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Defense stays strong through offseason

GROWING UP: After a play against UCLA last season on Nov. 26, 2010, ASU junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict returns to the line of scrimmage. Listed on many awards watch lists, Burfict leads a promising ASU defense coming into the new season. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)
GROWING UP: After a play against UCLA last season on Nov. 26, 2010, ASU junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict returns to the line of scrimmage. Listed on many awards watch lists, Burfict leads a promising ASU defense coming into the new season. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

It seemed so simple at first.

One of the scariest defenses in the nation was to return almost all of its impact players.

Then the hits came.

First-Team All-Conference senior cornerback Omar Bolden tore his ACL in the spring, last year’s Territorial Cup hero, junior defensive end James Brooks, left the program and, most recently, senior linebacker Brandon Magee tore his Achilles tendon in a non-contact play during a fall scrimmage.

In a matter of five months, the ASU football team lost three starters, two of which (Bolden and Magee) have professional careers in their future.

“That’s football,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. “But it’s happening all over. The only way we can’t get injured is to not practice and we can’t do that.”

Still, the outlook in Tempe for 2011 on the defensive side is bright.

And that says a lot about the depth of the Sun Devils.

“They’re tough, but you have those injuries every year,” Erickson said. “That’s why you have 85 guys on scholarships. You bring guys in and they step up. That’s what football is all about.”



The laundry list of preseason awards draped upon ASU junior Vontaze Burfict reads like a Greek epic.

The publications that list the middle linebacker as an All-American include Playboy, Phil Steele and Lindy’s.

He’s also the Blue Ribbon Magazine National Defensive Player of the Year and on the 2011 Walter Camp Award Preseason Watch List, which is given annually to the nation’s best player.

Last season, helped along by an incident with a teammate in early August this year, Burfict developed a dark reputation among the college football world. But from all recent accounts from coaches and players, the junior transformed in the offseason.

And with a leader and playmaker in Magee out for the season, those reports need to be true.

Magee was the team’s second leading tackler last season with 73, behind only Burfict’s 90.

“His perception is something he’s going to have to face, but he’s matured a lot since last season,” Erickson said. “You have to go watch him at practice and see how hard he works. Does he still have a lot of fire? Oh yeah. But I’m proud of the progress he’s made.”

Flanking Burfict will be seniors Shelly Lyons, Colin Parker, Oliver Aaron and likely sophomore Anthony Jones.

Lyons, Parker and Aaron combined for 126 tackles in 2010.

“If we play like we are capable of, we can start something special,” Parker said. “We try not to pay too much attention to the hype though. No one is going to lay down because they hear ASU is supposed to have a good defense.”



The loss of Bolden caused a reaction of moves here.

With last year’s captain out, sophomore Alden Darby made the switch from safety to cornerback.

That left seniors Eddie Elder and Clint Floyd and junior Keelan Johnson sharing the time at safety.

Although there isn’t any experience behind them, all three played extensively in 2010.

Elder, despite playing through an injury, was third on the team in tackles with 64 while Floyd and Johnson each recorded interceptions.

At cornerback, junior Deveron Carr and sophomore Osahon Irabor will get the starts.

Carr struggled to stay healthy last season while Irabor played in all 12 games.

“I relish the opportunity to go out there and make a name for myself,” Irabor said. “I thought I did a good job last year when I was called upon and got some experience so hopefully that will carry on to this year.”

Carr was probably going to start regardless, but Bolden’s injury thrusted Irabor into the role he’s in now.

“I was shocked when he went down," he said. “Omar is the leader of the team, he’s like Superman. But he’s been really encouraging. He wishes he could play but he’s doing everything he can to help the other guys play to their best.”

Backing up the two starters will be Darby and redshirt freshman Devan Spann.

As a true freshman, Darby played in every game last year while Spann will see his first action as a Sun Devil this fall.

“They get better every day,” Irabor said. “I expect a lot of them this year. The sky is the limit for us.”


Defensive line

The front four might end up being the strongest part of ASU in 2011.

Last year’s Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year, defensive end Junior Onyeali, is back and has his first full offseason under his belt.

Onyeali led the team in sacks last season with 6.5 while recording 11.5 tackles for loss.

Senior Jamaar Jarrett is the other starting end. He had 40 tackles in 2010.

Sophomore transfer Davon Coleman will also get playing time after looking sharp through camp.

At the tackle positions, it’ll be senior Bo Moos and sophomore Will Sutton. Moos is a vocal, experienced team leader while Sutton missed last year with academic issues.

Now back on the field, at times Sutton has looked impossible to block during practice.

“He can be a guy that creates a lot of problems; he’s a penetration player,” Erickson said. “He’s got great quickness and he gets off low. He frees other people up and I don’t know if we had that kind of player last year.”

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