ASU football reloads on defense; Chans Cox, Viliami Latu battle for Devilbacker

Video by Shane Theodore | Sports reporter

One of the biggest storylines headed into the 2014 ASU football season is how it will manage to replace nine defensive starters lost to either the NFL or graduation.

Defensive leaders such as linemen Will Sutton and Gannon Conway and Devilbacker Carl Bradford, who left school after his junior year, leave large shoes to fill. Whoever is tabbed to replace them will be under high expectations and their performance will be critical to the success or struggle of the 2014 season.

Associate head coach and defensive coordinator Paul Randolph spoke on the outlook for this season’s ASU defense.

“Our outlook is bright, the sky’s the limit,” Randolph said. “We’ve got guys that are working their tail off, they’re eager, they’re ready, it’s their turn. Next man up mentality. Trying to get as much experience as you can and instincts and all those and the only way you can get that is getting reps and they’re getting plenty of reps.”

On the defensive line, junior tackle Jaxon Hood has missed all of the spring practices thus far with a ligament injury in his right hand, leaving senior Marcus Hardison as the only defensive lineman in spring ball with significant playing experience.

Redshirt junior Demetrius Cherry is coming into spring practice much bigger than he did for the 2013 year. The defensive end is up to about 300 pounds, roughly 50 pounds heavier than last season, which will allow him to possibly fill in at the nose tackle position.

Junior college transfer Dalvon Stuckey, a defensive tackle that weighs in at more than 300 pounds, was a big get for coach Todd Graham’s recent recruiting class, but he won’t be arriving in Tempe until after spring practice concludes.

Easily the largest of the big men on the defensive side of the ball is redshirt junior Mo Latu. The lineman from Gilbert weighs in at a staggering 384 pounds, putting him at the forefront of the battle for the nose tackle position.

In practice on Tuesday, the first-team defensive line consisted of Hardison, Latu and redshirt sophomore defensive end Edmond Boetang. Boetang, a junior college transfer, brings speed and strength off the edge with his unique 6-foot-4, 267-pound frame.

As for the Devilbacker position that Bradford performed so well in, ASU is looking at either sophomore Viliami Latu or redshirt freshman Chans Cox. Cox took the first-team snaps last week at Devilbacker but Latu took his spot on the first team for Tuesday’s practice.

“I’m excited about it. We’ve got (Viliami) Latu, who’s big, physical, explosive off the football,” Randolph said. “You’ve got Chans Cox, who’s extremely fast, athletic, and can move. You’ve got Edmond Boetang we brought in mid-year; it’s a great thing we brought him in mid-year, because he’s learning the system.”

Heralded freshman DJ Calhoun graduated from high school in December, allowing him to participate in spring ball. The 6-foot, 205-pound linebacker is too small to play the Devilbacker position, which involves a lot of lining up and rushing the edge.

However, Calhoun got significant snaps at the Will linebacker position, which requires the ability to go into pass coverage or chase a play down through traffic.

Graham pointed out Calhoun as someone who’s made his presence felt in the short time he’s been at ASU.

“(Calhoun) might’ve been the bright spot of the day today for the defense. He made a lot of plays, flying around, doing some good things,” Graham said.

While there was speculation Calhoun would bulk up and play Devilbacker, Graham put that to rest.

“He’ll play Will. That’s his natural position, what he played in high school,” Graham said. “There’s a lot of space in coverage and stuff and you see today he’s all over the place making plays. So I kinda see him playing there, where he’ll settle in.”

Nothing in spring practice can be deemed official, but both Graham and Randolph are feeling positive about the defense, despite the players it lost.

“I think I’ve got a great group of guys who are working their tails off to uphold the Sun Devil winning tradition that the last group started,” Randolph said.

Reach the reporter at stheodor@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @shane_writes