Thursday, August 16, 2007

2007 ASU Preview: Defensive Line

One of the biggest criticisms about Arizona State in 2005 was the lack of consistent pressure the defensive line was putting on opposing quarterbacks. In 2006, however, the D-Line more than tripled its amount of sacks and showed great resilience. While the unit stayed mostly healthy throughout the season, however, the members of the corps were raw and inexperienced. This season, several key members of the line return and hope to create havoc in other teams’ backfields. This unit is led by assistant coach Grady Stretz, one of the only coaches to remain with the program after Dirk Koetter was fired.

Defensive End

The anchors at end for the Sun Devils include sophomore Dexter Davis, who led the teams in sacks last season as a true freshman, and junior college transfer Luis Vasquez. However, Vasquez’ availability as the season begins is in question as he suffered an injury at Camp Tontozona and may miss as many as the first two games of 2007.

Davis burst onto the scene last season, leading the team in both TFL and sacks as a true freshman. His 6 sacks ranked behind only Terrell Suggs’ 10 as the most in a first season at ASU. He was first among defensive linemen in tackles as well and earned accolades from the Pac-10 and The Sporting News. Due to injuries throughout this preseason, Davis will move, at least temporarily, from right to left end.

Much is expected from Vasquez, who earned back-to-back NJCAA 1st-team All-American honors at Arizona Western in 2005 and 2006 and the NJCAA Region 1 Defensive Player of the Year award last season. He led the nation over the last two seasons with 31 sacks, 16 of them coming in his highly touted last year at AWC. Head coach Dennis Erickson coaxed him to Tempe with the idea of him immediately coming in and starting opposite Dexter Davis and he has seemingly earned the job. However, he sprained his ankle earlier this week and may miss up to
two weeks of the regular season.

The likely favorite to replace Vasquez is athletic senior Kellen Mills, who was listed ahead of Vasquez on the depth chart after Spring Practice. Mills has shown phenomenal athleticism on the field and in the weight room and is injury resistant, as evidenced by him missing only one game in his career. However, Mills was also hobbled by an ankle injury during Camp T but returned by the end of the Devils time up north. Beyond Mills, ASU can expect their backups at DE to include freshman James Brooks, who going into Camp T was expected to redshirt but will likely get playing time with Vasquez out.

Other backups at end will include Wes Evans, who added 14 pounds of muscle this past off-season, and junior Eric Tanner, a junior college transfer who went to Skyline High School in Mesa. Transplanted from tackle is Florida transfer Tranell Morant, but he will miss significant time this season after arthroscopic knee surgery.

Defensive Tackle
Michael Marquardt, the senior who transferred from BYU in 2005, excelled last season, starting 12 games and earned an honorable mention from the Pac-10 in their postseason all-star teams. He recorded 3.5 sacks last year and is expected to be the Devils strongest run stopper this year. Marquardt has shown better footwork this off-season and looks to have significantly improved his upper body strength, letting him get more leverage on opposing blockers.

The other starting position, vacated by Jordan Hill, looks to belong to Chandler native David Smith. In reserve duty last year, Smith picked up 14 tackles and a sack. Smith spent the majority of his summer in the weight room, gaining several pounds of muscle and earning time on the first string alongside Marquardt throughout the Spring and Fall camps.

Marquardt’s main backup figured to be Saia Falahola, but a torn triceps will keep him out for the majority of 2007. Now, the backup job seemingly will go to junior Alex Asi (neĆ© Alex Fa’agai), a versatile lineman who can play both end and tackle. Two others returnees, Zach Niusulu and Tashaka Merriweather, will struggle to find meaningful playing time.

Erickson landed one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the country during recruiting when 6’0, 330-pound Jonathan "Tank" English committed to ASU. English benched 455 pounds during high school and looks to be an imposing force for the Sun Devils at tackle in the future. His greatest asset, however, is his ability to break through offensive linemen and grab running backs behind the line, evidenced by his foot speed and sheer strength. English, who was temporarily displaced during high school due to Hurricane Katrina, is featured in the recently released book Hurricane Season.

O-Line Preview

Backfield Preview

Quarterback/Receiving Corps Preview

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