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Filling safety spots key for ASU defense


Last season, Troy Nolan was one of the biggest scoring threats on the ASU football team.

It was rather unconventional, given that he played safety.

Nolan scored three defensive touchdowns last season, part of a stretch over the final five games of 2008 in which the Sun Devil defense reached the end zone seven times, only one time fewer than its offensive counterpart.

When spring football practice begins today, the search for Nolan’s replacement at free safety will be a priority for a defense that returns firepower at every other position.

The ASU coaching staff is also charged with the task of replacing departed Rodney Cox at the other safety position.

Sophomore Clint Floyd — who saw action as a true freshman last season before being sidelined with a kidney laceration — will be a top candidate to replace Nolan.

“His injury came at a hard time, because he was really coming on and started two games in the fall,” assistant coach Matt Lubick said.

Floyd is fully recovered from the injury and will be on the field today.

Lubick said that redshirt freshman Keelan Johnson could also make an impact at the position when spring practice kicks off.

The local product from Mesa High School practiced early last season at wide receiver before moving over to the defensive side of the ball, where he was impressive in practices toward the end of the year.

“If he had started off on defense, I think he could have played last year,” Lubick said. “He has a lot of upside.”

Junior Max Tabach, who missed most of last season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against Cal, should add experienced depth to the safety position, but will likely be absent until fall practice.

Senior Jarrell Holman will also see time at the position.

Lubick said that Ryan McFoy, who played linebacker the last two seasons after playing safety as a freshman in 2006, will move back into the secondary this season.

While finding replacements at safety will be a task for the coaching staff, just finding a spot for a host of talented defensive players returning this year may prove to be a greater challenge.

“We got bodies for a change,” coach Dennis Erickson said.

To be specific, the Sun Devils have some big bodies.

Though the squad loses Luis Vasquez at the defensive end, ASU has no shortage of depth along the defensive front.

Dexter Davis, the current Sun Devil sack leader, will return for his senior season to anchor the line.

Sophomore Lawrence Guy, who was named an All-Freshman by several publications at the end of last season, is a rising star and will help clog the middle at tackle.

Juniors Jonathon English and Saia Falahola will also be part of the rotation at defensive tackle.

Sophomores James Brooks and Jamaar Jarrett and junior college transfer Dean DeLeone — who will participate in spring drills — will be among players vying for time at defensive end.

The greatest experience for the Sun Devils on defense, though, comes at the linebacker position.

The unit boasts three experienced seniors in Mike Nixon, Travis Goethel and Gerald Munns.

The biggest change will come at the inside linebacker position, where Goethel will replace Morris Wooten.

Sophomores Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons saw significant action as freshman last season and will figure to be a heavy part of the rotation this spring.

Five-star recruit Vontaze Burfict will be in mix at the position as well, but he will not begin practicing at ASU until the fall.

The Sun Devil coaching staff has been rearing to go following last season’s disappointment.

“[Today] is why we do what we do,” Lubick said of the first day of spring practice. “Recruiting and that stuff in the offseason is fun to a point, but [today] is why we do what we do.”

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