The Sun Devils' showdown with Sacramento State is fast approaching and Arizona State hopes to once again rely on its hard-nosed defense to be the hallmark of this team.
Right now, Todd Graham has eleven defensive positions to fill with starters but after releasing the 2013 fall depth chart, anywhere from 13 to 15 players have a realistic shot at cracking the first string.
On Wednesday, we broke down the offensive side of the depth chart. So with seven days left to go until game day, it's time to take a look at the defensive side of the football.
Nose Tackle: Freshman All-American Jaxon Hood returns as the starting nose tackle this fall and is expected to be even better in his second season. Hood was a star of the Sun Devils' Camp Tontozona scrimmage and his sack and tackle for loss totals should increase this year. Behind Hood stands JUCO transfer Marcus Hardison whose transition to Division 1 football has been tougher than expected. Graham knows Hardison has the talent to play at the highest level, but he believes Hardison will need a little more time to adjust before realizing his potential.
Tiger: It's not so much that the coaching staff needs a cool name for the position Will Sutton plays, its that Will Sutton is a trendsetter so his position should have a cool name. In the football world, Sutton plays the 3-technique and will frequently align as the weak side defensive tackle. But to think that Randolph and Graham would keep Sutton to one spot is ludicrous, and they know he's too much of an x-factor to limit.
Gannon Conway is projected as Sutton's backup with Marcus Hardison holding down the third spot on the depth charts. Seeing Hardison this low is disappointing because the 3-technique is his natural position, but once he gets acclimated, expect him to overtake Conway and become a regular part of the rotation.
End: Technically, the Sun Devils only use one defensive end, but the Devilbacker position is loosely considered a defensive end as well. After a long spring and productive fall, Gannon Conway outlasted his competition and will start the season as the first string defensive end. Conway is a redshirt senior, an unlikely starter, and a fierce competitor who has already made Graham proud by sticking it out as the first string guy this far.
Davon Coleman will see plenty of reps as the defensive end too, and Coleman's spin move might be the best individual weapon any defensive lineman has on the team. Sean O'Grady comes in at the No. 3 spot on the depths, but expect Junior Onyeali to see time ahead of O'Grady as a third and long pass rush specialist.
Devil Backer: A hybrid between a defensive end and a linebacker, the devil backer is responsible for stopping the run and getting to the quarterback from the weak side of the field. What does all of that mean? It means Carl Bradford and Will Sutton will often align next to one another and send chills up the vertebrae of opposing linemen.
Bradford is the ideal man for this position, but Graham and the staff have been dually impressed by freshman Chans Cox. Giving Cox playing time this season could also help the team on the recruiting trail locally as the Sun Devils hope to make an impression that the best players from Arizona can be a factor right away at the college level.
Will Backer: The Will is the weak side inside linebacker and it's a position that could be held by a handful of different players throughout the season. Against run heavy opponents like Wisconsin and Stanford, the Sun Devils will opt to add some bulk at linebacker and would likely start Salamo Fiso or Grandville Taylor which would allow Chris Young to play Spur backer. When pass happy teams come to town, Young will move into the box on a consistent basis to play Will backer.
Though Young and Fiso are listed as co-starters at Will backer, the competition is far from over. Carlos Mendoza and Viliami Latu are both players that might find themselves at this position before the season ends.
Sam Backer: In a rather surprising move, the Sun Devils' listed Steffon Martin and Salamo Fiso as co-starters at the Sam backer position. Throughout fall camp, Martin was the presumed No. 1, but Fiso's play has struck a chord with the coaches of late and it appears he'll be rewarded with significant playing time in the Sacramento State game.
Martin only has one season under his belt at Arizona State after transferring from the JUCO level and Fiso is just a redshirt freshman. Behind Fiso, Viliami Latu looms and Graham has praised "Ami" as the more game-ready of the freshmen Latu twins.
Spur Linebacker: Like the Will backer spot, the competition at Spur will be fluid throughout the season. Chris Young will always have a spot in the starting lineup and he'll probably spend the first half of the season at Spur backer. When Young shifts over to Sam, things will get interesting.
Anthony Jones is the likely candidate to fill Young's void, but both Antonio Longino and Carlos Mendoza will be clawing for a spot in the starting lineup as well. Longino recently moved back to the Spur linebacker spot and made a nice impression on Graham.
Boundary Corner: Osahon Irabor returns as the starting boundary corner and is widely considered the Sun Devils' best coverage man. Irabor was the only corner basically assured of a starting spot as five different players had a legitimate chance at earning the No. 1 job opposite the redshirt senior.
Rashad Wadood is one of the Sun Devils who competed for the field corner spot but instead he'll find himself behind Irabor on the side of the field closest to the boundary.
Field Corner: Robert Nelson worked hard enough to earn the starting field corner spot, but did he work too hard? Nelson was so competent in his role that when Marcus Ball went down with a shoulder injury, the coaching staff moved Nelson to safety. Nelson's transition didn't go as well as expected, and Lloyd Carrington has proven himself to be an asset at field corner in Nelson's absence from the spot.
Right now, Nelson and Carrington are considered co-starters, but rest assured that both will see plenty of action this season. It wouldn't surprise anyone to see the pair split the duties this season because the coaching staff is so high on both of them, but Nelson may be called upon to play safety until Ball returns from injury.
Boundary Safety: Alden Darby returns as the boundary safety and his starting job is as secure as Will Sutton's. Darby was great last season, but he has the chance to take his game to the next level with a strong showing this year. A talented athlete and an even better leader, Darby is as much of an asset to this defense as anyone.
Field Safety: Three weeks ago, freshman Marcus Ball all but won the starting field safety job and saved the Sun Devils any trouble they may have had in filling out the depth chart at this spot. But Ball is hurt and the coaching staff is still scrambling for a replacement.
Laiu Moeakiola had the first shot at standing in for Ball, but he failed to impress and Robert Nelson took a crash-course in learning the field safety position. Nelson also failed to put his stamp on the job, so at the moment, he's listed as the co-starter with Damarious Randall who recently returned from an injury. Field safety is the biggest question mark this team has moving forward, and it's a competition we'll keep a close eye on over the next three weeks.