Season Preview: Defensive Line

Beginning the preview of ASU's defense, Joe Healey examines the team's front four.

Following a week of discussing the general uncertainty of the Sun Devil offense, it is a breath of fresh air to introduce perhaps one of the more encouraging groups on the ASU roster, the defensive line.

With a preseason All-American, a returning freshman All-American among the front line as well as budding competitors along the depth chart, there are strong reasons for optimism over the potential of the Sun Devil defensive line.

In general, the Sun Devil defense will be counted on to set a tone of consistency that the entire squad will hope to follow, and improvements in the pass rush and stability in run defense up front will be paramount to the defense's overall productivity.

Defensive End (listed alphabetically)

34 James Brooks RS-So. 6-5 278 Flagstaff, Ariz. (Flagstaff HS)

97 Zach Brown RS-Jr. 6-2 224 Dallas, Texas (Salisbury HS)

58 Dexter Davis RS-Sr. 6-2 255 Phoenix, Ariz. (Thunderbird HS)

49 Dean Deleone Jr. 6-2 245 Park City, Utah (Park City HS/Orange Coast College)

92 Jamaar Jarrett So. 6-5 268 San Marcos, Calif. (Mission Hills HS)

91 Leo Montt RS-Sr. 6-1 260 Rio Rico, Ariz. (Nogales HS)

55 Jamarr Robinson RS-Jr. 6-2 245 Fairfield, Calif. (Fairfield HS)

95 Gregory Smith Fr. 6-3 240 Perris, Calif. (Citrus Hill HS)

96 Toa Tuitea RS-Fr. 6-3 246 Westminster, Calif. (Westminster HS)

In the fall of 2005, Dexter Davis arrived at ASU from Phoenix Thunderbird High School as an undersized, under-recruited defensive end. Yet, three seasons, 38 consecutive starts and 27.5 sacks later Davis enters his senior campaign as the top returning quarterback sack artist in college football and the only defender to have surpassed 10 sacks in each of the past two seasons. In total, Davis has collected 115 career tackles, 39 tackles-for-loss and eight forced fumbles in addition to his sacks total.

Despite being one of the most accomplished defensive linemen in the country and already among the top entries on ASU's career sacks list, Davis still generally flies under the radar on a national scope. Nonetheless, quarterbacks in the Western region have felt his impact the past three years.

There's no question that Davis will be expected to carry the majority of the pass rush workload this year, and if the young talent along the defensive line can contribute and develop quickly, opposing offensive lines will have to spread their blocking attention as opposed to singling out Davis as the lone plausible threat.

With the departure of Luis Vasquez, a full-time starter at left defensive end the past two seasons, a starting opportunity is available opposite Davis. Although there are a handful of capable options, the greatest likelihood appears to be junior college transfer Dean Deleone (pictured), a tremendous athlete that enrolled at Arizona State in January and faired very well in spring drills.

A mature student-athlete with a unique background, Deleone spent four years in the United States Coast Guard before enrolling at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., where he starred for two years as a pass-rush specialist at both defensive end and linebacker. He earned recognition as the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year for the Southern California Football Association (SCFA) National Division Southern Conference.

As a sophomore last season, Deleone paced OCC with 78 tackles while ranking third in the SCFA with 9.5 sacks and placing seventh in the league with 15.5 tackles-for-loss. In addition to boasting the ability to secure a lower car insurance premium than his younger teammates, the 25-year-old Deleone also provides near-freakish athletic talents, as he is capable of running a sub-4.5 40-yard dash, which earned him reps at kickoff returner at the junior college level.

Shortly after arriving for the spring semester, Deleone quickly impressed the staff by validating the lofty athletic expectations and is also expected to provide maturity and leadership to the defense, similar to senior linebacker Mike Nixon, another unique circumstance having spent three years playing minor league baseball prior to enrolling at ASU in 2006.

After earning playing time as a reserve behind Vasquez last season, sophomore James Brooks (pictured) figures to be a main competitor to DeLeone for starting duties in 2009. The tallest of ASU's defensive ends and a former standout basketball player at Flagstaff (Ariz.) High School, the 6-5 Brooks is applauded as having a tremendously high athletic ceiling and showed flashes of significant talent in his first year on the field. Physically and athletically imposing, Brooks is expected to have an increased role this season whether in a starting or reserve capacity.

Also making his Sun Devil debut in 2008 was Jamaar Jarrett, who similar to Brooks provides exceptional size at defensive end. Jarrett appeared in 11 games last year in a back-up role, and arrived to Tempe last fall with high credentials, earning recognition by Scout.com as the No. 35 defensive end recruit in the nation as a senior at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, Calif. Capable of providing a formidable presence at either defensive end position, Jarrett exited spring drills as one of the top alternative ends for ASU.

Possibly the most athletically gifted defensive end on the roster, Jamarr Robinson (pictured) has, on multiple occasions, dominated the Sun Devil practice field. However, he has largely been a non-factor in two years due to a myriad of reasons. Originally arriving as a middle linebacker, Robinson moved to end prior to the 2007 but missed the majority of the season after suffering a spring injury. Despite a healthy slate last season, Robinson only appeared in five games – bringing his two-year career total to just eight appearances – with only one tackle to his name.

Optimism remains for Robinson, enhanced by his near-untouchable play in the spring, capitalized with a three-sack performance in the spring game. Earning game day action won't come easy, but if he can remain disciplined and healthy, Robinson has the physical tools to be a prominent factor in ASU's pass rush game plan.

Redshirt freshman Toa Tuitea (pictured), rated as the No. 69 defensive tackle in the nation by Scout.com in 2008, will add depth this season after spending last year on the scout team as will Zach Brown, a walk-on end who primarily serves as a special teams player, having appeared in 24 games in that capacity during his first two years at ASU. Walk-on Leo Montt enters his fifth year in the Sun Devil program but has yet to see field action at ASU.

Gregory Smith (pictured) joins the team as the lone high school defensive end member of the 2009 signing class. A standout in many ways on both sides of the ball at Perris (Calif.) Citrus Hill High School, Smith was evaluated by Scout.com as an offensive prospect, earning a ranking as the No. 60 tight end recruit in the nation last year, however ASU's staff believes Smith has the physicality and work ethic to thrive on defense.

Defensive Tackle (listed alphabetically)

68 Corey Adams Fr. 6-3 292 Scottsdale, Ariz. (Saguaro HS)

77 Saia Falahola RS-Jr. 6-1 298 Euless, Texas (Trinity HS)

65 Dave Bertrand RS-Sr. 6-1 265 Scottsdale, Ariz. (Horizon HS/Arizona)

99 Jonathan English Jr. 6-0 282 Kenner, La. (John Curtis Christian)

45 Spencer Gasu Sr. 6-1 289 Tustin, Calif. (Valencia HS/Santa Ana CC)

50 Lawrence Guy So. 6-5 293 Las Vegas, Nev. (Western HS)

51 Otis Jones RS-Fr. 6-1 285 Lawndale, Calif. (Leuzinger HS)

61 Bo Moos RS-So. 6-0 288 Eugene, Ore. (Sheldon HS)

90 Will Sutton Fr. 6-2 275 Corona, Calif. (Centennial HS)

93 Zeb Togiai RS-Fr. 6-2 293 Phoenix, Ariz. (Desert Vista HS)

When evaluating the depth chart at defensive tackle, it's important to differentiate what is versus what possibly can be. Talent certainly can be found at the position, however depth – at least proven depth – is challenging to find. Despite uncertainty, there is a great deal of ability throughout the unit; the challenge of 2009 will be to actualize the group's potential.

After a brief stint at defensive end to begin his college career, Lawrence Guy (pictured) was relocated to tackle early in the season and quickly became a versatile, dominant force.

After spending the majority of 2008 occupying opposing backfields, Guy added nearly 20 pounds to his frame to remain durable in the trenches as he enters his sophomore season. A recipient of multiple freshman All-America honors last year, the Scout.com's No. 7 national defensive tackle prospect in 2008 totaled 44 tackles, 10.0 tackles-for-loss and two sacks in all 12 games, starting the final eight.

Perhaps the most impressive true freshman season by a Sun Devil defensive lineman since Terrell Suggs in 2000, Guy has the raw talent to be a fearsome force at tackle throughout the duration of his ASU career.

With the departure of seniors David Smith and Paul ‘Unga, both of whom started last year, a vacancy exists beside Guy in the starting lineup entering the 2009 season.

The primary candidate to fill the void is junior Saia Falahola (pictured), who submitted a solid spring and is clearly the early frontrunner to earn a starting nod. A former offensive lineman, Falahola is the largest tackle on the roster and is capable of serving as a formidable complement as a run defender in addition to Guy's incredible pass rush skills.

Other than Guy, Falahola is the only other defensive lineman on the ASU roster with any starting history, having earned first-team duties in the first four games last year, while seeing action in all 12. In 15 career contests, Falahola has totaled 20 tackles and unquestionably will have the opportunity to see much more activity in 2009 than he has the past two seasons.

Behind Guy and Falahola, the defensive tackle depth is largely tough to predict, with the younger candidates likely to be the most talented, while the more veteran players have yet to prove the capability to thwart off pressure from newcomers, whether due to performance or injury issues.

The wild card of this entire group is Jonathan English, a student-athlete that has made drastic changes since his 2007 arrival to Tempe, having lost nearly 30 pounds and having also transformed from a youthful contributor to the most experienced defensive tackle and a blossoming team leader.

After missing the conclusion of the 2008 season as well as the spring due to injury, "Tank" has reportedly busted his tail to not only return to active duty, but to provide a powerful presence both on the field and in the locker room.

As a testament to his work ethic, English amazingly enters 2009 as the third-lightest defensive tackle on the roster after beginning his Sun Devil days near the 330-pound mark. With 24 career games played, English is the most tenured Sun Devil defensive tackle, however with his career half over, this season is integral for English to establish himself as a strong contributor and not just a spot reserve.

Sophomore Bo Moos and seniors Dave Bertrand and Spencer Gasu played very sparingly in 2008, and individually did not perform at a level in the spring that provokes thoughts that any of the three will earn more stable playing time in 2009. The most surprising of this group is Gasu, a former four-star junior college prospect in 2008, as many expected him to have the ability to battle for a starting position, although back issues caused him to snowball down the depth chart and he may be hard-pressed to rebound in his final college season.

One of the most intriguing prospects of the 2008 signing class may prove to be Otis Jones (pictured), a powerful and athletic lineman that provoked significant interest on the scout team last year and in the early part of this spring, however Jones will be unable to prove his worth until the 2010 season as he suffered what appears to be a season-ending injury in the team's spring game.

Zeb Togiai (pictured) rated as the top senior defensive lineman in the state of Arizona in 2007 while at Phoenix Desert Vista High School and the No. 61 national defensive tackle prospect by Scout.com, also joined the team last fall and redshirted in 2008. Togiai bulked up nearly 20 pounds over his first year of college and borders near the 300-pound mark, making him capable of being a qualified reserve at multiple defensive line positions.

Few positions on the roster were recruited more effectively in 2009 than defensive tackle, a position at which ASU secured the top prospect in both Arizona and California.

One of the prizes of the 2009 class will likely prove to be local blue-chipper Corey Adams (pictured), a devastating pass rush presence from the tackle spot out of nearby Scottsdale Saguaro High School.

A five-star recruit by Scout.com, the No. 7 defensive tackle and the No. 46 overall prospect in the country last year, Adams totaled tremendous statistics of 240 tackles and 34 sacks during his high school career. A beast in the trenches and able to wreak havoc in opposing backfields, Adams is fully expected to make his mark immediately, possibly work into the starting lineup if he excels quickly.

Not far behind Adams in terms of productivity is Will Sutton (pictured) of Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School, who collected 101 tackles and 11.5 sacks as a senior in 2008. Rated as the No. 33 defensive tackle prospect in the country by Scout.com, Sutton was generally overshadowed by Centennial teammate and fellow ASU signee Vontaze Burfict as a far as national prestige is concerned, however Sutton provided a forceful presence for one of California's elite programs and has the skill set and motor to be an impact player at ASU.

Sutton could be a wild card candidate for playing time in 2009, mainly depending on his early practice contributions as well as the health status and practice performances by the upperclassmen defensive tackles on the roster.

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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