucson to Tempe compared to his play on the field. Despite an excellent spring last year, Bertrand did not become a key contributor in game action with only five appearances and no marks in the stat books, but has another opportunity this year and must use the spring to earn that chance.
The lower half of the defensive tackle three-deep is a virtual unknown, as the three remaining scholarship athletes have played a combined three games at ASU. With English's absence and Adams' fall arrival, this spring will likely determine whether members of this group watch the 2009 season from the sidelines or are a part of the action.
One of the biggest question marks from the 2008 signing class is Spencer Gasu, who arrived as a four-star junior college transfer seemingly primed for quick action, but between lackluster play and a back injury, Gasu appeared in only one game on the year and enters his final season of college eligibility in a disadvantageous position. Bo Moos also rarely left the sidelines as a redshirt freshman in 2008, appearing in a pair of contests while redshirt freshman Zeb Togiai, rated as a senior at Phoenix's Desert Vista High School as the No. 55 defensive tackle recruit in the nation, rounds out the unit.
Spring Questions – Defensive Tackle
Will Saia Falahola be able to cement his position as a first-string tackle?
Will Otis Jones be able to emerge from the remaining depth as a top reserve?
James Brooks So.
Zach Brown Jr.
Dexter Davis Sr.
Dean Deleone Jr.
Jamaar Jarrett So.
Leo Montt Sr.
Jamarr Robinson Jr.
Toa Tuitea RS-Fr.
Dexter Davis, the Pac-10's top pass rusher, gives the Devils a potentially terrifying presence at defensive end as he has spent his first three college season wreaking havoc on opposing passers all along the west coast. The Phoenix native and the Pac-10's active career leader in sacks has started all 38 games of the past three seasons, totaling 113 tackles, 27.5 sacks, 39 tackles-for-loss and eight forced fumbles, placing him half-a-sack behind Vernon Maxwell for third on ASU's all-time list while also ranking him eighth on the Sun Devils' tackles-for-loss chart.
With the departure of two-year starter Luis Vasquez, an opening exists opposite Davis, however the Devils have a slew of capable competitors and the question is just a matter of who will win the dog fight.
The two primary candidates to replace Vasquez appear to be sophomore James Brooks and junior college transfer Dean Deleone, both of whom provide tremendous athleticism and have the ability to make offensive lines pay for providing special attention to preventing Davis from entering the backfield.
Brooks submitted a solid season as a redshirt freshman in 2007, posting 11 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, two pass deflections and 1.5 sacks in 11 games of action, while Deleone starred for Orange Coast College last year, tallying 78 tackles, 15.5 tackles-for-loss and 9.5 sacks. Both players boast exceptional athletic resumes, as Brooks was formerly a basketball star at Flagstaff (Ariz.) High School, while Deleone, a former member of the United States Coast Guard, weighing nearly 250 pounds, runs a 4.44 40-yard dash and returned kickoffs at the junior college level.
Also capable of making a noticeable impact is sophomore Jamaar Jarrett, who used his incredible size to earn playing time as a true freshman in 2008, and that year of experience can potentially propel him to be one of the top reserve options at defensive end and could be groomed this year to be the incumbent starter when Davis departs after this season.
Looking to crack the rotation is junior Jamarr Robinson, a dominant player last spring who although as physically gifted as any Sun Devil defender has been hampered by injuries and disciplinary issues and has made a minor impact thus far in his ASU career, having officially registered only one tackle in 10 career appearances despite possessing exemplary speed and strength for his position.
Redshirt freshman Toa Tuitea, rated by Scout.com in 2008 as the No. 69 defensive tackle prospect, will round out the three-deep lineup at defensive end, while junior walk-on Zach Brown is primarily a special teams contributor. Walk-on Leo Montt enters his fifth year in the program to provide an additional presence in practice.
Spring Questions – Defensive End
Who will emerge as the second starter opposite Dexter Davis?
Will Jamarr Robinson be able to actualize his potential?
Oliver Aaron So.
Derrall Anderson So.
Jeff Bereuter Jr.
Travis Goethel Sr.
Shelly Lyons So.
Brandon Magee So.
Gerald Munns Sr.
Mike Nixon Sr.
Coin Parker So.
Combining established experience and exciting youthful athleticism, ASU's group of linebackers for 2009 potentially stacks up with any unit in the Pac-10 Conference.
Perennial standout Mike Nixon, one of the most dependable players on the roster, enjoyed a breakout season in 2008 and looks to build upon that as a senior in 2009 as one of the true leaders of the Sun Devil defense. A versatile, intelligent student-athlete, Nixon led the Devils with 90, the fourth-most among returning Pac-10 defenders and the Phoenix product and former Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer also tied for the conference lead with five interceptions but somehow was relegated to merely earning Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 accolades. A starter in 19 of 38 career games played, Nixon has accumulated 180 tackles and 19 tackles-for-loss.
With Morris Wooten departing after a surprisingly stellar senior season, a vacancy exists at starting middle linebacker, however ASU appears to be fully equipped to re-tool.
Senior Travis Goethel continued his sturdy play as a junior last season and has recently been relocated from strong side linebacker to middle linebacker and is expected to thrive in his new role. ASU's second-leading tackler from 2008, behind Nixon, Goethel, a full-time starter on the strong side during the past two seasons, chipped in 71 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss and two interceptions last year and his three-year totals include 38 games played with 29 starts, 171 total tackles and 12 tackles-for-loss.
After leaving the team for the majority of the 2008 season due to personal reasons, senior Gerald Munns returned in the offseason and is geared to capping off his ASU career in excellent fashion and will compete with Goethel for starting reps at middle linebacker. Munns, a product of fertile football breeding ground Hamilton High School in Chandler, Ariz., was seemingly off to a spectacular season, collecting 16 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and one interception in three starts to begin the season; however he elected to step away from the team for the remainder of the year. With one year left on his collegiate slate, Munns has the athletic ability to be an impact performer, whether in the starting lineup or in reserve duty, having collected 51 tackles in 26 career games, with six starts at middle linebacker. Former Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School teammates Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee worked their way into immediate duty as true freshmen last season and their collective speed, intensity and versatility have ASU fans excited for what's yet to come. With Goethel's switch inside, Lyons figures to be the main beneficiary as he'll likely start the spring as the top strong side linebacker prospect after spending his freshman season at middle linebacker.
Magee, capable of playing either outside linebacker spot, will focus mainly on weak side linebacker and looks to be the heir apparent to Nixon after the latter of the two defenders departs after this season. Lyons appeared in every game and registered 36 tackles while Magee missed four contests due to injury but collected 11 stops in eight games. Colin Parker saw steady action on the field last season and looks to build on that experience as a reserve outside linebacker, while junior Jeff Bereuter has earned ample special teams reps and adds further depth on the outside. Parker contributed three tackles in nine games, while Bereuter has posted only four total tackles in 13 games during his two-year career.
Sophomore Florida natives Oliver Aaron and Derrall Anderson, recipients of ASU's last two Defensive Scout Team Players of the Year, will look to make an impact at linebacker. Aaron, who saw action mainly on special teams in all 12 games, also adds depth on the weak side, while Anderson, who has been relocated from outside to middle linebacker, will look to crack the lineup at that position after spending the past two seasons on the scout team.
Walk-ons Tom DeMichele, John McDonald and Ryan Skorupka provide additional linebacker depth.
Spring Questions – Linebacker
How will Shelly Lyons respond to possibly earning substantial first-team duties?
Is Gerald Munns fully prepared to regain his position as one of ASU's top defenders?
Will Travis Goethel make a significant impact at middle linebacker?
What can be expected from sophomores Oliver Aaron, Derrall Anderson and Colin Parker?
Omar Bolden Jr.
Deveron Carr RS-Fr.
Terell Carr Sr.
LeQuan Lewis Jr.
Travis Smith Sr.
Josh Jordan So.
Pierre Singfield Sr.
While there's likely some organization among the depth at the top of the pecking order at cornerback, with junior Omar Bolden and senior Terell Carr likely to maintain their starting spots, the remainder of the position group will likely showcase some of the spring's better battles in an attempt to iron out the lineup.
At times guilty of being a better athlete than a technically sound football player, Bolden wasn't able to fully capitalize on a strong freshman season as ASU's second corner beside current Washington Redskin Justin Tryon, likely a product of his relative freshness to the position after primarily playing running back in high school.
A sturdy spring will be very helpful for Bolden to propel into one of the Pac-10's better corners, while Carr filled in sufficiently as ASU's second starting corner in 2008, starting the final eight games opposite Bolden and contributing 46 tackles, three tackles-for-loss and an interception, while Bolden led ASU with seven pass deflections and tacked on 49 tackles and a pair of picks.
Former walk-on Pierre Singfield, a spring stand-out a year ago, parlayed that performance into a contributing role as a junior last year and looks to compete to remain one of ASU's top backups, while Josh Jordan saw a significant amount of field time as a true freshman. Singfield appeared in every game last year and started four of the first five contests at cornerback, posting 22 tackles and two pass deflections, while Jordan tabbed six tackles and a pass deflection in 11 games as a reserve.
Although he has yet to buckle his chinstrap as a Sun Devil, spring junior college transfer LeQuan Lewis has already been praised as ASU's fastest player and should be able to use that to his advantage in his first of two years with the Devils. One of the top community college returns specialists in the nation last year, and Lewis should be able to provide a flash in the return game as well as in the secondary.
Listed as capable of running faster than a 4.3-second 40-yard dash, Lewis posted 53 tackles and a team-high three interceptions, as well as a 31.3-yard average on kickoff returns for Cerritos (Calif.) College last season.
Despite entering his fifth year in the program, senior Travis Smith seems to face an uphill battle to fully utilize his team experience, as he has appeared in 18 games with only 11 tackles, but Scottsdale native Deveron Carr, a two-way standout at both running back and cornerback at Chaparral High School, is expected to be "as advertised" in terms of athleticism and will push for a depth chart spot as a redshirt freshman while he also should be a capable special teams contributor.
Walk-ons Gerald Flunder and Cameron Harkey will compete for practice reps in the spring among a highly competitive position group.
Spring Questions – Cornerback
Will Omar Bolden continue to progress and become a leader in the secondary?
Will Terell Carr be able to hold on to his starting position?
How will Josh Jordan and Pierre Singfield improve in their second seasons at ASU?
What presence will LeQuan Lewis provide?
Mike Callaghan Jr.
Jonathan Clark So.
Clint Floyd So.
Jarrell Holman Sr.
Keelan Johnson RS-Fr.
Ryan McFoy Sr.
Max Tabach Jr.*
Matthew Tucker Fr.
*-injured and will not compete in spring drills
With seniors Troy Nolan and Rodney Cox departing from the 2008 lineup, the most gaping holes to fill in the Sun Devil defense exist at the safety position, where very little is certain regarding the depth chart as spring begins.
Perhaps the most surprising true freshman contributor last year was Clint Floyd, who arrived at ASU as a candidate for either wide receiver or defensive back and ended up a first-string safety and also appeared on kickoff returns. Despite missing four games of his rookie season, Floyd enters the spring likely as the most secure starting candidate.
With junior Max Tabach, a candidate to start at safety who tallied 12 tackles in the first five games of 2008, still rehabbing an injury which terminated his season last year, spring drills will provide the proving ground to field of candidates looking to work into the starting lineup.
Senior Ryan McFoy returns to safety after a two-year stint at linebacker and will spend his final collegiate season looking to pick back up where he began as a true freshman, earning ample time at safety in 2006. Although his career seemed to have high potential at that point, the question remains if his effort to grow into a linebacker will limit his ability to effectively return to the secondary. A starter in 10 of 35 career games, including a pair of early starts at linebacker last year, McFoy enters his final season having gathered 67 total tackles, four pass deflections and two interceptions.
Multi-talented Keelan Johnson of Mesa may prove to be one of the intriguing redshirt freshmen to keep an eye on this spring, and would surprise few to earn repeated first-string reps at safety. After the proverbial cup of coffee on offense early in his redshirt year, Johnson settled in at safety and is expected to have a bright future ahead, which may emerge sooner rather than later.
Following a popular national trend, Matthew Tucker, the No. 61 safety prospect in the nation by Scout.com, enrolled early at ASU after a midyear high school graduation from Grandview High School in Aurora, Colo., a move that may provide tremendous dividends as he will likely be thrown immediately into the mix to fight for playing time at safety.
The importance of the spring for Tucker cannot be understated, as it will determine not only where he fits in with the pecking order but perhaps also if he plays or redshirts as a true freshman.
Jarrell Holman joined the squad as a spring transfer in 2007 but struggled to acclimate to be a Pac-10 caliber cornerback and moved to safety his subsequent redshirt year that season. A mildly pleasant surprise the following season, Holman cracked the lineup at safety in 2008, primarily as a response to injuries and totaled 10 tackles in 11 games. With starting positions essentially up for grabs, Holman could surge into added action in his final season, but a less-than-stellar spring effort could bury him on the depth chart.
Walk-on Mike Callaghan enters his third year in the program and figures to add depth, while redshirt sophomore Jonathan Clark has yet to prove to be a factor after signing on with Erickson's first class in 2007. One of these two will likely be the "odd man out" among the three-deep at safety and may struggle to see practice time in the spring.
Spring Questions – Safety
Is Clint Floyd prepared to be a full-time starter?
Who will emerge as the second starter?
Will Matthew Tucker be able to acclimate to college football quickly and make an impact?
Can Ryan McFoy re-learn the safety position quick enough to be a factor?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.