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ASU Football: Why safety could be the biggest question mark in 2014

The Arizona State defense returns just two starters from 2014 including safety Damarious Randall, but the defensive backfield figures to be in flux right up until the first game.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

With the Arizona State baseball team opening its season over the weekend and the Sun Devil basketball team stealing the spotlight with a hard-fought victory over Arizona, the football team has become old news in Tempe.

Well, that's not exactly true, but it's hard to believe that Signing Day took place nearly two weeks ago. So much has happened in the desert since Todd Graham signed a talented recruiting class, yet there is still plenty of football news to break down.

Graham concentrated his efforts on reloading the defensive side of the football, and that meant bringing in at least five players who have the potential to play in the defensive backfield.

In 2013, the Sun Devils started three seniors in the four-man secondary and Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson have all moved on and left Arizona State with voids to fill. Fortunately for Arizona State, transfer Damarious Randall took ownership of the starting field safety spot, and he'll be back this season to lead the charge in the defensive huddle.

With just two starters returning on defense, the Sun Devils will rely on Randall for leadership, knowledge of the defensive schemes, and perhaps even a change in positions.Though Randall emerged as a future star at safety, the Sun Devils are so desperate for immediate help at cornerback that his versatility could inspire Graham to plug Randall into a new spot.

And that's when things get tricky.

In theory, Arizona State has some of its best returning talent at the safety position. Both Marcus Ball and Laiu Moeakiola demonstrated the ability to start at safety in 2013, but Ball's injury and Randall's emergence kept the pair from seeing the field in the second half of the season.

If Randall does make the move to cornerback, how will Arizona State adapt? The Sun Devils have looked at both Ball and Moeakiola as possible fill-ins at the SPUR linebacker spot, so that could mean the team will be breaking in players at safety who have yet to take first-team reps at practice during their careers.

There's a possibility Graham could look at his recruits from the class of 2014 to make an immediate impact, but most of his safety prospects look like they stand a year away from contributing.

On Signing Day, the first safety that Graham mentioned was Dasmond Tautalatasi, a utility player out of De La Salle High School who just needs more practice at the position.

"Dasmond is a guy that played just about every position, played wide receiver, tailback, again, a guy that ‑‑ one of the smartest players," Graham said. "A guy once he starts playing free safety and lines up every down there he's going to develop, going to have great size."

Another safety signee Graham praised on Signing Day is Armand Perry, a recruit from Bishop Gorman of Nevada who the Sun Devils think could try a variety of positions on defense. Still, with his exact position yet to be determined, it's unlikely he'll find his niche early enough to help the Sun Devils in 2014.

"He's, again, one of the top rated players in Nevada, size and speed, again, up around six foot, a guy that can play field corner or the free safety position as well as the bandit safety position," Graham said.

With Tautalatasi and Perry, the Sun Devils signed potential starters of the future, but neither looks like they will come in and play right away. However, Graham did snag one safety recruit who could meet Arizona State's needs if the Sun Devils hurry him along in the fall.

Deandre Scott, a Philadelphia native, is an explosive athlete who might not redshirt because he can contribute on special teams right away. If Scott's kick return abilities do force the Sun Devils to burn his redshirt, it's likely Scott will also see practice reps in the secondary to ensure that they are making the most out of his freshman year.

"But one of the top rated defensive backs in the country," Graham said of Scott. "He's one of the top 20 players out of Pennsylvania. He's a guy that had ‑‑ you see all the offers that he had. Not very big. This guy is one of the most explosive tacklers at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds that you'll see."

Scott garnered scholarship offers from Miami, Michigan State, Nebraska, Texas and many other elite programs, but chose Arizona State and can now become a difference-maker in the secondary this fall. If Scott develops as expected, the Sun Devils might not name him a starter, but they will be confident in the depth he can bring to the safety position.

Clearly, the Sun Devils' defensive backfield situation is in flux, but the two players Graham and his staff will depend on to help bridge the gap between 2013 and 2014 are James Johnson and Jayme Otomewo.

Both Johnson and Otomewo will be redshirt freshmen this fall and both are Southern California natives from the Sun Devils' 2013 recruiting class. The Sun Devils had limited depth at the safety position in 2013, and though Graham was careful to keep their redshirts, he did have Johnson and Otomewo take quite a few practice reps in preparation for any and all situations.

The Sun Devils would love for Johnson and Otomewo to earn starting spots because it could free up players like Randall and Ball to contribute elsewhere on the defense and allow the incoming 2014 recruits to learn the defensive schemes and take a redshirt year.

In all likelihood, no one will know how the secondary will shake out until late in fall camp when the Sun Devils will just have to stick to their decisions and decide what's best for the present and the future of young players within the program.