When looking over the starting spots up for grabs on Todd Graham’s attack-based defense, version 2013, there are three key roles in the lineup with the departure of players off the 2012 roster: the Field Corner, WILL linebacker, and Field Safety positions. While most of the new members of the 2013 recruiting cycle won’t be available until later on this summer, there will be some very intriguing Spring Camp battles taking place over the course of the next month that fans should keep an eye on.
Job Opening: WILL linebacker
As Don Hansen discussed earlier this week in his article involving leadership within the ranks of this ASU defense, you can’t replace a Brandon Magee. His leadership, work ethic, and team pride were second to none on this team before he even stepped on to the football field. The type of tackling efficiency, leadership, and communication he provided on it will have to be re-shuffled in the deck of a very talented cast of returning defensive players.
Grandville Taylor, Carlos Mendoza, and Salamo Fiso look to be given the first shot at this rotation throughout the spring. Mendoza was one of the stars of the win against Illinois early on in the season with two key interceptions. Unfortunately a shoulder injury capped his true freshman campaign at just one game, and he missed valuable drill time during practices between the end of the season and the bowl game. Mendoza certainly has the athleticism, uncanny understanding of the position, and nose for the ball. But can he prove to his new position coach, Paul Randolph, that he has the ability to be the tackling anchor among the group of attacking linebackers not always known for their stay at home ability?
Taylor was a walk-on in 2012, yet finished the year as the back-up at the position, appearing in all of the Devils’ games on special teams. He could definitely make his presence felt by the middle of April if given the chance. Taylor is not going to blow you away when you look at his game film, but he is a sure tackler, and at this position you can’t have enough of those.
Fiso is the opposite type of player, showing a sideline-to-sideline range, but not always exhibiting the technique that Graham and his staff look for among the 11 defenders he puts out on the field every Saturday.
Job Opening: Field Corner Back
At first glance, replacing a two-year starter in Deveron Carr looks to be a tough task. Carr greatly improved in his senior campaign, having been given a clean bill of health from the doctors after a shoulder injury wiped out his 2010 season under then head coach Dennis Erickson, finishing as All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection. However, his tackling ability, while improved from his junior to senior year, still left something to be desired at the position.
Robert Nelson appears to be the guy who has the first shot at claiming this spot. He came on late last year as the third corner, making his presence felt in both the Territorial Cup with his 66-yard interception return and in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. While Nelson lacks the size of Carr both in height and weight, he has smooth top end speed, obvious return ability off the turnover, and a penchant for gambling for balls up in the air – for better or worse. His aggression fits a need at the position and the defense should transition flawlessly with his play this spring.
Todd Graham brought in transfers Lloyd Carrington and Marlon Pollard to provide veteran depth at the position with both seniors looking to finish up their collegiate eligibility moving from East out West
Rashaad Wadood is the wild card here, as he played a ton of special teams in 2011 but was lost for the 2012 season, going under the knife in September to repair a torn labrum. The Devils missed the depth he could have provided on special teams and as the fourth corner, and this is where he will be back in the fold again this spring, more than likely ascending to that 3rd corner spot before the Spring Game.
Job Opening: Field Safety
This was a position on this defense in flux that really became solidified under Keelan Johnson as he represented nearly a quarter of the balls intercepted by the defense in 2012, with three of his five coming in the last three regular season games for the Devils. Johnson’s game steadily improved as he took to the offense and really finished up his Sun Devil career on a high note.
Ezekiel Bishop and Vilami Moeakiola will be the two primary contributors at this position until the influx of new talent arrives later on this summer. Moeakiola is a guy who can really contribute as a run stopper, but will greatly appreciate the coaching he will receive as a pass defender over these next few weeks. He suffered through his freshman season with a hamstring injury that limited him to just three appearances on the season. Bishop is another hard-nosed safety-type who played appeared in nine games in 2012 and is a ferocious tackler, but lacks the top end closing speed you look for at this position. If the play is there – especially on a blitz – expect Bishop to be there, but his ball skills in the passing game need to be improved upon.
What are your thoughts on how these holes can be filled? Let us know on Twitter and your question could make it on the next ASU Devils Den Podcast.