Projected Starters: Jaxon Hood (Nose), Will Sutton (Tiger), Gannon Conway (End)
The skinny: This could be one of the best units in the Pac-12, if not the country, anchored by consensus All-American redshirt senior Will Sutton.
Graduate student Davon Coleman and sophomore Jaxon Hood return a combined total of eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
Redshirt senior Gannon Conway comes in as the surprise of the group. Conway packed on over 20 pounds over the summer and cemented himself as the starting defensive end.
The key for the defensive line is to get production out of its depth. That means players like Coleman and junior JUCO transfer Marcus Hardison will need to make plays. If they do, the Sun Devils could do even better than last year when the Sun Devils led the nation in tackles for loss (117) and ranked second in sacks (52).
Coach’s comment: “I think our depth needs to get more consistent in their play, but we do have some depth, and our depth is going to have to help us. But Coach Graham makes a good point: Not talking about your top three, your top four, it’s what numbers five, six and seven (do). How are they going to play? That’s going to make the big difference. So we’re getting some depth, but that depth most definitely needs to improve.” – defensive line coach Jackie Shipp.
Projected Starters: Chris Young (Will), Steffon Martin (Sam), Anthony Jones (Spur), Carl Bradford (Devil)
The skinny: The linebackers have a tall order in store to replace Brandon Magee, who recorded 113 total tackles for the Sun Devils last year.
With Magee gone, senior Chris Young moves from Spur to Will and redshirt senior Anthony Jones takes over Young’s old haunt at Spur.
However, there is still some uncertainty at all of the linebacker spots. Young could potentially move back to Spur if the coaches aren’t happy with Jones.
Redshirt senior Salamo Fiso is listed on the depth chart at second-string at both Sam and Will linebacker spots, and he will almost certainly see playing time this year. Senior Grandville Taylor also figures in to the linebacker rotation but is listed behind Fiso at Will, though Taylor has seen time at Spur as well.
Finally, Carl Bradford returns to Devilbacker, ASU’s hybrid defensive end/linebacker position. Bradford tallied 11.5 sacks last year, and that number could go up. Bradford should see more one one-on-one matchups with Will Sutton drawing more double teams at defensive tackle.
Stopping the run will be the focus of the linebacking corps, since the Sun Devils finished No. 84 nationally in run defense in 2012. The Sun Devils should be able to improve that ranking if the group comes together, but there is still some uncertainty that remains. The makeup of the linebackers could change as the season progresses.
Coach’s Comment: “I think our guys have put forth a concerted effort of working their tails off. I really do think that. … When we’re in run drills, the guys have done a really good job of really focusing and fine tuning those type skills that we need to be a great run defense. So I’m really excited about where we are.” – Paul Randolph, linebackers coach and defensive coordinator
Projected Starters:Alden Darby (bandit safety), Osahon Irabor (boundary cornerback), Lloyd Carrington OR Robert Nelson (field cornerback), Laiu Moeakiola (field safety)
The skinny: The Sun Devils were exceptional against the pass in 2012, ranking third in the nation in pass defense and tenth in the country in passing efficiency defense.
The group has high hopes as senior safety Alden Darby said their goal is to be the best unit in the nation.
Darby and graduate student Osahon Irabor anchor the secondary, but there are still two holes to fill at field safety and field cornerback.
Redshirt sophomore Lloyd Carrington has seen most of the reps at field cornerback during fall camp but has been in close competition with redshirt senior Robert Nelson, who has split time at cornerback and safety.
The biggest question is at field safety, where there still doesn’t seem to be a solidified starter. Graham has said redshirt freshman Laiu Moeakiola would be the starter, but the depth chart says otherwise. The fall depth chart lists redshirt senior Robert Nelson and redshirt junior Damarious Randall over Moeakiola, and Randall has only seen a few reps in camp at the spot due to a groin injury.
It may come down to opening day before a surefire starter at field safety appears.
Coach’s comment: “I think we’re in great shape. We’ve got some guys to choose from. We’ve got great competition. We’re very athletic; we got depth, so I think we’re in great shape. You know, we got some quality guys to choose from to start that first game.” – Chris Ball, safeties coach, defensive passing game coordinator.
Projected Starter: Dom Vizzare
The skinny: Whoever wins the job has big shoes to fill replacing Josh Hubner, who was one of the best punters in the Pac-12, averaging 47 yards per punt in 2012.
The punting battle has been one of the closest of fall camp, and it seems to go back and forth daily between Vizzare and freshman Matt Haack.
Vizzare has the stronger leg, but Haack is more versatile as a rugby-style punter. Both have shown flashes of good ability but neither have been consistent.
Vizzare has seen most of the first team reps lately, but Haack is still close behind.
Coach’s comment: “It’s not like a quarterback competition or something like that where you have to name somebody, because it affects the whole offense or something like that. We intentionally want to do that so those guys are competing every single day. I gotta get with Coach Graham, but we may not name a starter until game day.” – Joe Lorig, special teams coordinator.
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