ASU football 2014 season preview: Defensive line, linebackers
during a practice in Tempe. (Photo by Andrew Ybanez)
It is rare for a team to lose nine starters on one side of the ball and still field a unit that's anywhere near as good as it was the year prior. ASU football will look to reverse the trend this season, as its only returning defensive starters are senior safety Damarious Randall and redshirt sophomore linebacker Salamo Fiso.
The overhaul from last season doesn't spare any unit, but it does hit the pass-rushers the hardest. With the combined 109 tackles and 13 sacks that Will Sutton and Carl Bradford leave behind, there are big shoes to fill in that department.
One area on which the Sun Devils think they can improve from last season is chemistry among the defense and team as a whole. Multiple players mentioned that there wasn't a good sense of a team-first attitude last season and that singular egos would prevail at times.
"Everybody had their different egos (last year)," said junior defensive end Marcus Hardison. "This year, we're more of a team. We bond with each other."
Improved chemistry won't replace six first- and second-team All-Pac-12 selections on its own, though. The Sun Devils will rely heavily on freshmen and players who have seen limited playing time and just a handful of starts between them.
There are seven freshmen listed on ASU's two-deep depth chart, and coach Todd Graham pointed out those who have impressed him thus far. Defensive linemen Tashon Smallwood and Renell Wren, linebackers DJ Calhoun and Christian Sam, and defensive backs Chad Adams and Armand Perry are all first-year players who Graham noted and are listed on ASU's two-deep.
Smallwood and Calhoun will start against Weber State on Thursday, while the others won't redshirt and should see the field consistently.
Non-freshmen who are expected to become ASU's new defensive leaders are redshirt sophomore cornerback Lloyd Carrington, whom Graham has raved about, junior nose tackle Jaxon Hood and junior defensive end Marcus Hardison.
ASU likely won't be able to replace the star power that Bradford and Sutton provided to the front-seven, but improved depth and a strong freshman class should help absorb the blow.
2014 depth chart:
1. Jaxon Hood
2. Demetrius Cherry
3. Mo Latu or Connor Humphreys
1. Tashon Smallwood
2. Corey Smith or Renell Wren
1. Marcus Hardison
2. Viliami Latu
3. Chans Cox
1. De'Marieya Nelson or Edmond Boateng or Marcus Washington
2. Antonio Longino
1. DJ Calhoun
2. Christian Sam
1. Salamo Fiso
2. Alani Latu
1. Viliami Moeakiola
2. Luke Williams
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanWebeck