ASU Football: Spring Assessment of the Defense


A week ago, the ASU Football team wrapped up their spring workouts with a practice dedicated to their first opponent, Texas A&M.  Devils in Detail graded the offense last weekend.  Today, on the Anniversary of the death of Pat Tillman, we assess the defense.

Up front on the defensive line, the personnel getting the first team reps are solid, but not stellar.  The defensive tackles (1 and 3 technique) are the big bodies that must “eat up” double teams when defending the run.  There are a handful of returning players with experience in Demetrius Cherry, Mo Latu, Tashon Smallwood and Emanuel Dayries.  Newcomers George Lea and JoJo Wicker are highly anticipated, but unproven.

The most curious member of this position group is the veteran Jaxon Hood.  Hood, who started alongside Will Sutton earlier in his career has been an enigma lately.  He missed most of last season due to a personal matter.  He has not been around and is not on the current roster.  Devils in Detail has not gotten any word on Jaxon Hood.

While coach Todd Graham has been singing the praises of his defensive front, it’s probably more accurate to say that the defensive coaches have guarded optimism.  Again, that group looks solid, but not spectacular.

The defensive end position is a little bit different.  The two front-runners are Edmond Boateng and Renell Wren.  In the opinion of Devils in Detail, both of those players look really good.  They are both tall, long, athletic and big.  Fans can expect some good things from both of those players.

In the linebacking corps, the endless search for a DevilBacker continues.  (Devils in Detail covered this position in more depth a couple of weeks ago)  This position is critical in coach Todd Graham’s attacking defense.  Last year, several players played this position according to down and distance.  The other positions (Sam, Will, Spur) have a decent group of players vying to take up those spots.  This group has speed, perhaps with the exception Salamo Fiso. (But Fiso is no slug).  Christian Sam, DJ Calhoun,  and Antonio Longino lead the returners.

But the most important player in the linebacker group is Laiu Moeakiola.  Laiu is the captain of the defense.  His presence is critical, as he is the best defender in calling the defensive audibles.  In fact, one can see how critical he is when you track back to when he was on the field last year and when he was not.  (Moeakiola was injured and did not play during the second half of the UCLA game, most of the USC game, the second half of the Notre Dame game, the Oregon State game and the second half of the UofA game.) Fans who remember last season can easily see the correlation.  When he’s on the field, the defense is pretty tough.  When he’s not, there are problems.

Devils in Detail will take the sarcastic leap of saying that the linebacker corps will be just fine is Laiu stays healthy.  Period.

Finally, on the back end, the safeties and corners could best be classified as above average.  Some excellent players return: Jordan Simone at safety and Kweishi Brown and Lloyd Carrington return at corner.  The newcomer to the starting unit is safety James Johnson.  Johnson appears to fit right in, having already played quite a bit last season.  Chad Adams and DeAndre Scott are in the mix as well.  In a situation similar to that of Jaxon Hood, redshirt sophomore Marcus Ball is the question mark for this unit.  Recruited as a safety, he has played there and is also being put at Spur Linebacker.  If and when he settles into a position, he is a pure football player that will contribute.

Overall, Devils in Detail will grade the defense as a B Plus.  They look athletic and locked into what they are doing.  The competition at every position is fueling progress for everyone.  Which is the way it should be.  But in all honesty.  This defense doesn’t really look much different than the last couple seasons.  They will probably defend the pass and get after the quarterback quite well.  (Important in the pass-happy PAC-12)  But they look like they’ll struggle to stop a good running attack.

Coach Graham will probably never utter the words “bend, but don’t break”.  But that is most likely going to be the identity of this defensive unit.  They’ve got 4 months to change our minds.