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ASU Football Spring Preview: Defensive Line

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A breakdown of the members of ASU’s defensive line unit.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Southern California Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Spring football is right around the corner. House of Sparky will be providing you content previewing Arizona State’s units ahead of offseason practices. Next we take a look at the defensive line.

As we continue our positional preview series for the 2017-18 season, it’s time to take a look at the most consistent unit on the ASU defense: the defensive line.

Although the final defensive totals struggled to provide many Sun Devil fans with confidence following the 2016-17 campaign, the Sun Devils’ front-seven had a quietly productive year.

The Maroon and Gold finished fourth in sacks and second in tackles-for-loss in conference play.

With very few players leaving and some exciting newcomers that could make an impact as early as September, the defensive line could be even more effective this season. Let’s take a look at the 2017 Sun Devil defensive linemen:

Nose Tackle

It’s uncertain exactly how much leeway will be given to defensive coordinator Phil Bennett in terms of creating ASU’s defensive scheme, however, it is likely that the Sun Devils will be rolling out some iteration of a 4-2-5 formation.

In the 4-2-5, the nose tackle is responsible for creating pressure on the guards in the interior, and additionally support the linebackers in stopping the run.

George Lea

In his freshman campaign last year, the New Orleans, La. native started in 10 games, tallied 12 total tackles (including three for losses), and added half a sack. While not an eye-catching statline, the 10 games played should serve a major role in giving him every opportunity to lock up the starting job this spring. Due to some superior athleticism from other guys on the line, it’s likely that Lea will solely be able to compete for the nose tackle job.

DJ Davidson

If Bennett has made one thing abundantly clear, it’s that all bets are off when it comes to who will be starting next fall. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound lineman from Desert Ridge High School in Mesa is a tremendous pass rusher and well-liked by the coaching staff. His frame is well-suited for the tackle position and he should challenge Lea for snaps early on next season.

Shannon Forman

While unlikely to see many snaps this season, Forman had a breakout season last year after winning back-to-back Louisiana state championships and was often double-teamed. The talented freshman could compete if Davidson or Lea get injured or moved along the line.

*TIGER

The tiger position is a variation of a defensive tackle used when the devilbacker is in a three-point stance in a 4-3 front. Essentially, he is responsible for attacking the gap by going past the outside shoulder of the guard.

Tashon Smallwood

The 6-foot, 274-pound Fresno, Calif. native has started at the tiger position since his freshman year in 2014, and should continue to start this fall.

After a sensational year in 2015, Smallwood continued his success last season, tallying 28 total tackles, nine for a loss and 2 12 sacks. Smallwood has quite the stranglehold on the spot.

Renell Wren

Wren played in a career-high 12 games last year and served as a solid replacement at both the nose and tiger position when Smallwood or Villami Latu needed breaks or were injured. He should play a similar role next season, but it’s clear that Graham and the defensive coaching staff like him quite a bit.

Emanuel Dayries

Since coming off the bench against Notre Dame in 2014, Dayries has primarily remained on the scout team during his time in Tempe. Bennett has voiced a desire to reevaluate the defensive line and give every player a chance to prove themselves, but for now Dayries must break the scout team.

(*Editor’s Note: Team source has said terminology of defensive positions may be changing this season with Bennett as defensive coordinator.)

END

It’s no secret that the Sun Devils struggled against the run last year, but ASU was able to provide a pretty consistent pass rush all season, thanks to its defensive ends.

To round out the defensive line, let’s take a look at who will be manning the position next season:

JoJo Wicker

At 6-foot-3 and 263 pounds, Wicker possesses the ideal frame for an end rusher, and has been getting better and better each season. The junior from Long Beach, California led the team with 11 tackles for losses and served as a consistent pressure on the outside while the linebacker corps shifted around the defense. Look for Wicker to have his best season yet.

Christian Hill

After transferring from Glendale Community College, Hill appeared in eight games for the Sun Devils. The 6-foot-5, 285-pound senior could get a good amount of playing time next season opposite the nose tackles with Wicker.

Jalen Bates

Bates impressed the coaching staff early in the year after injuries decimated Arizona State’s front-seven, playing in two games as a redshirt freshman last year. Though talented, it will be interesting to track how often he sees the field in 2017 due to Bennett and Graham’s reliance on hybrid linebackers joining the pass rush.

There are many areas of Arizona’s State’s football program that warrant a few question marks, but the defensive line isn’t one of them. The Sun Devils has a few returning players with a good amount of experience and a deep bench when it comes to rushing the passer.