With about a week to go until ASU’s first game, the Devil Backer position on the defense still does not seem to be settled.
Since the spring, several players have “auditioned” for this unique position on the defense. Freshman DJ Calhoun, who enrolled early, got a look immediately. He is now playing Will linebacker. Chans Cox has gotten a look. Marcus Washington has taken lots of reps there. And two weeks ago, returning Tight End/H-Back De’Mariyea Nelson actually turned in his maroon jersey for a white one specifically to be the Devil Backer. Coach Graham called him “unblockable” at that position.
But since then, Graham has backtracked with Nelson, moving him back to primarily play offense. Antonio Longino began getting most of the first team reps at Devil Backer. He did so for over a week, seemingly securing the starting spot at that position.
Now comes Edmond Boateng. Boateng was recruited to play on the defensive line. At 6’5″ and 270 pounds, he fits the profile of a strong side defensive end. But in the last few days, he has been running with the first team at Devil Backer.
For outsiders, it’s a stunning development. The Devil Backer position is a hybrid position. It is part defensive end, part linebacker. The responsibilities for the Devil Backer change with the coverages called and the offensive formation shown. It requires an exceptional athlete that combines size and speed. For the last two years, it was Carl Bradford. He flourished in that position.
And with only using the eye test, it would appear that many of the candidates mentioned (Cox, Washington, Nelson, Longino) could physically fit the bill. But the coaches weren’t satisfied, so they kept looking. For them to settle on the big and tall Boateng just seems a little surprising. No doubt, Boateng can put his hand on the ground and rush the quarterback. But it’s tough to envision him peeling off to cover running backs or dropping into coverage. It’s even difficult to picture him knifing through a gap on a blitz from 4 yards deep.
In any event, the coaches are impressed and now he is part of the equation. It appears that the Devil Backer position will be run “by committee” until one of them establishes themselves as an every down player. That’s not the end of the world. It’s common to substitute situationally. However, for the expectations of this program, the fact that they are less than a week away from opening kickoff and this position is not truly settled is……well, unsettling.