Among the most exciting changes being made to the Arizona State football ball under the Todd Graham regime is the shift in defensive mentality. After years of a passive 4-3 defense, the 2012 Sun Devils will be ramping up the aggression and taking the attack to the offense.
The tip of this spear will be the new "Devilbacker" position. A staple of Graham's defenses elsewhere for example, (last year, Pittsburgh used a "Pantherbacker"), this dynamic position blends elements of defensive end and an outside rush linebacker to form a potent defensive weapon.
The full potential of the Devilbacker is still being realized, and as the team prepares to open fall camp, we decided to go to the best source for breaking down the details of the position: none other than ASU's starting Devilbacker Carl Bradford.
After redshirting in 2010, Bradford saw time last season at both linebacker and defensive end, seeing action in all 13 games and starting in the Maaco Bowl against Boise State. Although he didn't see much time, he made his reps count, with 3.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack among his 12 tackles.
At 6'0", 240 pounds, Bradford has a great frame to complement his explosiveness. That made him the obvious choice on the roster for this new position, and he was immediately excited for the opportunity.
"I was very excited. I started getting tingles all throughout my fingers. It really allows me to show my athleticism. I was ready to play it then and there when they first told me."
Let's now explore the ins, outs and everything in between of the Devilbacker.
Where is the Devilbacker?
"From the defensive end aspect, we can either be in a 3-point stance, or in some defenses we're standing up on the edge. From a linebacker spot, I can be in any of the three positions. Right now, they like me playing in the middle, because I can go from anywhere."
The Devilbacker as a Pass Rusher
"Lining up in the middle and be able to blitz from everywhere, that's what I like the most. I love blitzing. I just love going to get the ball. Putting me in the middle, a guy like me can wreak havoc being able to blitz from anywhere, and not letting the offense know where I'm coming from."
The Devilbacker Against the Run
"He'll be everywhere. He'll chase you down from the side, back, whatever he has to do. It's not just the Devilbacker, it's the whole scheme defense. It's a 'go get it' defense. We don't allow anything to be run on us. Stop the run first then play the pass. This new defense will really show that we can be the number one defense in the nation and best against the run."
The Devilbacker in Coverage
"There are plays that we go hook to curl, we do go to the flats. But I think that the Devilbacker is more a position to go get it, to go get the quarterback."
What Makes a Good Devilbacker
"You definitely gotta be strong, you gotta be fast. You need to be versatile to be able to do it. Mentally, it's a lot of stuff to remember, you need to hit the film room and study to know the position."
The Primary Challenges
"Playing defensive end more, we need to get better in the pass drops. I know we're great blitzers, but we need to work on the pass drops and learning to read receivers better is going to be a pretty big challenge."
The Recent History and the Need
Arizona State will be counting on Bradford and his likely backup Junior Onyeali to bring that disruptive presence to the defense.
Over the last five seasons, the Sun Devils have not ranked higher than 49th in the nation in sacks, with an average finish of 57th among the 120 FBS teams. That screams mediocrity. Dexter Davis' two seasons (2007 and 2008) of over 10 sacks were the only time over the last 11 seasons a Sun Devil has posted a double-digit sack season. In a pass-obsessed conference like the Pac-12, that will need to change. Quickly.
Their disruptive plays against the run have not fared much better. The 76 total tackles-for-loss in 2011 mark the lowest over the last four seasons, and not coincidentally, the Sun Devils allowed 149 yards-per-game on the ground, an increase of over 23 yards-per-game over the next highest total over that span.
2012 will be a year of transition, with lots of exciting and encouraging moments mixed in with some growing pains. While the Devilbackers should provide both, the big play potential and youth of Bradford, Onyeali, Brock Haman and others should led to plenty of black-and-blue quarterbacks in the coming years.