By: Charles Wulf
The Arizona State defense will have a totally new look this season. Losing guys like Alden Darby, Will Sutton, and Carl Bradford really makes you wonder if this defense will be able to stop anyone. Even Todd Graham isn’t totally sure how he’s going to run his defense.
“Obviously the thing defensively we’ve got to do is not just do what we did last year. Make sure that we adapt what we’re doing to the players’ skills that we have,” Graham said, “It’ll look a little bit different… and I don’t have all that figured out yet.”
Graham will have a few weeks to sort out his defensive game plan. His main focus will be on three positions: the Devil linebacker, defensive tackle, and the Will linebacker.
Replacing the Devil linebacker will be one of the tougher jobs Graham will have this preseason. Last year, Carl Bradford recorded 61 total tackles, 19 for a loss, and 8.5 sacks as the Devil backer. That kind of output will be difficult to replace.
Graham said this year the Devil backer will have a new look, “Our Devil’s just not gonna look like Carl (Bradford). He’s going to look more like an outside linebacker, maybe not have his hand down so much… we’re going to have a guy that can impact the quarterback at that position and we do have talent.”
Tight end, De’Marieya Nelson is a guy who can help out with the pass rush when not playing for the offense. After Monday’s practice, Graham called Nelson “Unblock-able.” There will likely be special packages to get Nelson on the field as a pass rusher.
Graham will also have to replace last year’s Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Will Sutton. In 2013, Sutton constantly drew double teams and extra attention from offensive lines. This year Graham and the Sun Devils will have to find a replacement that can play the three technique. Although injured, Jaxon Hood is a guy that can step up for the Sun Devils and should be ready for the start of the season.
With Salamo Fiso and Laiu Moeakiola returning to play the Sam and Spur linebacker positions, the Will linebacker position is the third hole that Graham has to fill. As the Will backer in 2013, Chris Young recorded 112 total tackles, 17.5 for a loss, and 7.5 sacks. At Pac-12 Media day, Graham claimed Young was the most important person on the ASU defense last year.
The Will backer could be the toughest decision Graham has to make. Several newcomers have stepped up as options but their inexperience is worrisome. Antonio Longino, DJ Calhoun, and Alani Latu are all options for the Will linebacker position.
If there is one part of the defense that Graham is confident about it’s the secondary. “I feel great about the secondary. We’re going to be bigger, we’re going to be better tacklers, I think,” Graham said.
After losing Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor, and Robert Nelson Jr., the only returning starter at defensive back is Damarious Randall. With Randall playing Field safety, Graham has several options at corner and Boundary safety. Lloyd Carrington is a projected starter at cornerback but there have been several other names mentioned in regards to the other corner spot. Newcomer, Kweishi Brown is a player that Graham is excited about.
“We have not had anybody here that has the physical stature. He is so physically strong and fast,” Graham said about Kweishi. Although he is very raw, Brown has the potential to be an impact player in the secondary. Armand Perry and Solomon Means are two guys that will compete with Kweishi for the other cornerback position.
The Arizona State defense is still a mystery but Graham has all the pieces necessary to build a capable unit.