A sign of any strong defense, Arizona State produced three draft picks from its starting unit last season, with another signing an undrafted free agent deal. Pair that with the departure of defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce, and the Sun Devils have big holes to fill defensively in 2022.
Even with all that, the defense is expected to carry the heaviest load among the three phases. ASU is simply more talented on defense than on offense.
House of Sparky released its first potential depth chart breakdown last month. This time, we analyze current defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson’s squad.
Player names are listed in no particular order.
Defensive Line: Nesta Jade Silvera, BJ Green, Michael Matus, Omarr Norman-Lott, Tautala Pesefea Jr., Anthonie Cooper, Joe Moore, Travez Moore, Gharin Stansbury, Robby Harrison, B’Ahmad Miller, Dylan Hall, and more
There is a different kind of energy that flows through the defensive line unit at practice. Part of the reason this is widely regarded is that the sled machines are right next to the media viewing area at practice. It is mostly because of defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez, and largely why this unit has succeeded over Herm Edwards’s tenure.
Jermayne Lole’s departure will be looked back upon in a sour manner, especially if this defense finds success under a new coach, but the talent and depth continues to flow for Rodriguez’s crew.
We did not see much of Miami transfer Nesta Jade Silvera in the spring due to injury, but he could have a Lole-esque ceiling if all goes well. Matus, Cooper and Pesefea Jr. are all seasoned veterans that will be guaranteed stalwarts on the line. Norman-Lott and the Moore’s are talented and twitchy with breakout potential. Green was last year’s sack-leader (five) as a freshman walk-on, which earned him a scholarship.
We haven’t even mentioned the backup depth yet.
Harrison and Stansbury are both physical specimens held in high regard by Rodriguez, and Miller and Hall took advantage of spring reps, which were noticeable to the naked eye.
This is the team’s deepest unit, and injury may be the only thing that could prevent it from being a top-of-the-conference line.
One sad undertone does loom over the defensive line this season, as defensive end Stanley Lambert was arrested in May on DUI charges over an incident that ended in the death of a 23-year-old woman in Scottsdale. His future as a Sun Devil is uncertain.
Linebacker: Merlin Robertson, Kyle Soelle, Connor Soelle, Will Shaffer, Caleb McCullough, Zach Bowers, Jacob Jornadal and more
The defensive line has the depth, but the linebacker corps is a lot more top heavy. Kyle Soelle and Robertson are the captains of the ship, but one injury could capsize the boat. The unit took a hit when Freshman-All-American Eric Gentry transferred to USC.
The coaches like what they have in Shaffer and McCullough, but it would be a surprise if Connor Soelle, who appeared in all 13 games last year on defense and special teams, doesn’t slide into the third linebacker spot. The former safety adds a versatile role to the base defense.
All of these players will have ample opportunities on special teams, and the nature of the position requires rotations. If one is flying a little too under-the-radar currently, it may be freshman Jaydon Williams*, a four-star prospect out of Texas with a smaller frame than his teammates.
Robertson and Kyle Soelle will have an opportunity to reach prospect-level status like their former teammate Darien Butler who signed as an UDFA. The rest are still unproven.
*Note: Williams was reportedly arrested for an outstanding warrant from Dallas, and he is no longer with the team. He announced on July 31st that he entered the transfer portal.
Defensive Backs: Timarcus Davis, Keon Markham, Kejaun Markham, Chris Edmonds, Jordan Clark, Khoury Bethley, Alijah Gammage, Isaiah Johnson, Ro Torrence, Tarik Luckett, Ed Woods, Jean Boyd III, RJ Regan, Macen Williams, T Lee, and more
Two of the starting four players in the secondary last season (Jack Jones, Chase Lucas) are now on NFL rosters. Safeties Evan Fields and Deandre Pierce clocked out of the program, resulting in complete turnover in the starting secondary. At the same time, Herm Edwards has arguably enhanced his secondary through the portal better than any other position on the field.
Pinning the first four players to take the field against NAU in the secondary is a crapshoot, but if decisions are based off experience, Davis, Kejaun Markham and Clark will play a lot of snaps. Davis is the most tenured corner on the roster, Clark can play safety and roam the field as a nickel-corner and Kejaun Markham is a consistent force as a run-stopper and safety net.
The other cornerback spot and a second safety position are more complex. There are a lot of talented players competing for very few spots.
Isaiah Johnson is a four-star corner who has been working behind the scenes for two years for this moment, but Auburn transfer and former NJCAA defensive player of the year Ro Torrence looks equally as qualified. Torrence and fellow transfer Luckett joined the program after spring ball. Keon Markham, Woods, Boyd III, Regan, Williams and Lee saw game time last year as well.
At safety, Khoury Bethley is a high-motor player that popped pads in the spring. Alijah Gammage took first-team snaps there as well.
There might be 15-plus players that earn snaps in the secondary for ASU. Henderson’s background is in the secondary, so it will be interesting to see how much focus the position group gets in his first year.