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ASU Football Positional Preview: Linebackers

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A linebacker overhaul will change the look of the heart of the defense in 2018

NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After losing nine linebackers to graduation, the NFL Draft or transfer Arizona State is looking to find their next stud in the heart of the defense.

Last year, under Todd Graham, the Sun Devils were the 104thranked defense, allowing an average of 32.8 points per game. Since the Sun Bowl loss to North Carolina State, ASU athletic director, Ray Anderson, completed a major coaching overhaul, bringing in someone new at almost every coaching position.

The first major change? Bringing in former client and NFL head coach, Herm Edwards. Yes, the one who has been out of football for the past 10 years. Edwards brought in former San Diego State defensive coordinator, Danny Gonzales to tighten up the defense and Antonio Pierce, a man who has plenty of experience as a linebacker himself.

With the best defensive coordinator in the Mountain West from last year and a former NFL linebacker with top-tier high school coaching experience, the defense should be vastly improved.

This year’s linebacker crew is headlined by Jay Jay Wilson, who also spent time on offense as a tight-end last year and Koron Crump, who gained an extra year of eligibility after only playing in three games as a second-year transfer student.

Khaylan Thomas and Tyler Whiley are also expected to make significant contributions, after showing strong signs in limited play last season. With the departure of nine linebackers, this should create lots of opportunities for returning and even first year players.

The Sun Devils also brought in three true freshmen linebackers, all from California, to bolster their front seven.

Merlin Robertson, a 6-foot-3, 241 pound outside linebacker, is arguably ASU’s best recruit on paper from the 2018 class. The Pierce recruit has the best chance to make an immediate impact due to his combination of size, speed (4.76, 40-yard dash), and tackling ability, something ASU has consistently needed over the past four years.

Darien Butler (5-foot-11, 232 lbs) and Christian LaValle (6-foot. 220 lbs) are the other two true freshmen brought in by new tight-ends coach and former recruiting coordinator Donnie Yantis, as part of the 2018 class.

Despite the loss of two starters at linebacker, expect the next of kin to fill in nicely for the Sun Devils and step up in big moments.