Fall Camp Recap – Defense

The Sun Devils' defense came into camp with heavy accolades, despite some key losses in its front seven. Their performance in fall camp has done nothing to temper those expectations, as this group isn't only expected to repeat as best in the Pac-10 but also be a legitimate top 15 defense nationally. Devils Digest takes a look at the various positions on this side of the ball heading into 2010.

Defensive line

Although currently depleted in depth for various reasons, Arizona State's defensive tackle unit collectively showcased its prowess during fall camp. It was not uncommon to see team segments in practice or scrimmages where the front four effectively harassed the quarterbacks while also halting the ground attack.

This group is led by Lawrence Guy, a junior who is probably the team's most feasible candidate to forgo his senior season for the NFL. He continues to be a menace to the offense every time he lines up. Whether it's his sheer brawn or athleticism Guy is mostly un-blockable one on one and naturally any double team he would command would free up his line mates and also allow the linebackers more space to operate. In the last year Guy hasn't just further developed his skills but also his leadership and has been an example to the team on and off the field.

Saia Falahola is often referred as the "quiet one" on defense, and while he certainly doesn't have the boisterous personality as some of his teammates his production stands in contrast to his character. Playing next to Guy on the first team he's the beneficiary of the extra attention his teammate receives, but on his own merit is also one the best run stoppers on the team. The senior's steady production has been able to hold off some eager competition backing him up which is the ultimate testament to one's ability.

In terms of strength and athleticism combination very few players on the team can match Will Sutton. Ever since the sophomore arrived last year he has become a productive player in this group and arguably the biggest threat to unseat Falahola as a starter. Much like Guy can be equally effective rushing the passer and stuffing the ball carrier. A recent back injury he suffered is something to keep an eye on as the season opener is fast approaching.

Corey Adams has already endured a roller coaster of a career in just two years in Tempe. As a five-star prospect he was obviously expected not only to skip a redshirt year, but also be one of the more notable players on the front four. Alas, the newcomer's learning curve took its toll and while he did see action in his first year it wasn't until much later in the season where he showed flashes of his talent. A back injury not only cut Adams' season short by a few games but also limited the sophomore's spring practice work. He started fall camp on the third team, and his gradual improvement has now elevated him to the second unit as he now is perhaps playing his best football as a Sun Devil.

The term gradual improvement applies even stronger to Bo Moos. The junior's progression has been impressive to say the least and he played in eight games last year compared to only two in 2008. A low center of gravity type of player Moos is effective against the run and is your proverbial lunch pail guy. Even though Adams surpassed him recently in the depth chart he has and will continue to be a valuable reserve that will allow to keep a fresh leg rotation during a game.

Toa Tuitea appeared in five games in his redshirt freshman year at defensive end and starting last spring moved into the tackle role. The hard working Tuitea suffered an elbow injury last week and his availability right now is unknown. Other two tackles, both true freshmen, aren't currently practicing as well but for different reasons. Lee Adams suffered what appears to be a serious knee injury last Friday and while he was a lock to redshirt the hope is that this injury won't delay his development. Joita Te'i, who will also redshirt, is awaiting an eligibility resolution from the NCAA clearinghouse but was able to practice 14 sessions in pads before being sidelined.

The void left by All-Pac 10 performer Dexter Davis naturally raised concerns collectively about the pass rushing defensive end group. As is often the case in sports, when a bona fide star leaves, the team's seldom used players take advantage of the opportunity. As fall camp wrapped up, four players have formed a solid two-deep group.

Jamarr Robinson has had an unmemorable career thus far at ASU, but ever since spring the senior weak side defensive end is showing that he is poised to be saving his best for last. His performance in the off-season workouts was one of the main talking points in the summer and when it was time to show his progress on the gridiron he has backed up the outlook some had for him. His pass rushing abilities along with his veteran savvy and non-stop motor have been a solid blend that has served him well in camp.

Size does matter unless you are 5-11 (no this isn't a typo) Nduka Onyeali. Appropriately he goes by the name Junior, but the true freshman has showed up big in camp. Obviously, Onyeali has to continuously rely on his speed and rush moves but that formula has worked effectively for him and for the majority of this month's practices. He has stood out as one of the more impressive defensive players. It was never going to be a surprise to not see him redshirt and obviously after his camp performance he stands to be one of the better newcomers who will see the field on this side of the ball.

It's no secret that much was expected from Gregory Smith, albeit more due to the fact that he played ten games as true freshman rather than anything he showed in spring or fall camp. Time is clearly still on his side and he could still make a move to increase his status on the two-deep, although he will have to re-exhibit the play he had at the beginning of camp. Dean Deleone is proof that JC transfers can struggle as much as any true freshman out there, and as he enters his last season with the Sun Devils he will be hard pressed to get meaningful snaps in 2010. Simply put, this duo has seen the competition, at least for now, pass them by. At 210 lbs. true freshman Jordan McDonald naturally has to become more physical to contribute next year as a redshirt freshman.

At strong side end a fierce battle has been brewing between Jamaar Jarrett and James Brooks, two of the most physical players on defense. Jarrett is another player that has progressed quite nicely since last season, while Brooks who missed literally all of spring practice due to personal matters is trying to fulfill one the biggest potential upsides on the team. Jarrett has the upper hand for now to start, but Brooks for the last several days has been trying to jeopardize Jarrett's status. There's no doubt that these two players will get a fair share of snaps on Saturdays.

Linebackers

The heart of this defense was also the focal point of any article discussing the greatness on this side of the ball for ASU. All-American Vontaze Burfict is undoubtedly a big reason for the rave reviews this unit is receiving from various pundits but ironically fall camp has not turned out for him as well as everybody expected it to.

The MIKE linebacker had a poor performance in the off-season strength and conditioning program and his lack of commitment there translated into a demotion to the second team. To make matters worse, a freak accident while warming up in the first week of fall camp sidelined him for several sessions. Luckily, and probably expectably, Burfict bounced back to some degree and has already seen considerable time with the first team. While Saturday's scrimmage still featured him as a reserve he is still displaying his vicious hits, remarkable closing speed and overall great football sense. Whether as a starter or a backup Burfict has shown in fall camp that he can still be the intimidating presence for opposing offenses and as always he will need to bring his mental game up to par to his raw physical abilities to become even a consistent player and truly one of the best linebackers in the country.

Gerald Munns (pictured) has been doing more than hold the fort at first team MIKE while Burfict was sidelined. The 6th year senior has proven to be the wily veteran and hasn't exactly raised concerns regarding the linebackers group in Burfict's absence. We don't expect Munns to hold off Burfict from starting the entire season and being the ultimate team player he is Munns could probably care less where he will be slotted on the depth chart. The senior's leadership, football IQ and personality has and continues to be a priceless asset for the defense and the local Chandler Hamilton star could really give his family and friends a season to remember in 2010.

At SAM linebacker Shelly Lyons has showcased in camp that his speed will be on par with other outside linebackers on the team. Lyons did suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump (had 17 total tackles that year compared to 36 as a freshman), but his pre-season performance has fostered a lot of optimism for his junior campaign. He has become less rigid physically and that's not only due to his off-season workouts but also due to a greater understanding of the defense.

At weak side linebacker Brandon Magee has been more often than not successful chasing down any offensive player entering his domain during camp. His tackling abilities aren't far off at all from the junior's blazing speed, which makes him one of the more productive players on defense. His outgoing personality has been positively infectious to a group that already wasn't short in the swagger column.

Oliver Aaron may be the only linebacker who could beat Magee in a foot race. The junior who also play at the WILL role possesses exceptional sideline to sideline speed and can also bring a good measure of physicality as he plays bigger than his 6-0 208 frame. Colin Parker has been the classic example of a late bloomer on the squad. Playing mostly on special teams in his first two years, the son of former Sun Devil star Anthony Parker has turned in a strong fall camp performance at second team SAM linebacker and should make a notable impact this year.

Anthony Jones and Derrall Anderson have been slowed down by injuries during camp, and thus couldn't make a move up the depth chart. True freshman Carl Bradford entered camp as almost a sure chance to redshirt, but the physical 6-0 236 SAM linebacker if nothing else is giving coaches something to think about. His special teams' play will more than anything dictate his chances of skipping a redshirt but even if he does sit out this season he's definitely one player to look out for in the future.

Safety

This is the group that perhaps had the most question marks on defense and the end of fall camp we're not entirely sure that much has changed in that regard.

Well, one thing we can get out the way right now and that is Clint Floyd (pictured) is one of the bona fide stars on this talented Sun Devil defense. The strong safety played various positions on his high school team which as we can see nowadays has prepared him quite well for his ASU role. At 5-10 198 his stature certainly doesn't convey his true physical play that goes hand in hand with above average athleticism and outstanding football savvy.

Floyd's consistency rates considerably higher than the other safeties, which is ultimately bad news for this group. In other words, no other player here has had a solid fall camp from start to finish. Keelan Johnson is the starter at free safety but will have to work hard to keep that role for the season opener. The book on the local Mesa High School standout was that while he was an extremely gifted athlete he has never been able to complement that trait with sheer football knowledge. At the conclusion of fall camp not much has changed in that regard.

Luckily for Johnson his suitors for his position were not able to string a good succession of fall camp practices. We have to admit that we are first and foremost surprised that JC transfer Eddie Elder isn't running neck in neck with Johnson. We thought that the fierce competition between the two that started brewing in spring practice was going to carry over to fall camp and in fact be on the most talked about storylines on defense. That has never materialized, although to say that Elder has regressed from the spring would be a stretch as well.

Two unlikely players have emerged as of late at safety that could make things interesting. Max Tabach and Alden Darby.

Tabach is simply the healthiest he has ever been at ASU, and is physically able to display his playmaking abilities that helped him collect 16 interceptions as a senior in Scottsdale Saguaro. This along with his strong knowledge of the game is bound to give him ample opportunities this year, but again consistency has been his biggest enemy although it should be noted that he ended fall camp on a much stronger note than he started.

Alden Darby has been one of the biggest surprises, certainly among the true freshmen, in fall camp. He was brought in as a corner and did quite well playing in that role. However a logjam at that position, along with the aforementioned struggles of the safeties has caused the coaches to move him within just the last few days to this group. It will be interesting to see if does stick here or eventually moves back to corner, but he's unquestionably a player that should be playing this year in one capacity or another.

Matt Tucker and Shane McCullen have had a quiet camp, but as redshirt freshmen they have the potential to develop down the road.

Cornerbacks

We've been covering the team since the 2000 season and we can confidently say that this is the deepest cornerback group ASU has had this decade.

Omar Bolden's (pictured) best year was his freshman season in 2007, and it wouldn't be harsh to say that following that campaign he has been a disappointment. He's another player hit by the sophomore slump and playing in just the first four games last season before suffering an injury obviously didn't make his ASU tenure look any better. It seems that ever since he was awarded a medical redshirt Bolden has been on mission to be the true lockdown corner everybody thought he would and so far so good. Every practice the junior has showed up with his exceptional athleticism, his vocal leadership (tops in that category on the team by a country mile) and hilarious sound bites. Bolden is a sure candidate for All-Pac 10 honors this year and a spectacular 2010 could put him in the same category as Guy as a possibility to enter the NFL draft following his junior year.

If you took a vote among all the wide receivers of who is the toughest corner to go against, Deveron Carr would be only second to Bolden. Much like Adams on the defensive line, he's another local player who played very well late in the season before suffering an injury that cut his momentum. You could tell during spring practice, where he was limited, how much he was itching to get back the field and once he did return in fall camp it was easy to see why. Much like Bolden he is another lockdown corner making every wide receiver absolutely earn every catch they make against him. What impresses us even more how quickly the sophomore has caught on to what is asked of him and even as a young player he rarely makes mistakes.

LeQuan Lewis endured a rough JC transfer year but ever since last spring he has been a changed player. Already one of the fastest defenders on the field, the senior has a better grasp of what is expected from him and has developed into a solid backup. Osahon Irabor would have played as a true freshman if it wasn't for a fall camp wrist injury last year. Quietly this well-rounded player has done well in this month's sessions and is holding firmly to his slot on the second team.

Josh Jordan may be less athletic than the other corners we mentioned here but his competiveness and football smarts more than make up for that. He has played in 23 games so he's unquestionably one of the more experienced reserves on defense. Devan Spann is a true freshman who was expected to play this year, but a thyroid surgery caused him to miss off-season workouts and fall camp so he will redshirt this season.


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