ASU Football: How the Starting Defense is Taking Shape

Steffon Martin has his fingerprints all over the starting Sam linebacker spot. - USA TODAY Sports

With an injury in the secondary and a third linebacker spot to fill, time is ticking for Todd Graham to choose his starting eleven.

With Chris Young and Steffon Martin returning as starters, the Sun Devil football team has plenty of proven talent at linebacker.

Martin is locked in as the starting Sam* backer, and Young's versatility has allowed Todd Graham to experiment with different pieces to an intricate puzzle. On Tuesday, Graham shifted Chris Young from his normal spot as the Will* backer out to the Spur* linebacker position.

The move gives Graham and defensive coordinator Paul Randolph options, because their goal is to put their three most talented linebackers on the field at once. The problem? Deciding on the third best linebacker.

"We're moving Chris (Young) around, trying to find out who are the best three," Graham said. "We've got a whole bunch of guys, we think, Carlos Mendoza, Anthony Jones, Salamo (Fiso), Grandville Taylor, those four guys are all vying to be the third linebacker."

After Young switched over to the Spur spot, Salamo Fiso took the majority of the first team reps at the Will linebacker position. Though it's only been two days, Graham has liked what he's seen from the redshirt freshman.

"Salamo's done a good job, he's obviously gotten stronger and faster, he's done some good things of late," Graham said.

But does Graham feel comfortable starting Fiso this early in his career? If the season began today, probably not. Instead, Graham would likely opt in favor of Grandville Taylor, who enjoyed a coming out party in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl when Brandon Magee was injured.

"He's (Grandville) a tough athlete, epitomizes what our program's about," Graham said. "We've got a lot of confidence in him. He's a guy that if we started today, he would probably be the third guy."

Taylor is a redshirt senior who has spent most of his career on special teams, and he didn't even have a scholarship until Graham arrived on campus. But with the way things are shaping up, he could see a significant amount of playing time this season and even crack the starting eleven.

The Defensive Backfield

With the emergence of true freshman Marcus Ball this fall, the Sun Devils thought they finally found their answer at the starting field safety spot. Unfortunately, Ball injured his shoulder and Robert Nelson moved from the starting cornerback spot to the now-vacant safety position.

Prior to the move, Nelson led the charge to earn the starting field corner spot, but Ball's injury has thrown a wrench in those plans. Now, Pittsburgh transfer Lloyd Carrington is taking ownership of the position Deveron Carr held last season.

"Lloyd’s done a great job, he’s a guy that’s really familiar with how we do things," Graham said. "A character guy, smart guy, studies, great technique, he’s a solid corner for us and we’ve got a lot of confidence in him."

But Carrington isn't the only player who has shown promise this fall. The starting job is still open, and a few different players might have designs on the role.

"Marlon Pollard and Wadood had really good camps, obviously Robert (Nelson) I think would be really competing for that starting job. Robert’s had an outstanding camp. I’m really proud of how he’s developed," Graham said.

Carrington will likely hold onto the field corner spot opposite Osahon Irabor early on in the season, but when Marcus Ball comes back, Graham has indicated that he will not redshirt the freshman safety, so the competition for playing time could last well into the season.

Impact Freshmen

With the season drawing closer, the Sun Devils will have to make a decision about which freshmen will redshirt. If Graham had his druthers, Chans Cox and Marcus Ball will be the only two frosh defenders who will need to play right away.

"Obviously, the newcomers are going to be in the depth for sure, and Chans Cox will be in the depth and have a chance to help us compete," Graham said.

However, Graham didn't completely shut down the notion of Cox redshirting, because the adjustment to the college game has definitely been a challenge.

"It's a different environment for him, but I do think he's getting better every day," Graham said. "I don't think he'll redshirt, but we'll see."

Offensively, the wide receiver corps needed plenty of help after last season, and that's where the newcomers will have their best chance to make an impact.

"I think offense is where you'll see most of the freshmen playing," Graham said. "(Ellis) Jefferson will play, I think Cameron Smith will play, Ronald Lewis I think will play."

Aside from the freshmen, JUCO transfer Jaelen Strong has taken more first team reps than any other receiver this week, so expect him to be in the starting lineup come September 5th.


Sam linebacker: The strong-side linebacker

Will linebacker: The weak-side linebacker

Spur linebacker: Hybrid between a linebacker and a safety who is often asked to cover receivers

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