Defensive players seeking impactful spring

ASU's defense finished tops in the Pac-10 last season and is naturally looking to keep that momentum in 2010. Player departures are opening the door for some returning players to make their mark this year. Devils Digest analyzes the Sun Devil defensive players who most noticeably need a standout session of spring drills maintain the ability to serve key roles this year.

Defensive Line

With only one significant departure from the depth across the entire line, the majority of the pecking order at both tackle and end positions can be somewhat predicted entering the spring.

The only void to fill in the starting four is a significant one, as the Devils will be required to replace four-year starter Dexter Davis, a first-team All-Pac-10 member last year and one of the top pass rushers in Arizona State history.

Sophomore Greg Smith and senior Dean DeLeone are the two candidates most likely to battle to step in for Davis, and of that pair, DeLeone seems to be on the outside looking in and how be performs this spring will greatly dictate what impact he is able to submit during his final of two years at ASU.

DeLeone enrolled at ASU last spring with an intriguing amount of fanfare as a former U.S. Coast Guard member that starred as a havoc-wreaking end/linebacker at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., earning conference Defensive Player of the Year honors as a sophomore in 2008. Highly proclaimed for his 4.44 40-yard speed and ability to massacre plays in the backfield, DeLeone was expected to hit the ground running during his first year as a Sun Devil and provide a frightful presence off the edge of the defensive line.

After starting the first three games of the season in place of suspended end James Brooks, DeLeone quickly faded into a role player's capacity, totaling only 14 tackles without a sack in 10 total appearances.

Furthermore, once the depth settled as the season progressed; true freshman Greg Smith emerged and surpassed DeLeone as the top reserve behind Dexter Davis at weak side defensive end, further distancing the upperclassman from substantial playing time.

With Davis off to the professional ranks, the spring battle between DeLeone and Smith likely will be one of the team's most competitive and least predictable, while it is also one of the most crucial throughout the entire roster. When fall camp arrives so will standout true freshman Nduka Onyeali, a pass rush nightmare at the prep level and the team's top high school defensive signee this year, who is physically prepared for college reps and will immediately compete for time at weak side end with DeLeone and Smith.

Seniority has very little impact in this competition as a scenario could emerge that DeLeone takes a backseat to a sophomore and true freshman, but his intention to prevent that must begin with a solid spring.

Defensive tackle carries near complete continuity from 2009 to 2010, with starters Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola returning to likely maintain first-team honors, with sophomore Will Sutton likely standing as the top reserve.

Sophomore Corey Adams likely will enter practice with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, as his true freshman contributions were not necessarily what was expected from a player that arrive to ASU with five-star credentials, totaling four tackles in eight games before a season-ending injury.

If healthy for the spring, Adams likely will appear on the second-team with Sutton, but would encourage many fans and critics by showcasing the pass-rush dominance and overpowering line of scrimmage talents he exhibited routinely while at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro High School.

Adams' position in the depth chart is not unquestionably guaranteed, as junior Bo Moos filled in formidably late last season and won't relinquish playing time without a fight.

Linebacker

Despite the losses of staring outside linebackers Travis Goethel and Mike Nixon, the transition of the new two starters figures to be relatively seamless and with generally little resistance from competitors.

Junior Brandon Magee will likely fill in for Nixon on the weak side and junior Shelly Lyons (pictured) is the top candidate to replace Goethel on the strong side. Sophomore Vontaze Burfict unquestionably filling the first-string middle linebacker spot completing the old Corona Centennial 2007 linebacker corps.

With the exception of senior Gerald Munns, who was granted an extra year of eligibility to utilize in 2010, the remaining linebacker depth is largely unproven and it is unlikely that the reserves will significantly push the starters for first-team playing time in the spring.

Though the lineup is generally predictable, Lyons can be isolated as one linebacker that would benefit from consistent spring session.

Burfict proved his five-star ranking from the first steps he took onto Frank Kush Field, while Magee has been an athletic, dynamic option as a reserve during his first two seasons and has potential to be a terrific starter.

Lyons, however, compiled a quietly excellent true freshman season in 2008 with 36 tackles in 12 games but his productivity dipped noticeably to only 17 tackles in 11 games in 2009.

With zero starts among his 23 career appearances, the onus of responsibility falls on Lyons' shoulders to merge successfully from a reserve to reliable starter and his development will be a telling element of whether the linebacker unit will remain a prominent strength or if Burfict and Magee will have to carry the trio.

Junior Colin Parker likely will remain the top option behind Lyons on the strong side but hasn't proven to be a starting caliber player, placing the livelihood of the position squarely in Lyons' hands.

Cornerback

Terell Carr and Pierre Singfield are gone from last year's roster and probable starter Deveron Carr is unlikely to practice during spring drills, creating a gaping window of opportunity for the returning, healthy cornerbacks to earn substantial, valuable practice repetitions.

Junior Omar Bolden expects to be back to full health and in the starting lineup after missing ample action last year—enough to earn a medical hardship and extra year of eligibility—but he will be among a group of capable corners looking to solidify spots among the depth chart.

Of the group, junior Josh Jordan (pictured) is a focal point in terms of an athlete that needs to assert himself during the spring. In a relatively similar fashion to linebacker Shelly Lyons, Jordan earned high reviews for his performances as a true freshman but seemingly took a couple steps back as a sophomore, mainly due to injury, in 2009 by collecting four tackles in 12 games, creating a question mark regarding his ability to push toward a starting position now that two of the team's top cornerbacks have graduated.

In the absence of Deveron Carr in the spring, Jordan will primarily clash with redshirt freshman Osahon Irabor, a highly-touted member of last year's signing class that likely would have seen a great deal of time as a true freshman last year had he not suffered a preseason hand injury.

Senior LeQuan Lewis will round out the scholarship depth at cornerback in the spring but is not widely considered to be a threat to start.

Spring football is a critical time for Jordan, as it can determine whether he can legitimately vie to start or if he will be relegated to the third or fourth option at cornerback this season.

Safety

After starting 10 games each in 2008, Jarrell Holman and Ryan McFoy depart from the roster, placing junior Clint Floyd and sophomore Keelan Johnson (pictured) as the likely incumbents to occupy the first-string safety positions.

Though Floyd and Johnson are nearly guaranteed to be listed atop the early spring depth chart at the two safety spots, both players will need to perform at a high level to avoid sacrificing rights to be in the starting lineup.

Both players bring moderate starting experience as Floyd has started five of 19 career games played while Johnson earned one start as a redshirt freshman in 2009. Statistically, Floyd totaled 15 tackles and one interception last year while Johnson pitched in 11 tackles on the year.

The player most likely to shuffle the depth chart is midyear junior college transfer Eddie Elder, a ball-hawking safety that became one of the most renowned junior college defensive backs in the state of California the past two years, collecting 14 interceptions during his two-year career at the College of San Mateo (Calif.).

Redshirt freshmen Shane McCullen and Matthew Tucker both have the physical skills to make a push for time, while scholarship veterans Jonathan Clark and Max Tabach will also look to crack the lineup.

It may inevitably be a tough task keeping Elder from the starting lineup, so the question that persists is which combination of Elder, Floyd and Johnson ultimately fills the two starting slots and whether Floyd and Johnson can use their team experience to offset the dynamic playmaking skills of Elder.


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