Earlier this morning, we gave you a preview of five of the major things to watch for on offense during this Saturday's Arizona State spring game. Now we shift our attention to the defense.
1) 4-3 + 3-4 = Aggression
When Todd Graham took over, a lot of talk centered on the different defensive looks ASU would present. After five years of running a passive 4-3 under Craig Bray, this new attacking defense under defensive coordinator Paul Randolph is shaping up to be a unit with many faces.
For much of spring, the defense ran a base 4-3 scheme, with just a brief walk-through of 3-4 very early on. However, during this final week of practices the 3-4 has become the base. The primary personnel shifts have seen Corey Adams come in to play the nose tackle spot, with Will Sutton moving out to defensive end and Carl Bradford becoming a pass rusher as he moves from end to outside linebacker.
While the scheme and look may change (also expected are some 3-3-5 sets), the overriding mindset does not: attack the offense. It will be interesting to follow the progression of the 3-4 installation and the situational and personnel changes in scheme on Saturday.
2) Who will be Irabor's partner?
Cornerback Osahon Irabor has been one of the standout performers this spring. Coming off a wildly inconsistent 2011 season, Irabor has put his vast talents to much more efficient use and has emerged as the team's top man at the position.
Who will start opposite him was once a certainty, but now has the makings of an interesting battle.
Senior Deveron Carr is a two-year starter with 21 starts under his belt, but like Irabor, has seen his great talent undone by inconsistency. This spring, he's played well at times, but has seen a strong challenge come in the form of redshirt junior Robert Nelson.
Nelson joined the Sun Devils a season ago as a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe and sat out due to NCAA rules. At 5'10", 167 pounds, he's a smaller corner than Irabor or Carr, but has outstanding coverage skills. His play has been good enough this spring that he has seen reps with the first team defense, putting Carr on something of a hot seat. The spring game should provide each with plenty of chances to make their mark.
3) Killer Koniseti
Linebacker Brandon Magee is the heart and soul of the defense, and even though he has been limited throughout the spring as he recovers from last season's Achilles injury, his mere presence has made a major impact.
So too has his replacement at middle linebacker.
Kipeli Koniseti took a long road to ASU, and he saw minor action last season as a backup, making six tackles. With Magee easing his way back into gameshape, Koniseti has been given a chance to impress the new coaching staff, and he has done just that, putting together perhaps the best spring of any Sun Devil defender. Using his NFL-caliber size (6'3", 243 pounds), Koniseti has been a beast, stuffing the run with regularity and being a consistent pass rushing threat.
Magee's return to form and the arrival of juco recruit Steffon Martin will crowd the linebacker depth chart in August. Koniseti suffered a minor injury during Thursday's practice, but he should be able to participate on Saturday. Regardless of that, he has put himself firmly into the conversation for significant playing time this fall.
4) Lethal versatility
Any team that runs a lot of defensive looks will need players who are specialists or have positional versatility. With this being the first year of the new defense, ASU is fortunate to have a few players who can be used in a variety of ways.
As mentioned earlier, when the team goes to a 3-4, Sutton moves to end, shifting Bradford to an outside rush linebacker, or "Devil 'backer", position. This is a great boost to the defense, as Sutton and Bradford are two of the team's most potent playmakers. Not having to take them off the field keeps the pressure on the offense.
Watching how creative Randolph gets with those two players and others should provide a lot of intrigue during the spring game and throughout the season.
5) Block that kick
The aggresive nature of the defense is carrying over to special teams thus far in the spring.
One of the unique things about Graham's staff is the secondary title of outside linebackers coach Joe Lorig--defensive special teams coordinator. That focus on bringing the heat has manifested itself in a bevy of blocked kicks during the spring, so many in fact that several changes in the blocking units have been made.
With this team likely to face a lot of close ballgames this season, special teams will prove to be the decisive factor frequently. If the team can continue it's aggression on the defensive special teams unit with key blocks, it could make a significant difference.
Follow me on Twitter @BDenny29 for the latest on ASU football