ASU Football: Defensive line positional breakdown

TEMPE, AZ - OCTOBER 08: Quarterback Josh Rosen
TEMPE, AZ - OCTOBER 08: Quarterback Josh Rosen /

The positional breakdowns shift to the defensive side of the ball with defensive line the focus as it returns two productive players from last season.

ASU football’s defense was a hot talking point for many people following the team, especially when it came to the secondary, but the defensive line had a strong season last year.

Arizona State ranked fifth in sacks in the Pac-12 with 28 resulting in 183 yards lost for the opponent.

The defensive line had to do a lot of the heavy lifting last season trying to put pressure on the quarterback before the play fully developed.

Last season, Arizona State ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in rush defense, but faced the fewest opponent carries (399) while sporting the worst pass defense facing the most pass attempts in the conference (485).

Two players looking to spearhead the Sun Devils back into one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 is defensive linemen Tashon Smallwood and JoJo Wicker.

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Smallwood, who was recently named to the Wuerffel Award watch list which is given to the player that “best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic excellence,” finished last season second among ASU defensive linemen with 28 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks while also tying the team-lead with two quarterback hurries.

Smallwood is one of two seniors to return to the defensive line so he’ll be a key leader for that group and for the defensive unit as a whole.

Joining Smallwood on the defensive line is junior JoJo Wicker.

After being named to the Nagurski Watch List, Wicker finished last season first among ASU defensive linemen with 39 tackles, second on the team with 11 tackles for loss and tied for third with 2.5 sacks.

Smallwood and Wicker will be given huge roles for Arizona State this season as defensive coordinator Phil Bennett looks to put his stamp on the defense in his first year in Tempe.

Redshirt junior Renell Wren is the third-most productive defensive lineman returning after playing in every game last season tallying 16 tackles, six TFLs, three pass deflections and one forced fumble.

Behind those three linemen, there’s not a whole lot of experience behind them on the depth chart.

Redshirt sophomore George Lea played in 10 games last season recording 12 tackles, three TFLs and one fumble recovery.

Senior Christian Hill played in nine games recording just two tackles and one forced fumble.

Next: ASU Football: Offensive Line positional breakdown

Heading into the season, the front seven should be the strength of the defensive line and it will be the penetration of the defensive line that will the charge.