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ASU Football: Five burning questions heading into the offseason

The Sun Devils lose eight starters on defense, an all-conference tight end and their vocal leader in the locker room. Find out what Arizona State football needs resolved in the offseason.

Can the Sun Devils replace No. 90 on defense?
Can the Sun Devils replace No. 90 on defense?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the dust has settled on another Arizona State football season, it's time to look ahead to 2014. With recruiting in full swing, offseason workouts always ongoing and spring football right around the corner, there really is no offseason in college football.

The Sun Devils head into the 2014 season with several question marks, most noticeably surrounding the defense. A unit that has carried the Sun Devils for most of the past two seasons loses eight starters. Arizona State also loses its leading rusher in Marion Grice and one of its best pass catchers in tight end Chris Coyle.

So, what are the five biggest question marks for Arizona State heading into 2014?

Who replaces the losses in the secondary?

Arizona State placed three secondary players on All-Pac-12 teams in 2013. All three of them have exhausted their eligibility and moved on. With the losses of Alden Darby, Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor, Arizona State is losing 183 total tackles and 13 interceptions off of last year's defense.

Nelson tied for the Pac-12 lead with six interceptions, while playing multiple positions in the secondary. Irabor started 46 games in a Sun Devil uniform, including every game for the past three seasons.

Darby was one of the emotional leaders of the defense. He was one of the guys who players turned to when things were going bad.

Damarious Randall returns for his senior season after a year in which he tallied 71 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. He has shown a knack for finding the football and making big plays (ask BJ Denker).

Marcus Ball showed a promising future before getting injured at Camp Tontozona. Ball could play a few positions on the defense, including safety and SPUR linebacker. Redshirt freshman James Johnson may also be in play to replace Darby at safety.

Lloyd Carrington returns as the boundary corner. The Pittsburgh transfer totaled 25 tackles and one interception in his debut season as a Sun Devil. Rashad Wadood, William Early, Solomon Means all return and could challenge for playing time.

The Sun Devils have also two verbally committed cornerback prospects in their 2014 class, including four-star Scottsdale product Tyler Whiley. However, Whiley is expected to play wide receiver at Arizona State.

Who will emerge as the No. 2 wide receiver option?

Arizona State returns one of the best wide receivers in the Pac-12 in Jaelen Strong. In his first season, Strong amassed 1,122 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He led Arizona State in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.

For the second straight year, the Sun Devils struggled to find a consistent No. 2 receiver so much so that they essentially converted D.J. Foster to a slot receiver for most of the season.

Foster finished second on the team with 63 catches and 653 yards. Marion Grice was third on the team in receiving and Chris Coyle was fourth.

Richard Smith had an up-and-down 2013, finishing with 32 catches but experiencing problems with crucial drops. Freshman Cameron Smith saw some action during the season, but only caught eight passes for 129 yards.

It would seem that Smith will start spring practice as the No. 2 receiver, but he will be pushed by freshmen and incoming recruits. Ronald Lewis and Ellis Jefferson will compete for playing time and according to ESPN, Arizona State has two four-star verbal wide receiver commitments in their 2014 class.

Who will replace Chris Coyle?

Coyle broke out in 2012 and continued that play in 2013. He was named to the First Team All-Pac-12 team in 2013, catching 29 passes for 423 yards and four touchdowns. Coyle was a safety blanket for Taylor Kelly and a vocal leader on the Arizona State offense.

Strong is going to command a lot of attention next season, and Foster will likely be the primary running back, meaning Kelly will have to find different options to get the ball to.

Can the Sun Devils find a tight end who can consistently get open and find holes in opposing defenses like Coyle did?

De'Marieya Nelson seems to be the logical replacement for Coyle. However, Nelson caught just seven passes for 107 yards last season, and he never had more than two catches in a game. He was used more as a pass rusher and running back late in the season than a tight end.

Grant Martinez was an intriguing prospect out of Scottsdale, but needed to add bulk coming out of high school in 2013. Time will tell if Martinez is ready for 2014.

Can special teams be fixed?

There is no doubt that Zane Gonzalez had a successful first year in Tempe. As a freshman, Gonzalez solidified a kicking position that was anything but solid in 2012. He hit 25-30 field goals and was named to the First Team All-Pac-12 team.

However, the punting and coverage teams struggled in 2013. What was a strength in 2012 with Josh Hubner, quickly became one of Arizona State's biggest Achilles' heels.

The Sun Devils tried using Matt Haack and Dom Vizarre this season, but settled on the rugby-style of punting that Alex Garoutte features. Garoutte was Arizona State's best punter this season, averaging 38.8 yards per punt on 35 kicks. To compare, Hubner set a school record in 2012 with an average of 47.1 yards per punt.

Can Will Sutton be replaced?

Besides his contributions on the field, where he won two Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year awards, Will Sutton has been the leader of the Arizona State football team for the past two seasons. He was double-teamed all season, opening things up for pass rusher like Carl Bradford and Devon Coleman.

Todd Graham took it a step further, saying that he didn't even have to talk to the team at halftime anymore, he left that to Sutton.

In times of need, teams look to their leaders for guidance, and Sutton was just that. He became the face of the Arizona State football program in 2012 and will likely be the highest Sun Devil drafted in May.

The likely answer is no, Arizona State cannot replace what Sutton meant to the program on and off the field, at least not in 2014. Assuming Bradford stays for his senior season, he is the most likely choice to fill the void.

The Sun Devils will not only feel the loss of Sutton on the field but also off the field.