The starting two cornerbacks on Arizona State, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson, formed an elite tandem. The Sun Devils rely heavily on their cornerbacks because of their consistent blitzes. Irabor and Nelson were largely responsible for the success of the attacking, pressure-oriented scheme.
2013 Expectations: Prior to the opening kickoff, the cornerback position appeared solid but had some minor flaws. Irabor was established as a solid cover corner. Besides Irabor, Nelson showed flashes of promise but lacked enough experience for outsiders to properly gauge his talents. Rounding out the main group was Lloyd Carrington, a 6-foot, 180-pound Texas high school product. The greatest concern seemed to be limited depth.
The coaches believed Irabor could go from a reliable player to a game-changing player. Irabor displays a slightly above-average frame for his position, listed at 5-feet-11 and 181 pounds. Because of the larger stature, Irabor's next step would be in press coverage situations. Irabor jammed targets off their paths on occasion in 2012, but in 2013, Arizona State hoped he could showcase the positive trait more often.
If the plan went accordingly with Irabor, then the job at hand for Nelson and Carrington would become even easier.
After the Territorial Cup last season, the hype on Nelson started to hit the airwaves. Nelson logged his best game of the 2012 campaign against the University of Arizona and capitalized on the opportunity with three pass deflections, four tackles and capped it off with a clutch late-game interception. One stellar game wasn't enough for Nelson to carry supreme expectations. Regardless of his ability to track wide receivers, Nelson caught the eye of the staff with his uncanny athleticism. Ideally, the Sun Devils wanted Nelson to turn his rare athleticism into production.
The bar on Carrington wasn't set too high, although Todd Graham and Co. felt more than comfortable inserting him in certain spots. Carrington and Graham were previously partnered at the University of Pittsburgh. Once Graham decided to come to Arizona State, Carrington followed suit. Outside of Irabor, Nelson and Carrington, the options seemed bleak.
2013 Production: Arizona State had a plethora of strengths and cornerback play ranks near the top of the list.
Nelson earned First-Team All Pac-12 honors while Irabor garnered Second Team recognition. Most believe Irabor deserved to join Nelson on the premier squad, yet the committee felt otherwise. The duo got the job done in different ways - as Nelson shinned via acrobatic, leaping interceptions and Irabor made the other side nearly reminiscent of Darrelle Revis Island.
Let's remember - lining up at cornerback for the Sun Devils is a large task. Underneath routes are often available because the linebackers bring heat, meaning Irabor and Nelson are asked to stymie short and long passes. The challenge would overwhelm most -- Irabor and Nelson embraced it. Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and Co. knocked around opposing quarterbacks, which allowed Nelson to jump routes and snag interceptions.
When Arizona State needed the defense to cause a turnover - Nelson commonly turned the hope into reality. Nelson hauled in six interceptions, tied for No. 7 in the country and tied for the most in the Pac-12. In the early season, Nelson got burned too often and the mistakes were among the main reasons for the loss against Notre Dame. From then on Nelson made the struggles ancient history. The stride-for-stride coverage by Irabor also allowed Nelson chances to pick passes off.
Irabor wasn't as flashy but he was as effective as Nelson, or even more so. Elite receivers Marqise Lee and Brandin Cooks are two of the toughest assignments in college football and Irabor and Nelson each went blow-for-blow with both and didn't get too much safety help. The final two games hurt Irabor's case for the NFL. Irabor reportedly logged a 4.37 40-yard dash coming out of his school, yet his problems with speedy targets were his biggest flaw. Still, spending time on Irabor's negatives is nit picking because he had an amazing season.
The Sun Devils are going to severely miss Irabor and Nelson next season, as both graduate and hope to make it at the next level.
Who is Returning in 2014?
Lloyd Carrington: Arizona State's third cornerback option in 2013
Ezekiel Bishop: Played sparingly in 2013
Solomon Means: Part of the 2013 recruiting class.
Rashad Wadood: Lost the battle for Nelson's starting spot.
Who is leaving?
Osahon Irabor: 54 tackles and two interceptions
Robert Nelson: 57 tackles and six interceptions
Marlon Pollard: No statistics registered