Under Head Coach Todd Graham and Defensive Coordinator Paul Randolph, the Arizona State Sun Devil defense had a tremendous season. Junior DT Will Sutton won the Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award. Along with LB Carl Bradford, the duo combined for 23.5 sacks and 45 tackles for loss last season. The talented pair of opposing offensive backfield chaos creators often over-shadowed the important performances of senior captains LB Brandon Magee and S Keelan Johnson.
Magee finished the year with 114 tackles, six-and-a-half sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble, and one pass break up. Johnson finished with 88 tackles, five interceptions, one forced fumble, and eight pass break ups. Due to the aggressive blitzing defensive schemes of Graham and Randolph, Magee and Johnson were often found in one on one situations where they would have to tackle a talented Pac-12 offensive player in space. Magee and Johnson routinely made the solid tackle and stopped big plays.
The two senior captains were the leading tacklers on the field in 2012, but they were also the leaders off the field. Magee and Johnson were the vocal leaders of the team as the Sun Devils transitioned from the laid back atmosphere of the Erickson regime to the character, toughness, discipline, and academic defined Graham era. Magee’s inspiring charisma was all over the pre-season press conference circuit, the many sports TV and radio station interviews, and the ASU season ticket holder teleconference.
On the field, replacing these two seniors is going to be difficult. The defensive leadership roles will certainly pass on to Sutton and Alden Darby. Sutton and Darby have those qualities that a team looks for in their leaders. However, younger players will be put into the starting linebacker and safety positions in an aggressive defense that puts stress on these two players. It is because of the solid play from Magee and Johnson that players like Chris Young and Bradford could go full-speed into the backfield to get the tackles for loss. Certainly, ASU has young talent who will battle to replace Magee and Johnson, but there is always a growing pain with new, young starters. Replacing Magee and Johnson are the keys to this ASU Sun Devil defense continuing at its 2012 high level and hopefully making the step to the next defensive echelon in 2013.