Saturday, August 25, 2007

2007 ASU Preview: Secondary and Special Teams

Now that ASU has named a starting kicker…we can go on with the final preview!

If being the top ranked free safety in EA Sports NCAA Football 2008 is wrong, then Josh Barrett doesn’t want to be right. He’s the anchor or a talented and experienced group of defensive backs for Arizona State in 2007.

A group of veteran corners and safeties will be expected to keep big plays to a minimum, a tall order when going up against the likes of Patrick Turner, DeSean Jackson and several other extremely talented wide receivers in the Pac-10.

The biggest contributors in this group are all either graduate students or seniors, giving them three to four years each working through the ASU system and getting ready for their chance to step into the spotlight as starters. However, the marquee player of this group might end up being the kid who held the Pac-10 hostage on signing day as we awaited his commitment.

Returning to anchor the corner spots are seniors Justin Tryon and Chris Baloney and graduate Littrele Jones.

Tryon transferred to ASU last season and made an immediate impact, finishing second on the team in tackles and leading the squad in pass deflections. His biggest asset is consistency; Tryon brings the same high energy and athleticism on every play and is probably the Sun Devils’ best man-on-man corner. He’ll draw the most talented receiver from ASU’s opponent every week because of how stingy he is on and off the ball. In a pinch, look for Tryon to be used on special teams as well.

Baloney is a hard luck story from 2006, having a standout first half of the season but missing the 2nd half due to injury. He made an instant impact right out of the chute, returning an interception against Northern Arizona in the season opener for what ended up being the game’s decisive score. Baloney’s 6’1” frame makes him the tallest and rangiest returning cornerback. He possesses good field vision but lacks the speed and hands it takes to be a dominant corner.

Jones, a graduate student from Southern California, has spent most of his ASU career on special teams, but he will battle for more time as a reserve corner this year. His disruptiveness on the defensive side of the ball and on special teams could become a vital asset in long yardage situations.

Before moving on to the newcomers, we at Pitchfork Nation would be remiss if we did not mention senior Chad Green, who was critically wounded in a car accident in Tempe at the end of the Spring Semester. Chad is recovering near his home in Van Nuys, CA. If you’d like to send a note or words of encouragement to Chad, the ASU Athletic Department requests you send it to:

Chad Green c/o the Sun Devil Football Office
Arizona State University – The Carson Center
P.O. Box 872505
Tempe, AZ 85287-2505

The biggest coup for Arizona State during recruiting occurred when prep standout Omar Bolden, on television in California, tossed away hats from Washington, Oregon State and even USC in favor of donning a maroon Sun Devils cap. Not only did he lead his league in rushing yards (2,003), he also recorded 80 tackles, two blocked punts and an interception. A dynamic, skilled and extremely fast athlete, Bolden has impressed everyone in camp so far and figures to be a major piece of the Sun Devils secondary this season.

Phoenix College transfer Jarrell Holman also could see playing time as a bruising corner with good hands. With his greatest asset being his tackling ability, Holman looks to more than capably fill the shoes of departed corner Keno Walter-White.

There’s really not much more to be said about Josh Barrett at the free safety position. You’ve read the reviews, you’ve seen him play, you’ve heard about his honors and, yes, you might be a member of his Facebook fan club.

The nation is about to take notice of this skilled, talented and explosive safety. Barrett led ASU with 82 tackles in 2006 along with three picks. Even more impressive might be his 7.5 tackles for loss last season coming from the deep secondary. You wont see many opposing quarterbacks throw toward Josh Barrett if they can help it this season, because he is a quick tackler, a monster in zone coverage and catches whatever comes near him.

With junior college transfer Troy Nolan missing time due to injury, junior Jeremy Payton will get the majority of the reps with the 1st team at strong safety. Payton bounced in and out of the lineup in 2006, but his versatility earned him more playing time (Payton has played every defensive back position and even spent time at wide receiver early in his career). Nolan burst onto the scene during the Spring and grabbed the top spot on the depth chart as a result of his tackling ability and quickness. When he returns from injury, look for Payton slip back to the corner.

The depth at safety is slim though, as Rodney Cox, Angelo Fobbs-Valentino and Brett Nenaber will see most of their action on special teams.

Special Teams
Four year starting kicker Jesse Ainsworth is gone, as is dynamic return man Terry Richardson. However, there’s still plenty of talent in the kicking and return game.

Surprisingly, the most intriguing position battle in 2007 has been for…kicker! Thomas Weber entered the spring as the replacement for Ainsworth, but he was given a run for his money by walk-on Zach Richards throughout Camp Tontozona. Possibly the most fun thing to watch this preseason has been when coach Dennis Erickson has had the entire team gather around Weber and Richards as they try to hit narrowly placed, long and high pressure kicks. Yesterday, Weber was named the starter. Weber possesses a strong leg but needs to work on his accuracy; ironically, those were the same problems that ailed Ainsworth early in his career, but he ended up being one of ASU’s most reliable kickers in history.

Jonathan Johnson struggled mightily in 2005, having several of his punts blocked, including the decisive miscue against LSU when his rugby-style 4th quarter punt was blocked and returned for a score. Johnson is regarded as one of the top returning punters in the Pac-10 who has improved his kick length and placement.

Kickoff and Punt Returns
Justin Tryon figures to return a majority of kickoffs for ASU; he’s the team’s returning leader in this department. However, the rest of this unit is a complete toss-up. The favorites are Rudy Burgess and Kyle Williams, but don’t be surprised to see Chris McGaha, Brandon Smith and even Rodney Glass receiving kicks.

Other Positions
Jason Perkins will take care of long snapping, replacing Jason Burke. Jonathan Johnson will serve as the holder, with quarterback Rudy Carpenter also available to hold that duty as well.

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