Season in Review – ASU Defense

Devils Digest's Joe Healey takes an extensive look at the Sun Devil defense and its performance, position by position, during the 2009 season.

Defensive Line

ASU's defense, which ranked first in the Pac-10 in total yards allowed, was greatly assisted by the solid play of its defensive line which saw contributions from a variety of athletes, whether credentialed veterans or fresh role players.

At defensive tackle, Lawrence Guy (pictured) and Saia Falahola each started 11 of 12 games on the season, and Guy built upon his excellent freshman season to collect 37 tackles, including 7.0 tackles-for-loss and team-best 4.5 sacks, earning him Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 recognition, while Falahola provided a sturdy presence in his first full season as a starter, notching 26 tackles, including a team-high 7.5 tackles-for-loss and 4.0 sacks.

True freshmen Corey Adams and William Sutton each made his presence instantly felt, serving as the primary reserves for Falahola and Guy during most of the season. On the year, Sutton appeared in all 12 games with two starts, totaling 17 tackles, including 3.0 tackles-for-loss and 1.0 sack. All in all, he's one player that impressed starting in fall camp and continued to play well during the season. Adams missed the final four games due to a back injury, but before that the Scottsdale native posted four tackles in eight contests off the bench and overcome a slow start to the season.

In the absence of Adams, Bo Moos was elevated to a second-string position, tallying a total of four tackles in eight games during his sophomore season.

Spencer Gasu saw very limited action in his senior season, while redshirt freshman tackle Zeb Togiai did not appear in live duty in 2009.

Redshirt freshman Otis Jones missed the entire year after suffering a serious knee injury in spring camp, while Jonathan English sat out the season and redshirted due his own knee injury.

Dexter Davis continued to set the pace at defensive end, starting every game of the year bringing his total to a school record 50 starts. The Phoenix native earned First-Team All-Pac-10 notoriety for the first time in his illustrious career, which was ironically awarded after his least statistically productive season as Davis totaled merely 23 tackles and 3.5 sacks after consecutive 10-plus sack seasons the previous two years.

Strong side end James Brooks enjoyed an excellent sophomore season, starting all nine games in which he played after a three-game suspension to start the season, posting 17 tackles including 7.0 tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks.

Sophomore Jamaar Jarrett served as one of the primary reserves at defensive end, notching 16 tackles, including 3.0 tackles-for-loss, as a reserve in 10 games, while former junior college transfer Dean Deleone started three games in Brooks' absence and served as a top reserve the remainder of the year, collecting 14 tackles on the year. Gregory Smith provided an intriguing, athletic presence during his true freshman and totaled four tackles and 1.0 sack in 10 games.

Redshirt freshman Toa Tuitea contributed three tackles in limited action in five games, while Jamarr Robinson played in seven games with only a pass breakup to his name in the record book.

The Good

Regardless the level of tenure, ASU earned contributions from a variety of different players, including a handful of freshmen and sophomores which likely will do wonders for the future quality of the defensive line. With only two seniors (Davis and Gasu) departing from the 16 scholarship defensive linemen on the 2009 roster, depth and experience will be common traits among the 2010 version of the Sun Devil defensive line. Though Davis, the most seasoned and accomplished lineman, departs after a tremendous collegiate career, the pieces are in place for the overall quality of the line to remain at a high level for the future.

The Bad

Despite his First-Team All-Pac-10 recognition, Davis did not provide the harassing presence as he did his first three years, however three seasons of destroying Pac-10 quarterbacks will certainly compel opposing offenses to isolate their protection schemes to take Davis out of the equation.

Dean Deleone was an adequate reserve, especially early in the season, but it is safe to say that his athletic resume and junior college credentials warranted expectations higher than his 14-tackle, zero-sack first-year Sun Devil resume.

Time missed due to injuries and suspension where a nuisance; Brooks missed three early games, while Guy was limited in the very early season before regaining his dominant form. The serious concern regarding the injury issue is the long-term effect that may be suffered by Jonathan English and Otis Jones, while Corey Adams' back injury will have Sun Devil fans holding their collective breath until the former five-star prospect is able to return to the field.

The Future

With 14 scholarship linemen set to return – not including any 2010 signees – the Sun Devil defense has the ability to continue to be a punishing force with a deep, talented line.

At tackle, the top five players return from 2009, and even with the health questions marks surrounding English and especially Jones this position has an impressive mass of depth and ability up front for the Devils.

Brooks figures to maintain his position as starting strong side end, while players such as Dean Deleone, Greg Smith and possibly Jamaar Jarrett will compete to replace Davis at weak side end or stand as a top option among the two-deeps, while the returning lettermen and Jordan McDonald and Joita Te'i – both expected to sign in February, perhaps joined by others – will add defensive line depth.

Linebacker

Initially perceived to likely be the greatest strength of the entire Sun Devil roster, ASU's linebackers did not disappoint in 2009 as the group combined veteran savvy with youthful explosiveness to propel the Devils to the top ranks of the Pac-10 defensive lists.

Star-studded student-athlete Mike Nixon led the pack for the second year in a row, starting all 12 games at weak side linebacker netting Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 accolades after leading ASU with 73 tackles, adding 6.0 tackles-for-loss as well as team-highs of three interceptions and three forced fumbles. An academic and athletic standout, Nixon served as a consummate team leader for a position group that featured a handful of inexperienced contributors.

Senior Travis Goethel concluded a solid Sun Devil career by joining Nixon as an Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 recipient, tallying 57 tackles including 7.0 tackles-for-loss as a starter in all 12 games.

The Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School trio of linebacker s made a significant splash in maroon and gold in 2009, led by Vontaze Burfict, rated as last year's top national linebacker prospect. Though his academic eligibility status had fans on pins and needles up until the eve of the first game, Burfict quickly justified his five-star ranking with a number of bone-jarring hits and Richter scale worthy intensity as a starter in nine of his 12 games played during his first year at ASU. A Freshman All-American by many sources and the Pac-10 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, Burfict finished second on the team with 69 tackles, adding 7.0 tackles-for-loss and 2.0 sacks.

After missing the majority of the 2008 season for personal reasons, Gerald Munns returned with a vengeance in 2009, generating 31 tackles in 10 games with two starts, while Burfict's former high school teammates, Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee (pictured), also made noticeable marks during their second year as Sun Devils. Magee showed several flashes of his near unparalleled athleticism, collecting 34 tackles, including 7.0 for loss, in 12 appearances with one start, while Lyons posted 17 tackles in 11 games.

Sophomore Colin Parker saw action in all 12 games on special teams and as a reserve linebacker, tallying five total stops, while Oliver Aaron made four tackles in eight games and also spent time practicing at safety late in the season.

Derrall Anderson saw very brief time but collected no tackles, while true freshman Anthony Jones redshirted.

The Good

The depth that gave fans jubilant expectations justified all hopes and became a striking strength that guided the Devils' devastating defense. Burfict, despite emotional outbursts, became the beast on the field that his five-star rating predicted, while the veteran presences of Goethel and Nixon provide a stable baseline from which the younger Devil ‘backers were able to learn.

The Bad

As the strength of ASU's league-best defense, the linebacking crew had few noticeable faults. An issue, however, that surfaced most frequently was the tendency Burfict exhibited of drawing untimely penalties, mainly due to a lack of discipline. His game is intensely based on his passion; however Burfict and ASU can't afford to earn a poor reputation and constant surveillance from officials due to overaggressive play. Over pursuing is another area the sophomore to-be will have to shore up in 2010.

After a very impressive offseason, Aaron was unable to translate his excellent practice sessions into game day contributions.

The Future

Though talent is widespread, with the departure of Goethel and Nixon, previous role players will likely need to step into leadership roles in 2010.

Burfict will return for his sophomore season poised to become one of the top defenders in the Pac-10, while his former prep teammates Lyons and Magee will likely make strong bids to flank Burfict in the starting lineup.

Munns has reportedly been awarded an extra season of eligibility for 2010 due to his time missed in 2008, and he will provide a sturdy veteran presence that can fit in the starting lineup or as a qualified reserve.

Ironically, the first and second-string linebacker units could possibly consist of all former Huskies; the Centennial trio may fill the starting lineup, while Munns may be joined by Colin Parker and Anthony Jones as the top reserves; all three are former Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton Husky stars.

Aaron is likely to spend his time at safety but is able to perform at outside linebacker, while Derrall Anderson will also add depth.

Carl Bradford of Norco (Calif.) High School primarily appeared in the offensive backfield at the prep level and was evaluated by Scout.com as a fullback, but after his anticipated signing with ASU he will switch to linebacker for his collegiate career.

Cornerback

The quantity of talent at cornerback in 2009 was as high as it has been in several years at ASU, however that quality was impacted by a series of injuries which caused the depth to shuffle on numerous occasions.

Omar Bolden entered 2009 as a third-year starter determined to have a breakout season, but unfortunately the injury bug hit him hard as after a solid start, Bolden was sidelined after four games and could never return during the remainder of the year, posting a total of four tackles and one interception in that span.

Former walk-on Pierre Singfield started more games (10) than any ASU cornerback, leading the position with 46 tackles as well as five pass breakups.

Terell Carr started eight of 11 games played – missing one due to a team suspension – totaling 34 tackles and a team-high seven pass breakups, while Deveron Carr (pictured) performed admirably in a reserve role and especially when called into the starting lineup, wrapping up 10 tackles and three pass breakups before missing the season finale due to injury.

A top performer in offseason drills, Josh Jordan appeared in every game but only logged four total tackles as a reserve, while former junior college transfer LeQuan Lewis split time between cornerback and wide receiver and posted three total tackles in 10 games.

Osahon Irabor redshirted due to injury as a true freshman, though had he been healthy he likely would have seen game action.

The Good

Luckily for the Sun Devils, there was a solid crop of depth to begin the season because with the rash of injuries that occurred, had ASU been more limited at cornerback the defense would have been significantly affected.

Deveron Carr was one of the surprise performers perhaps among the entire team, leapfrogging from a somewhat overlooked, developmental prospect to a valid and capable candidate to start on a consistent basis.

The Bad

It was very unfortunate for Bolden to have missed so much action in a season that was likely to be pivotal to his collegiate and prospective professional playing career. Additionally, Irabor, a former four-star prospect, came into camp with very high expectations and played at a high level in practice prior to a hand injury, delaying the start of his college career.

Jordan earned several first-team reps during offseason practices after earning action as a true freshman in 2008; however he was relegated to a mild backup role all year long.

The injuries as a whole likely made the coaching staff use a pencil, not pen, when writing out the cornerback depth chart as the lineup was in constant flux, especially in the second half of the year.

The Future

Talent certainly exists, especially for the short-term, however the specificity of the depth chart will be in question when spring drills come around.

Assuming he returns to full health, Bolden will be in position to maintain a starting role, however with Terell Car and Singfield concluding their careers, the heat of competition will rise as there will be openings for the second and third cornerback positions.

After his impressive late season play, Deveron Carr likely will have an inside edge on a top position, while Jordan (who will have to prove he can stay healthy) has the capability to earn constant repetitions, as does Irabor.

Lewis will return for his senior season to add depth at cornerback and participate on special teams. ASU is expected to focus on additions to the defensive secondary with some of the final available 2010 signing day acquisitions, and has already received a pledge from Gardena (Calif.) Serra cornerback Devan Spann.

Safety

After losing both primary starters from 2008, ASU had to turn to athletes with little starting experience at safety; a factor that showed negatively at times, while in others the group excelled.

After a two-year stint at linebacker, Ryan McFoy returned to safety – where he played as a true freshman in 2006 – to conclude his ASU career. The relocation was a generally smooth one for McFoy, he started 10 of 11 games played, racking in 40 tackles and three interceptions.

A virtual unknown before a possessed performance at Georgia in the season's third game, Jarrell Holman redirected what appeared to be a futile ASU career, leading all safeties and ranking fourth on the team with 47 tackles while tying for the team lead with three interceptions.

Sophomore Clint Floyd (pictured) appeared as a spot starter with three appearances among the first string, tallying 15 tackles and one interception, while Keelan Johnson earned one start in the secondary and collected 11 total stops.

Junior Max Tabach appeared in all 12 games and posted three tackles, while sophomore Jonathan Clark played in four games but did not record a tackle.

Shane McCullen and Matthew Tucker both redshirted as true freshmen.

The Good

The expectations at safety were not particularly high entering the season, and the position as a whole played adequately despite being exposed at times by opposing quarterbacks.

Though both primary starters graduate for the second straight year, Floyd has two seasons of experience to take into his junior year, while Johnson showed a high-athletic ceiling during his first year on the field.

The Bad

When up against highly capable passing games, the inexperience of the safeties showed through. Holman and McFoy – as well as their top backups – were able to make plays and generally maximize their talents, though in some cases they simply were outmatched.

The Future

With Holman and McFoy both gone, the logical assumption is that Floyd and Johnson will easily transition into the regular starting pair at safety. While that may very well be the case, redshirt freshmen McCullen and Tucker have the athletic ability to make the competition interesting, while Clark and Tabach will add veteran depth to the position.

Similar to the cornerback position, though there are no current verbal commits at safety among ASU's 2010 class, there's a high likelihood it will be a position of emphasis with the last month of recruiting for this cycle.


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