Season Preview: Secondary

Wrapping up the preview of ASU's defense, Joe Healey examines the team's defensive backfield.

"Potential" is a word that accurately describes the Sun Devil cornerbacks and safeties, as a group of underclassmen and junior college transfers complement a handful of veterans as the ASU secondary looks to excel behind what expects to be a potent defensive front seven.

Combining speed, athleticism and probable depth at all secondary positions, cornerback and safety are able to be positions of strength in 2009 if the potential can be actualized both individually and collectively.

Cornerback (listed alphabetically)

3 Omar Bolden Jr. 5-10 195 Ontario, Calif. (Colony HS)

1 Deveron Carr RS-Fr. 5-11 184 Scottsdale, Ariz. (Chaparral HS)

5 Terell Carr Sr. 5-9 177 Tulsa, Okla. (Charles Page HS/Pasadena City College)

19 Osahon Irabor Fr. 5-11 183 Upland, Calif. (Upland HS)

23 Josh Jordan So. 6-1 173 Las Vegas, Nev. (Bishop Gorman HS)

4 LeQuan Lewis Jr. 5-11 193 Norwalk, Calif. (Cerritos College/Artesia HS)

31 Pierre Singfield Sr. 5-11 196 Green Valley, Ariz. (Arvada HS/Pima CC)

Virtually all throughout the six-year tenure of the previous coaching regime, the cornerback position was one that posed a relative weakness among the Sun Devil defense; with little continuity among starters while frequently utilizing a revolving door approach with stop-gap junior college players.

The 2009 season will likely showcase the most talented and deep crop of Sun Devil cornerbacks in the better part of the last decade, as ASU lost only one scholarship departure from last season and gained the services of two highly talented newcomers.

During spring drills, several cornerbacks spent time with the first-team defense, a testament to the competition and capability among the defensive backs, and virtually all seven scholarship cornerbacks have the potential to claim steady duty on the field in 2009.

A starter since the early stages of his true freshman season, Omar Bolden enters his third year at ASU as the most experienced defensive back on the roster. An incredible athlete with fitting swagger for a Pac-10 starting cornerback, Bolden's development has been somewhat rocky as he has fallen victim at times to relying on athletic instincts over positional discipline.

Critics will never doubt his physical gifts, but Bolden will likely be closely watched in 2009 to determine if he has made the technical advancements to elevate to the upper tier of Pac-10 cornerbacks; a level of play that coaches believe he is highly capable of achieving.

Although he missed the majority of the spring due to injury, Bolden is fully expected to maintain his starting position among a highly competitive unit. A starter in 21 of 25 career games played, Bolden has totaled 82 tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss and three interceptions.

The most important task placed on the former four-star recruit is to assume a leadership role among the secondary and combine his tremendous natural athleticism and determination with technique and discipline in coverage assignments.

Terell Carr (pictured) arrived to Tempe last spring after splitting his two junior college seasons at wide receiver and cornerback, and in his first year of FBS action he achieved positive results, appearing in all 12 games and starting the season's final nine contests, totaling 46 tackles, three pass breakups and one interception.

An athlete more aggressive in nature than his measurable size may indicate, Carr also boasts top-level speed, with radar marks beneath the 4.4 40-yard range. In Bolden's spring absence, Carr capitalized as the top available cornerback, likely solidifying the first-string position he earned after the third game of the season in 2008. Conversely, with the increased talent and depth levels, there will be little ‘slack' for Carr to work with as a senior, however that pressure has seemed to elevate his performances rather than cause him to struggle.

With Bolden and Carr slated to enter fall camp as the starting cornerbacks, significant competition is likely to ensue between the remaining five scholarship cornerbacks as the coaching staff looks to solidify the depth chart's pecking order.

After earning substantial playing time as a true freshman last year, Josh Jordan (pictured) enjoyed a fantastic spring as ASU's fifth defensive back in nickel formations as well as spot first-string duties. Rated the top defensive back in the state of Nevada during his senior season at Bishop Gorman High School, one of the nation's elite programs, Jordan appeared in 11 games in 2008, recording six tackles and one pass breakup.

Less than 12 months into his ASU tenure, Jordan has already established himself as a phenomenal student-athlete and University ambassador, having earned a senator position in ASU's student government this spring, an unprecedented achievement for a freshman.

Back on the gridiron, Jordan thus far as shown marked improvement from 2008 and is highly likely to be a constant figure on the field whether as a specialist in passing situations and will also continue to compete for starting action.

Boasting a story worthy of the intrigue it has generated, Pierre Singfield came to ASU last spring as a walk-on transfer from Pima (Ariz.) Community College and not only earned a starting position early in the season, but subsequently earned a scholarship from head coach Dennis Erickson.

The most physically imposing cornerback on the roster, Singfield started four games last year and appeared in all 12, tallying 22 tackles and two pass breakups. Devoted and disciplined to succeed, Singfield was removed from the starting lineup early in the season but remained a steady factor in the cornerbacks rotation. In the spring, Singfield continued to assert himself on the practice field and while he may be challenged to re-enter the starting lineup, he likely will stay in the fight for meaningful playing time as a senior in 2009.

Two members of ASU's 2009 signing class, including a midyear junior college transfer and one of the nation's premier high school cornerback prospects, have the potential to enter the mix quickly for the Sun Devils.

Junior LeQuan Lewis Ipictured) transferred to ASU for the spring semester after a standout career at Cerritos (Calif.) College in which he was one of the top defensive backs and special teams players at the junior college level. A graduate of Artesia High School, the prep alma mater of ASU basketball stars James Harden and Derek Glasser, Lewis brings excellent size to the position and quickly claimed rights as the team's fastest player upon his arrival, capable of running faster than a 4.3 40-yard dash.

As a sophomore in 2008, Lewis totaled 53 tackles and three interceptions for Cerritos, while also averaging 31.3 yards-per-return on kickoffs. Thanks largely to his undeniable physical attributes; Lewis likely will find a noticeable way to impact the 2009 season for the Sun Devils, whether in the secondary, on special teams or in both areas.

One of the marquee signees for ASU in 2009, Osahon Irabor (pictured) starred on both sides of the ball for Upland (Calif.) High School, earning four-star recognition by Scout.com as the nation's No. 35 national cornerback recruit. Despite a deep and talented crop of cornerbacks, head coach Dennis Erickson has, on multiple occasions, indicated that Irabor is a strong candidate for playing time as a true freshman. A playmaker with excellent technical skills and playmaking abilities stemming from extensive wide receiver play at the high school level, Irabor will have his work cut out for him to earn live action in 2009, but observers and coaches remain confident he has the talent to capitalize on the opportunity.

An exciting overall athlete, Deveron Carr (pictured) of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral High School redshirted as a true freshman in 2008. A versatile and speedy athlete, Carr is in the developmental stages in terms of technical cornerback play after primarily focusing on running back at the high school level. What can't be taught, however, is the size and speed Carr provides, making him a probable special teams contributor as he continues to learn the cornerback craft.

Safety (listed alphabetically)

20 Jonathan Clark RS-So. 6-0 187 Arlington, Texas (Seguin HS)

9 Clint Floyd So. 5-10 198 Los Angeles, Calif. (Crenshaw HS)

8 Jarrell Holman RS-Sr. 6-0 200 Las Vegas, Nev. (Cheyenne HS/Phoenix College)

10 Keelan Johnson RS-Fr. 6-0 199 Mesa, Ariz. (Mesa HS)

29 Shane McCullen Fr. 6-2 208 Apache Junction, Ariz. (Apache Junction HS)

2 Ryan McFoy Sr. 6-1 209 Chino, Calif. (Chino HS)

24 Max Tabach Jr. 6-2 205 Scottsdale, Ariz. (Saguaro HS/Scottsdale CC)

12 Matt Tucker Fr. 6-1 197 Aurora, Colo. (Grandview HS)

After a stellar two-year career in Tempe, safety Troy Nolan's departure from the lineup likely will prove to be the most gaping hole ASU is faced to fill in 2009. A ball-hawking turnover machine, Nolan now takes his game to the NFL's Houston Texans, while fellow starter Rodney Cox also exhausted his eligibility last year.

Despite losing the two starters, the position is likely to remain strong if the capable, although generally inexperienced, players can perform at a high level now that they have earned opportunities among ASU's two-deeps.

Although both starting positions needed to be filled in the offseason, there doesn't appear to be fierce competition this fall for the first-string spots, as two candidates noticeably emerged in the spring to replace Nolan and Cox.

One of the surprise stories of the entire spring, senior Ryan McFoy (pictured) returned to the safety position with rave reviews after a generally unsuccessful two-year hiatus at linebacker. McFoy excelled at the position as a true freshman in 2006, starting eight of 12 games that year, and appears to have much greater talents in the secondary compared to the front seven.

Able to combine experience from both positions into a versatile, commanding presence in 2009, McFoy was among the defense's most consistent spring performers. In 35 career games with 10 starts, McFoy has accumulated 67 tackles, four pass breakups and two interceptions, and has gained the opportunity to make a career-validating effort in his final year at ASU.

Clint Floyd (pictured) opened eyes during his early practices last fall, somewhat surprisingly earning immediate playing time at safety as a true freshman. Floyd, rated by Scout.com as the No. 4 cornerback in the West region as a senior at Los Angeles' Crenshaw High School in 2007, worked his way into the starting lineup in two contests last year before missing four late-season games due to injury. In eight games last year, Floyd totaled seven tackles and one forced fumble, and played among the first-string defense all spring. Aggressive for his size and very adaptive to the college game, Floyd will be given the early opportunity to start opposite McFoy at safety.

A record-setting defender at the high school level, Max Tabach (pictured) was an interception machine while at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro High School, but limited physical abilities forced him to spend a year at the junior college level before signing with ASU as a sophomore in 2008. Tabach showed potential in the secondary in five games before a season-ending injury last year, totaling 12 tackles, one pass breakup and one forced fumble. Unable to participate this spring while rehabilitating his knee injury, Tabach is expected back for the 2009 season and will compete to be one of ASU's key safety reserves as a junior this season.

Mesa native Keelan Johnson (pictured) saw practice time early last year as an all-purpose offensive player, but settled into the safety position with the scout team as his redshirt year progressed. Regarded as having a high athletic ceiling, Johnson was evaluated by Scout.com as a running back during his career at Mesa High School, but is likely to have a potentially solid career in the defensive secondary.

Prior to McFoy's sensational performances in the spring, many viewed Johnson as a possible starting candidate in 2009, and although he may not crack the first-team, he is very likely to make his presence known, possibly on both defense and special teams, as he is listed as a top reserve at safety and a main candidate for kickoff return duties.

True freshman Matt Tucker (pictured) concluded his high school tenure early to enroll at ASU in January, and by and large he displayed excellent athleticism and the potential to be a key figure for the Sun Devils in the future. Ranked by Scout.com as the No. 61 safety prospect in the nation last year, Tucker was a catalyst for Aurora (Colo.) Grandview High School during his prep career, serving as a dual-threat quarterback as well as a standout defensive back. The possibility remains that Tucker may redshirt in 2009 despite his early arrival, however with overall youth at safety and Tabach having missed significant time due to injury, the window remains open in fall camp for Tucker to secure a solid depth chart position and earn game action in 2009.

Originally signed by the Sun Devils to play cornerback, Jarrell Holman (pictured) redshirted his first year at ASU and moved to safety prior to the 2008 season. Though he seemed to be lost in the depth chart, Holman persisted and played in 11 of 12 games last year, recording 10 tackles on the year. In his final season at ASU, Holman likely will remain a second- or third-string safety candidate and a possible special teams contributor.

Third-year sophomore Jonathan Clark adds depth at safety, but hasn't seen game action during his first two years in maroon and gold.

Local standout Shane McCullen (pictured) from Apache Junction (Ariz.) High School primarily starred at running back at the prep level but the Sun Devil staff prefers his potential at safety. A potential fan-favorite for his early dedication to being a Sun Devil, McCullen underwent offseason surgery and will likely redshirt in 2009. Tough and speedy with great size, McCullen figures to have a bright future on defense at ASU.

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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