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ASU Football: 5 Players Poised for a Breakout Year on Defense

One of the nation's most disruptive units could take it to the next level if these five players elevate their games in 2013

CB Rashad Wadood
CB Rashad Wadood
(Photo: ASU)

S Ezekiel Bishop

Bishop's Sun Devil career got off to a terrible start when he tore his ACL in the season opener of his true freshman year in 2011. He fought back and played in nine games last season, and now healthy, is looking to help fill a hole in the secondary.

Despite being undersized at 5-foot-11, 194 pounds, Bishop brings a tough-nosed and hard-hitting presence to the safety position. With the departure of Keelan Johnson, Bishop has been seeing some reps with the starting defense at field safety.

He has major competition for the job with Laiu Moeakiola returning and talented junior college transfer Damarious Randall coming this summer, but Bishop could be a key knockout presence along the ASU backline.

DL Marcus Hardison

Sometimes, the rich get richer.

A defensive line anchored by a consensus All-American (Will Sutton) and a Freshman All-American (Jaxon Hood) is already loaded. Add in explosive pass rusher Junior Onyeali and the stout Davon Coleman, and you have an elite unit. But adding in the nation's No. 5 junior college player? This could get legendary.

Marcus Hardison will join the Sun Devils this summer from Dodge City Community College. The 6-foot-4, 275 pounder with good quickness and burst from his natural tackle position, but he also has the ability and skill set to slide outside to end, a trait that carries value with ASU's multiple fronts.

On National Signing Day, head coach Todd Graham was confident in Hardison contributing right away.

"Marcus is one of the top defensive ends in America. He's a guy that our fans are going to love in a hurry. The thing that attracted him was that we are one of the best in the country at getting after the quarterback. We think he'll have immediate impact here."

Should Hardison acclimate himself to the Pac-12 game quickly, ASU's defensive front could be outright dominant, deep and deadly.

LB Carlos Mendoza

Eight starters return to the Sun Devil defense, but the biggest hole is at the WILL linebacker spot formerly held by Brandon Magee. The competition to replace the Magee will be among the key battles to watch over the coming months, and Mendoza will be among the top contenders.

As a true freshman last year, Mendoza burst on to the scene with two interceptions against Illinois before suffering a shoulder injury that would ultimately end his season. He was able to redshirt on the year and comes into 2013 with four years of eligibility left.

Mendoza has been seeing some time with the starting defense this spring, although his recovering from offseason surgery has resulted in him wearing the green no-contact jersey. Like Magee, Mendoza is good in coverage, flies to the ball, and covers a lot of ground. The job is far from settled, but Mendoza's versatile skillset is a valuable piece of the Sun Devil defense.

S/SPUR Marcus Ball

Versatile defenders are essential for ASU's defensive scheme, and perhaps no member of the 2013 recruiting class has more of that than Marcus Ball.

Ball is a three-star prospect from Westerville-South High School in Ohio where he played quarterback, wide receiver and safety. He had 24 FBS offers, and took official visits to Michigan, Illinois and Michigan State, as well as ASU. He committed to Wisconsin in November, but the Badgers' subsequent coaching change threw his recruitment back into the swing, and ASU is ready to reap the benefits.

"This guy will play safety for us and we think Marcus is going to be a big-time impact player for us," said Graham on Signing Day. "He is a great fit and has great character."

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Ball will begin his career at safety, and his speed, frame, and physicality could make him a great fit at SPUR behind Chris Young (or in his spot in 2014).

CB Rashad Wadood

The graduation of three-year starter Deveron Carr leaves an opening at cornerback, a position that was ravaged by injuries a season ago, so much, in fact, that the team tried converting some wide receivers to provide depth. Returning starter Osahon Irabor is quietly one of the Pac-12's best, and Robert Nelson was very effective as the third corner a year ago. After that...?

That question can get a very promising answer if Wadood can stay healthy. The very talented redshirt sophomore missed all of last season due to injury, but has been one of the spring's top players this month. He's earned first-team reps opposite Irabor, and had a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown during last Saturday's scrimmage.

Wadood has great physical (5-foot-11, 186 pounds, 4.49 speed) and coverage skills, and could help ASU maintain or even build upon last saeson's No. 3 national ranking in passing defense.