Davon Coleman pressures USC quarterback Matt Barkley (Photo: ASU)
Earlier in the week, we took a look at five Sun Devil players on the offensive side of the ball that are flying under-the-radar as the 2012 season approaches. Each of them has a chance to emerge from those shadows and become a solid contributor this season.
Now we turn our attention to a defense that will be adjusting to life with a very different mindset and a variety of schemes to employ.
Here are five defenders who are not being talked about too much right now, but have a chance to make an impact.
Davon Coleman - Defensive End
Far and away the most experienced player on this list, Coleman saw action in all 13 games and made three starts after Junior Onyeali suffered a knee injury. Last season, the junior college transfer made 42 tackles (five for loss) and made 2.5 sacks.
After a strong spring, Coleman was listed as a starter at one defensive end spot, yet most of the hype for the defensive line surrounds Will Sutton and Carl Bradford's attacking ability, Mike Pennel's addition and the health of Corey Adams.
This puts Coleman in a good position to become a surprising contributor. He's added strength to his 6'3", 262 pound frame and has the skills and speed to be a disruptive threat. Coleman does need to work on his technique to be a more consistent pass rushing threat, but if he can continuously engage blockers, it should help open things up for the talented players around him.
Salamo Fiso - Linebacker
ASU is bringing in a trio of talented freshman linebackers in the 2012 class, Salamo Fiso and Matt Rowe from Long Beach Poly and Carlos Mendoza from Oaks Christian, both in California. While each have potential to be impact players during their careers, Fiso has the makings of doing so sooner rather than later.
Last season at Long Beach Poly, Fiso was a dynamic force all over the field. He made 127 tackles, collected four sacks and one interception. He was subsequently listed by Scout.com as the 33rd best outside linebacker prospect in the nation.
At 6'1", 220 pounds, he has room to develop and bulk up, but his aggressive nature and nose for the ball is tailor made for the new defensive schemes. With a strong fall camp, he could contribute right away as a situational blitzer, and his ability in coverage and excellent range may see him time beyond that.
Kipeli Koniseti - Linebacker
With the top four linebackers from 2011 all having departed and Brandon Magee missing most of spring practice rehabbing his Achilles injury, the door was opened for junior Kipeli Koniseti to step up, and he did just that. So much so, we featured him in our Breakout Candidate series in April.
Koniseti's road to ASU was a lengthy one, but if his spring production was any indication, it may have been worth the wait. He saw action in nine games last season and made six tackles, bu with the chance to see significant time this spring, he thrived. He was a crushing force both against the run and as a pass rusher, traits that translate well to the new defense.
One advantage Koniseti has over other linebackers is his NFL-caliber size. Standing at 6'3", 243 pounds with 4.6 speed, Koniseti is a terrific athlete who played linebacker and quarterback at the junior college level. With Magee and Steffon Martin the closest things to a lock as there are at linebacker, the door will be open for Koniseti to be a contributor from Day 1.
Robert Nelson - Cornerback
Nelson should be one of ASU's top recruiting testimonials. As a freshman with Louisiana-Monroe, Nelson and the Warhawks came to Tempe to play the Sun Devils. But the ASU experience made such a positive impression on him that he transferred to Tempe after his sophomore year. After sitting out last season due to NCAA rules, he is primed to begin his Sun Devil career.
As opposed to ASU's starting cornerback duo of Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr, Nelson is a smaller type of corner, who relies on his technique and skills to compensate for his small stature at 5'10" and 167 pounds. He has proven to be capable of blanketing receivers, but he will be put to the test now against Pac-12 caliber competition week in and week out.
However, so far, so good. Nelson played very well during spring practice and took first-team reps while Carr battled nagging injuries. He played so well that, while he's got a firm grip on the nickel corner job, he could now push Carr for a starting role.
Grandville Taylor - Linebacker
Like Koniseti, Taylor took advantage of the situation at linebacker to turn more than a few heads during spring practice. In nearly every scrimmage, Taylor's name was at or near the top of the tackle sheet, and the junior is now primed to see some meaningful action in 2012 after seeing limited time on special teams over his first two seasons.
As a walk-on player, Taylor has demonstrated a terrific work ethic that has allowed pushed him to this spot. His physical skills are impressive as well, as his speed, coverage ability, and technique help to offset his less than ideal size at 6'0", 223 pounds.
His tenacious attitude and performance during spring will get him looks at both the weakside and middle linebacker positions. Taylor's ability to play "downhill" as well as be rangy enough to track ballcarriers sideline-to-sideline should result in important snaps in his future. After all, it's only fitting that a linebacker wearing No. 56 is an important playmaker for a defense.
Previous season preview entries in our 5-Pack series are here