Friday, August 17, 2007

2007 ASU Preview: Linebackers

Coming out of training camp, it looks like the most dominant force on defense for Arizona State in 2007 will be their linebackers.

2006 was a year of transition for ASU at this position with the departure of dominant LB Dale Robinson and the infusion of several talented but unproven players. Throughout the season though, the corps began to come together, but there was no point during last season in which three Sun Devils stepped forward and grabbed the starting jobs with any certainty.

A group of promising returning players, a large amount of youth and an intimidating junior college transfer all add up to what could end up being one of the most feared linebacker units in the Pacific-10.

Strong Side LB
Sophomore Travis Goethel emerged during Camp Tontozona as the clear starter at SAM. The California native was one of the top players landed in Dirk Koetter’s last recruiting class and showed an immediate impact. Goethel appeared in all 13 games in 2006, mostly on the weak side, recorded 29 tackles and a sack and earned a Freshman All-American honorable mention from the Sporting News. He found himself running most reps with the 1st-string during the spring and was moved from the weak side to the strong side during that time. Goethel is quite possibly the quickest of the linebackers and follows the ball carrier with exceptional field vision, especially after just one year in college football.

Middle LB
In a recruiting class in which Dennis Erickson landed a handful of outstanding junior college transfers, there might not have been more excitement about one of them than the hype surrounding Morris Wooten. Wooten, unlike the other JuCo transfers, was able to participate in Spring Football after starring for NJCAA powerhouse Glendale Community College. At GCC, he recorded 104 tackles and four sacks, earning the NJCAA Region-1 Defensive Player of the Year award and being honored as one of the five nominees for national Defensive POY. Wooten is big, strong and fast, reminding many of the aforementioned Robinson. He follows the ball well and is quick to drop into coverage, giving ASU the force they need in the middle of the field.

Weak Side LB
With Travis Goethel moving to the strong side, Dennis Erickson has found senior Robert James as the perfect complement to him on the other side of Wooten. James missed much of the final games of 2006 with the lingering effects of a concussion and most of Spring Practice due to illness, but is back at full strength for this season and has become Coach Erickson’s go-to guy on the weak side. Through Camp T though, James has emerged as the senior leader of the linebacker corps and has logged time at several positions through his time at Arizona State. He has good hands and field vision, and though his tackling skills are not as strong as those of the other two starters, he makes up for it with his other skill sets.

The other two sophomores other than Goethel who got significant playing time in 2006 as true freshmen are Gerald Munns and Mike Nixon. Munns looks to be the top backup to Morris Wooten at MLB after playing in all 13 games last year. Munns is the tallest of the linebackers on the roster at 6’4” but despite his large frame, he can move around the field well.

Nixon, who spent 2002-05 as a prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system, got time as a 25-year-old freshman last year and four games on the strong side. Nixon seemed lost on the field and missed several tackles early on in the season, but as he was given more time to work out the kinks in game action, the more confident he looked. Part of that struggle can be attributed to his move from defensive back to linebacker, but now that he’s had an entire camp to play one position, more is expected out of him, especially because he can play either on the strong or weak side.

Some quick notes about other linebackers who are lower on the depth chart include…
-Ryan McFoy made the shift to linebacker after spending last season as a starting safety, but his progress on the strong side has been slowed due to a nagging ankle injury.
-Jamarr Robinson, who redshirted last season and suffered a severe knee injury in the Spring Game, is still a promising prospect for Arizona State in the future, but he will still miss a significant amount of 2007.
-Another junior college transfer, Derrall Anderson, has had a decent camp and has showed good range and athleticism. He will most likely redshirt this season.
-Possibly the player who made the most progress during the spring was the standout of last years scout team, sophomore Chad Lindsey. If he continues to progress after a redshirt season, he could challenge for playing time this season. His strongest competition to be Travis Goethel’s main backup is 2006 JuCo transfer Garrett Judah, who is a dominant tackler.
-Along with Nixon, look for redshirt freshman Jeff Bereuter to compete for a backup job on the weak side. Bereuter has been said to be one of the better all-around athletes in the corps.

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