The NFL draft on May 8 was an exciting time for ASU fans as three Sun Devils were drafted and six more were signed as undrafted free agents shortly after. It also served as a reminder of the kind of talent and leadership ASU football will need to replace next year as it looks to defend their Pac-12 South crown.
Where that turnover in talent and leadership was felt the most is on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive tackle Will Sutton, drafted in the 3rd round by the Chicago Bears, and linebacker Carl Bradford, 4th round to the Green Bay Packers, were leaders in the locker room and standouts on the field. Seven other defensive starters from last season are also no longer on the team.
It’s a big blow to a defense that needed additions, not subtractions. The 373 points given up by ASU last season were the most it’s allowed since 2002.
Having seen his players compete all spring practice, ASU co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball said he has already seen players including defensive backs Damarious Randall, Jordan Simone and Marcus Ball take the next step to becoming leaders on the field.
“We’ve got some guys back there that love to compete, guys with high character and that are smart,” Ball said. “These guys have done a good job leading the team.”
Ball, who works with the defensive backs, has seen that position group change almost completely since last season. Three starters from last year in corners Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson as well as safety Alden Darby have all either graduated or moved onto the NFL.
While that may have offensive coordinators in Oregon and UCLA licking their chops to attack the ASU backfield, that may not be the best idea.
“(The players have) great, great, great work ethic and great ball skills,” Ball said. “They are very talented. This is as good a group I’ve had in a long time.”
This group includes the only returning starting defensive back in Randall, as well as the freshman Ball who was ranked the No. 24 all-purpose athlete in the country out of high school by Rivals.com. Randall and Ball saw starts during spring training alongside Simone, Rashad Wadood, and Lloyd Carrington.
Ball said many open starting spots essentially being up for grabs has resulted in some especially spirited practices.
“This group has a great attitude. They like to practice and have a passion to play the game,” Ball said. “Any time you got a spot open there’s competition going on and that breeds enthusiasm and a higher level of competition. Everybody raises their game.”
Much is being expected of the ASU offense featuring the trio of quarterback Taylor Kelly, wide receiver Jaelen Strong and running back D.J. Foster after the Sun Devils had the second highest scoring offense in the Pac-12 last season. However, if this talented group of defensive players can make defense a strength of the Sun Devil football team, that could take ASU to a level it hasn’t seen before under head coach Todd Graham.
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