April 2, 2008

Spring Preview: Defense

Through the first week and a half of spring football, the Arizona State defense appears to be further along than the offense, due in part to greater continuity with personnel up front. That was demonstrated clearly in Tuesday's practice, when the defense abused an inexperienced offensive front.

In contrast to the offensive line, the Sun Devils have a lot of players returning along the defensive front, in fact more than any other unit on the team. There could be as many as a dozen returning scholarship players here in the fall.

Starting ends Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez return. Redshirt freshman James Brooks looks as though he could be poised to make an impact on the depth chart here, and Jamarr Robinson has been moved up from linebacker, and has shown well in the early going.

On the inside, the Sun Devils have to replace Michael Marquardt. Starter David Smith returns for his senior year, and Jonathan English is currently working with the first-team alongside him. Saia Falahola is currently working with the second group along with Paul Unga, who has moved inside.

These and others up front are looking to make their mark in advance of summer camp, when two highly regarded JUCO players and several elite high school recruits enter into the discussion.

At linebacker, the team returns just about everyone, with leading tackler Robert James being the obvious exception at the weakside position. His vacated position appears to be among the most highly contest on the squad, with Oliver Aaron, Ryan McFoy and Colin Parker all getting first-team repetitions.

Aaron redshirted last year and was the defensive Scout Team Player of the Year. He's extremely athletic with a natural playmaking ability. McFoy initially played safety and went through a transition year upon moving to linebacker last season. He's gained 10 pounds and looks very quick and more comfortable. Parker is among the most pleasant surprises on the entire roster this spring after missing essentially two years due to knee injury. He's played with poise, aggression and intelligence.

In the middle, the Sun Devils have a lot of talent, with Mike Nixon, Gerald Munns and Morris Wooten all capable. While Wooten and Munns are pure middle linebackers in this ASU scheme, Nixon could also slide over and play either outside spot. As of now, however, it appears Nixon holds a slight edge over the others for the first-team spot.

On the strongside, junior-to-be Travis Goethel is the team's leading returning tackler. He had 71 stops last season along with three forced fumbles. Derrall Anderson could push for playing time at the position after redshirting last year with Chad Lindsey and Jeff Bereuter also competing on the depth chart.

In the secondary, the Sun Devils will be forced to replace one starting safety, Josh Barrett, and one starting cornerback, Justin Tryon, as well as backup corners Chris Baloney and Littrele Jones.

As a true freshman, Omar Bolden emerged as arguably the top pro prospect on the defense. He'll have one cornerback spot locked down and other spot will likely come down to a battle between juniors-to-be Travis Smith and Grant Crunkleton and mid-year transfer Terell Carr, who played at Pasadena City College last year.

At safety, Troy Nolan emerged in 2007 as one of the top players on the team in his first season of action. He will be the starter at one safety position with the other spot likely coming down to a battle between Rodney Cox and Jeremy Payton, both of whom played quite a bit last season as juniors, and mid-year transfer Max Tabach out of Glendale Community College. Cox as received most of the work with the first-team thus far.

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