Coming into spring practice in preparation for the 2014 season, there were numerous questions about the state of the Sun Devil defense. The loss of Devilbacker Carl Bradford requires somebody to step into Arizona State's most complicated defensive position immediately and provide security against both the pass and run. The loss of Bradford in addition to secondary fixtures Alden Darby and Osahon Irabor leave big holes to fill, but the biggest issue Arizona State now has on defense has to do with the biggest players on the team.
The unexpected return of Will Sutton to Tempe for his senior year last season helped to delay the issues up front, but they are no longer masked by the two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. However, the 2014 recruiting class attempted to address the defensive line, roping in top talents from both the high school and junior college pools, highlighted by the last minute signing of Dalvon Stuckey.
The junior college product was the No. 8 national JUCO recruit ranked by ESPN and No. 2 at his position. Arizona State also signed a possible Devilbacker option in Darrius Caldwell, who has played with Stuckey and had numerous offers from power programs.
But both Stuckey and Caldwell aren't enrolling at the university for academic reasons, and will attempt to continue their football elsewhere, while Arizona State is forced to move on. The addition of either player would not have fixed every concern on the defensive end, but the loss of both players will really put pressure on the incumbents.
On the defensive line, Stuckey was expected to fill in immediately and provide strength and mobility to the unit while Caldwell was looked upon to compete for the starting Devilbacker spot. With Stuckey gone, you don't have to look far to find meat to put in the middle, but it's still unknown whether they'll be able to repeat the 2013 defensive success Arizona State experienced.
Jaxon Hood was was named a Freshman All-American in 2012 but battled injuries in 2013, limiting his impact. He missed spring practice with a ligament injury in his right hand but is fully expected to be ready for the season.
Senior Marcus Hardison is the only other lineman with significant playing experience, and even he hasn't played much at all in his time in Tempe. Redshirt junior Demetrious Cherry came into spring camp 50 pounds heavier than his 2013 playing weight, opening up the possibility of him getting snaps at nose tackle.
The largest of the big guys up front is redshirt junior Mo Latu, who came into spring camp upwards of 380 pounds. He has lost some of that weight and is hoping to be down around 330 by the time the season starts. If he can maintain the strength and power of 380 while combining the agility of a lighter Latu, Todd Graham likely has his first-team nose tackle.
The edge of the defensive line also lacks certainty, but it's looking as if Edmond Boateng is going to get an immediate chance to contribute. The redshirt sophomore who signed with ASU from a junior college allowed himself the time neccessary to adjust to the program by enrolling early and participating in spring camp. In first-team scrimmages he lined up on the edge with Hardison and Latu.
As for the Devilbacker position that will spend time in both a three-point stance and as an outside edge-rusher, Both Chans Cox and Villiami Latu were competing for the position in spring camp, and those will likely be the two players getting to see the field with Caldwell no longer in the picture. Neither Cox or Latu are proven against collegiate competition but there's excitement to see how well they can fill Bradford's shoes.
True freshman DJ Calhoun was a spring practice participant, and the experience he gained there will help when he takes over the Will linebacker position. While the Devilbacker spends time bull-rushing and rushing the edge, the Will linebacker requires the flexibility to chase down a player in traffic or step back in pass coverage. Lloyd Carrington and Rashad Wadood were expected to be the primary cornerbacks but Wadood transferred to Eastern Washington this month. Carrington will take over the field corner position while Solomon Means and William Earley will compete for the boundary corner spot.
Overall, there is much left to be seen as to who Arizona State will rely on to continue the defensive success it had last year. We will soon know the players that'll be taking over for the departed veterans, but we won't know until Aug. 28 against Weber State how they fare.