Pac-12: Corey Adams
- B.J. Denker moving up Arizona's quarterback depth chart. Wildcats pick up a commit from a running back on their wish list.
- ASU defensive tackle Corey Adams could miss the season opener with back troubles. Some more news and notes.
- Jeff Tedford looked to the man in the hoodie for some advice. Plenty of running back depth for the Bears.
- Colorado tailback Tony Jones enters the season with "a lot of swagger." Yuri Wright could be an early contributor.
- Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long having a strong camp so far. Previewing Oregon's Week 3 opponent.
- A breakdown of Oregon State's running back corps. News and notes from the Beavers' first day in pads.
- The Denver Post's Tom Kensler weighs in on Stanford's keys post-Andrew Luck.
- Bruins looking for answers on the offensive line. UCLA frosh receivers making an early impact.
- Even with the addition of Silas Redd, Curtis McNeal's focus hasn't changed. De'Von Flournoy emerging as USC's No. 3 wide receiver.
- Utah draws its strength from the defensive line. Even with Chase Hansen gone, Utes are deep at quarterback.
- Washington running back Deontae Cooper will miss the year after suffering a third torn ACL.
- A bigger, stronger Logan Mayes is good for the Cougars. A fiesty practice session yesterday for Washington State.
- Jon Wilner offers his preseason AP Top 25 ballot. Utah fans will be happy.
So more important than the Xs and Os, Graham is stressing the dos and don'ts of being in his program and the challenges that come from making a culture change. And after a few months on the job, he's pleased to report that, in his mind, Arizona State is headed in the right direction.
"The thing I'm most proud of is how they responded to such a drastic change," said Graham. "In terms of accountability -- we expect them to go to class every day, we check every class, we drug test every kid in the program. We're trying to install this structure and discipline and I'm proud of the way this team has responded to that and embraced that. The guys have bought in."
"Those first six practices, you know how it is when you are trying to change things up, you just want to beat your head against a wall," Graham said. "But on the seventh practice, I got the impression that they were finally getting it."
Graham said he's been impressed with the offensive line play -- which he thought was going to be a question mark heading into the spring. He was complimentary of returning starters Evan Finkenberg and Andrew Sampson, but also noted that Brice Schwab and Jamil Douglas "have really been impressive."
"I think the strength of our defense is the defensive line so those guys [on the offensive line] are playing against some pretty good competition," Graham said. "Every day those guys get a little better. That has been a real bright spot."
Graham didn't add much to what offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said last week about the quarterback competition, but he did single out the springs of running back Cameron Marshall, safety Alden Darby, cornerback Osahon Irabor, defensive tackle Corey Adams and wide receivers Jamal Miles and Rashad Ross.
"Miles has really started to master his craft," Graham said. "He's been very disciplined in his route running. Marshall is at the front of a stable that I think is going to be very good.
"The reality is that we still have a long way to go. But I've got confidence because I think this team is coming together because of each one of them buying in and working as a team. We are making great progress in developing that trust that it takes to be a family and a team and a team that wins. I remind them every day that we're going to be a team that wins championships and you can't do that without winning every day in everything that you do."
- Arizona cornerback Trevin Wade has regained his focus and swagger.
- Arizona State defensive tackle Corey Adams is emerging mostly because he's healthy.
- Trying to figure out how to feel about California's situation at quarterback.
- Colorado has a walk-on punter and other depth chart notes. Jon Embree is not afraid to play freshmen.
- Lache Seastrunk's departure likely means a couple of freshmen will see action. Frosh tight end Colt Lyerla is now a backup.
- Where do things stand with Oregon State receiver James Rodgers? What are the issues as the Beavers scrimmage today?
- Stanford was mostly impressive in its scrimmage. Ticket sales are up significantly.
- UCLA is still uncertain at kicker. Some notes, including frosh quarterback Brett Hundley's return to practice. More on that here.
- Competitions continue on USC's defense. Predicting the depth chart: offense and defense. The D will be better with two minutes left.
- Apparently the transition to Norm Chow as offensive coordinator -- which included a pair of demotions -- has been smooth at Utah. If there's a full moon, this Utes running back might be money.
- Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant is ready for his close-up. Sean Parker also looks to be a hit in the secondary.
- Washington State wideout Jared Karstetter is hoping for a payoff after remaining true to the Cougars. Making the case for Coug optimism.
The uncertainty of quality -- both in terms of returning stars and depth -- made this a difficult position to rank. For example, Washington has a nice foursome at tackle, led by Alameda Ta'amu, who might be the best tackle in the conference.
That's great. Good for the Huskies. But they ranked 97th in the country in run defense last year. You sort of pause over that, you know?
So a lot of this ranking is feel thing, a projection of potential. And "great shape" here is relative to the conference. Nebraska, for example, wouldn't exchange its tackles -- Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler -- for any Pac-12 tandem.
Some of this figures to inspire a bit of debate.
USC: This may be in some part based on fumes from the Trojans reputation at the position. It definitely includes a vote of faith that they will get a 100 percent Christian Tupou back from the knee injury that killed his 2010 season. If so, the threesome of Tupou, George Uko and DaJohn Harris is strong. And if you toss in Armond Armstead -- who missed spring with an undisclosed medical condition that threatens his career -- you'd have a clear No. 1.
Washington: Ta'amu seemed to find himself during the second half of last year, and the 330-pounder could end up getting some All-American consideration if he consistently plays like he did against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Sione Potoa'e and Semisi Tokolahi are both experienced, and Lawrence Lagafuaina a space-grabbing, 344-pound redshirt freshman.
Colorado: The Buffaloes are sneaky good here, even though they only ranked 48th in the nation in run defense in 2010. Both starters, Will Pericak and Curtis Cunningham, are back, but Conrad Obi was a revelation this spring. He looked like a future NFL draft choice, not a player who'd mostly been a bust. Nate Bonsu, who missed spring with a knee injury, also should help.
Utah: The Utes, who ranked 11th in the nation in run defense in 2010, lost Sealver Siliga, but they believe they have a budding star in, er, Star Lotulelei, while James Aiono, LT Tuipulotu and Joape Peta are solid. Also, Dave Kruger, who played end this spring, is 280 pounds and can play inside.
Arizona: The loss of backup Willie Mobley to a knee injury hurts depth, but Justin Washington figures to take a step forward after an impressive true freshman season, Sione Tuihalamaka started four games in 2010. Depth is a question. The Wildcats ranked 33rd in the nation in run defense last fall.
Oregon: On the one hand, Oregon lost both starting defensive tackles in Brandon Bair and Zac Clark from a unit that ranked 27th in the nation in run defense. On the other, they played so many guys last fall, the new starters are experienced players. Further, Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Isaac Remington and Jared Ebert played well enough this spring to suggest the position will be a strength in the fall.
Arizona State: If Lawrence Guy didn't make his ill-fated decision to enter the NFL draft, the Sun Devils, who were 16th in the nation against the run last fall, would be in great shape here. As it was, Will Sutton had a great spring and looks like a potential All-Conference guy. Grinder Bo Moos is listed as the starter at the other tackle, though he could be eclipsed by Corey Adams. Toa Tuitea saw limited action last year.
UCLA: The Bruins defensive line was terrible last year, ranking 108th in the nation against the run, but the talent is there for a significant turnaround. Cassius Marsh, Nate Chandler, Justin Edison, Donovan Carter and Seali'i Epenesa should do a much better job plugging the middle.
California: Cal is actually fine here, despite the loss of NG Derrick Hill. For one, when you run a 3-4 defense, it's hard to rate your DTs, even if your DEs often operate like them. The Bears have two solid options at NG in Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne, and it's also possible that touted 350-pound incoming freshman Viliami Moala will eclipse both of them.
Oregon State: Dominic Glover moves inside from end and Kevin Frahm has experience, but this unit didn't play well last year -- 89th in run defense -- even with one of the best DTs in the nation in Stephen Paea. 340-pound Castro Masaniai could help but he missed spring after shoulder surgery and has off-field issues. There's also Mana Tuivailala and Ben Motter.
Stanford: Like Cal, Stanford runs a 3-4, so it naturally it is going to suffer a bit in DT rankings. More important: The loss of Sione Fua is significant. Terrence Stephens and Henry Anderson had solid springs but neither has much experience.
Washington State: Brandon Rankin, a returning starter, was listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Anthony Laurenzi after spring practices, with redshirt freshman Toni Pole No. 1 at the other tackle. Justin Clayton, Steven Hoffart and Xavier Cooper provide depth. It's not unreasonable for Cougars fans to expect improvement, perhaps significant improvement. But a team that ranked 115th in the nation in run defense the previous season is automatically a "We'll see" here.
Expectations do not win football games, but 18 returning starters from a team that went 6-6 and pushed three top-10 teams to the brink -- Wisconsin, Oregon and Stanford -- is a reasonable foundation for optimism.
Of course, there are still issues, starting with quarterback Brock Osweiler asserting himself as the leader of the offense after Steven Threet was forced to retire due to recurrent concussions. Threet is serving as a student assistant this spring.
"I'd love to have Steven, but without having him, I think it kind of identified who our leader is," coach Dennis Erickson said.
Who's out: Arizona Republic writer Doug Haller was at the first practice Tuesday and provided this list of players who were out or limited: "... defensive end Junior Onyeali, receiver Mike Willie, safety Keelan Johnson, safety Eddie Elder, cornerback Deveron Carr, receiver Aaron Pflugrad and running back Deantre Lewis. Linebacker Brandon Magee was with the baseball team and didn't practice."
Haller also provided a depth chart from the first day.
Osweiler then who? With Threet, Osweiler and Samson Szakacsy, the Sun Devils had three quarterbacks with starting experience. Without Threet and Szakacsy, who left the team to pursue other interests, the Sun Devils have a first-team quarterback with two career starts and no experience behind him. Redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly and big-armed true freshman Mike Bercovici are competing for the backup role, which is often a key spot seeing how often starters get hurt and miss action.
O-line competition: If you're looking for a major reason the Sun Devils have high hopes, look no further than the line, which welcomes back, well, just about everybody from the two-deep. This will be a veteran unit led by senior center Garth Gerhart, younger brother of Toby. More than five guys have starting experience, so there may be some mixing and matching and shuffling as players fight for first-unit spots.
DT is the question: Both starting defensive tackles, Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola, are gone. The ideal rotation would be Corey Adams and Will Sutton starting, with Bo Moos and Toa Tuitea providing depth. But can Adams stay healthy? Sutton was academically ineligible last year, so he's high on talent and low on experience. Developing depth this spring will be critical. And might the Sun Devils use more three-man fronts? Said Erickson, "We're a 4-3 team," while still leaving the option open.
Can Burfict be perfect? Of course, no one can be perfect, but Burfict, a junior linebacker likely spending his final season in Tempe, will play himself into becoming a first-round NFL draft pick in 2012 if he saves all his nutty behavior for between the whistles, not after. He needs to lead in word and deed, which means growing up and acting and playing like a man. The way-early returns this offseason are positive. "I'm trying to get us to a national championship," Burfict told the Republic, "and to do that, I feel like I need to become more of a leader."
Just for kicks? The Sun Devils must replace kicker Thomas Weber and punter Trevor Hankins. Alex Garoutte and Parker Flynn are competing at kicker, with Garoutte the front-runner. JC transfer Josh Hubner is expected to win the punting job. Will the Sun Devils get quality or merely warm bodies here?
- Arizona receiver Bug Wright isn't bugging out. Checking in with former Wildcats great Rob Waldrop.
- Corey Adams is starting to contribute on the Arizona State defensive line. A report from practice.
- California is rested and, it hopes, rejuvenated as it gets ready for UCLA. A report from practice.
- Nice piece from all-around guru Ken Goe on Oregon renaissance man Spencer Paysinger. A report from practice.
- Getting to know Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea. The Beavers are pretty healthy.
- What's up with Stanford cornerback Richard Sherman and other notes?
- UCLA's defense might switch things up. Breaking down Cal-UCLA.
- USC's kicking game is struggling. Debating the ins and outs of where USC is today.
- An interesting recap of Steve Sarkisian's radio show. A very thorough practice report.
- Washington State athletic director Bill Moos takes the high road when he talks about his former school, Oregon. This Cougars safety is a former center.
- Checking in on the Pac-10 ADs meetings.
And it's typically not a strength position in the Pac-10. Coaches who have worked both down south and out west will tell you that one of the peculiar differences is how many more DTs there are in SEC and ACC country. (Quarterback goes the other way.)
So how do things stack up?
- USC: The Trojans would rank among the nation's best at the position if not for the season-ending knee injury to Christian Tupou. Still, Jurrell Casey is a beast, Hebron Fangupo is huge and DaJohn Harris was one of the surprises of spring practices.
- Oregon State: All-America candidate Stephen Paea is powerful and explosive and if he turns in a big season beating double-teams, he could end up a first-round NFL draft pick. Brennan Olander is a returning starter and converted end Kevin Frahm provides depth.
- Arizona State: Both 2009 starters, Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola, are back, and Corey Adams and Williams Sutton should provide quality depth.
- Oregon: Brandon Bair is underrated, and Zac Clark saw plenty of action as a backup in 2009. While inexperienced, there's young talent to provide depth.
- Washington: The Huskies are solid with Cameron Elisara and Alameda Ta'amu, returning starters who turned in their best work this past spring.
- California: Hard to rate teams that use a pure 3-4 because there's only a single nose tackle. Still, if Derrick Hill can stay healthy, he and Kendrick Payne will be an outstanding tandem making life tough for opposing centers.
- Stanford: The Cardinal is breaking in its own 3-4 this year. Nose tackle Sione Fua is solid in the middle, with Terrence Stephens his backup. Stephens saw limited action as a true freshman in 2009.
- UCLA: The Bruins are replacing two starters, including the dominant Brian Price. David Carter, Justin Edison and Nate Chandler were solid in spring practices, so the position isn't a huge concern.
- Arizona: The Wildcats are replacing two starters, including the underrated Earl Mitchell, a third-round NFL draft pick. After spring practices, Sione Tuihalamaka and Lolomana Mikaele topped the depth chart, which featured six names.
- Washington State: Another position where the Cougars might be "better than you think," particularly if Bernard Wolfgramm can stay healthy. Touted JC transfer Brandon Rankin was impressive this spring, and true sophomore Anthony Laurenzi, a five-game starter in 2009, offers experienced depth.
He topped a list of 48 Sun Devils who were honored.
A news release from the school said the "Hard Hat Program was created to reward those individuals who do what's right in the weight room even when no one is looking ... a Hard Hat Player is someone who is self-motivated, a competitor, committed to personal and team excellence, dependable, accountable, disciplined and most importantly, puts the team first."
To become a Hard Hat Player, a player has to achieve a certain point total during winter workouts. He earns points based on his effort for strength training, speed development and conditioning sessions. They are also awarded points for competitive events and performing extra workouts in the "Blitz Package Program." Each athlete is evaluated after every workout by the sports performance staff with input from an athlete's position coach when applicable.
The list of the honored includes: Corey Adams, Derrall Anderson, George Bell, Omar Bolden, Jarrid Bryant, Mike Callaghan, Jonathan Clark, Chris Coyle, Dean DeLeone, Eddie Elder, Steven Figueroa, Evan Finkenberg, Clint Floyd, Garth Gerhart, Lawrence Guy, Jon Hargis, J.J. Holliday, Matt Hustad, Osahon Irabor, Patrick Jamison, Keelan Johnson, Brandon Johnson, Anthony Jones, Kyle Johnson, Cameron Kastl, Ronald Kennedy, Dan Knapp, Trevor Kohl, LeQuan Lewis, Shelly Lyons, Cameron Marshall, Shane McCullen, Jamal Miles, Bo Moos, James Morrison, Gerald Munns, Brock Osweiler, Aaron Pflugrad, Cole Rarrick, Jamarr Robinson, Andrew Sampson, Zach Schlink, Max Smith, Adam Tello, Steven Threet, Matthew Tucker and Thomas Weber.
Starters or key contributors who didn't make the list (for whatever reason, including injury or excused absence) include: linebacker Vontaze Burfict, receiver Gerell Robinson, receiver Kerry Taylor, defensive end James Brooks, defensive tackle Williams Sutton, defensive tackle Saia Falahola, defensive end Greg Smith and linebacker Brandon Magee.
Strong: Defensive front seven
Why it's a strength: The Sun Devils take some significant hits on defense, losing seven starters, including five of their top six tacklers, but the young talent coming back is impressive, particularly up front. Start with the defensive line. Sure, end Dexter Davis is gone, but he's the only departure on the three-deep. And here's a guess that tackles Lawrence Guy, William Sutton and Corey Adams take a step forward in 2010. Linebackers Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel must be replaced, but rising star Vontaze Burfict returns inside and Gerald Munns, Brandon McGee and Shelly Lyons have experience. Count on this: The Sun Devils, owners of the conference's No. 1 rush defense in 2009, won't be easy to run against again next fall.
Why it's a weakness: It will not be a pattern of this feature to indict an entire side of the ball, but the Sun Devils have huge issues on offense for a third consecutive season. Last year, they ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in scoring and ninth in total offense. And only four starters are back this spring. Ouch. Skill positions? There's uncertainty at quarterback. The top two receivers are gone, as is starting tailback Dimitri Nance. The line? Three starters need to be replaced, including the unit's leader in 2009, tackle Shawn Lauvao. Answers may be found this spring. Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler will battle at quarterback, while Oregon transfer Aaron Pflugrad will immediately bolster the receiving corps. Injuries the past two seasons mean lots of returning guys on the line have experience. And there are plenty of choices at tailback. Still, there's a lot of uncertainty here.
Well you've heard about love givin' sight to the blind
My baby's lovin' cause the sun to shine
She's my sweet little thang....she's my pride and joy!
- Arizona linebacker Xavier Kelly is stepping up. The Wildcats shouldn't take Washington State lightly... but...
- Arizona State has a new staring cornerback, but the big news is talented freshman defensive tackle Corey Adams needs back surgery and is done for the season.
- California won't keep rolling if it doesn't get better, but the Bears are still a possibility for Pac-10 runner-up.
- Oregon and Stanford have had many happy returns this year. LeGarrette Blount shouldn't come before his team.
- Oregon State's visit to California features two of the nation's best running backs.
- Stanford has some tough tests ahead, starting with Oregon on Saturday.
- UCLA may give the ball more to running back Milton Knox. And might the backfield get some new talent?
- USC quarterback Matt Barkley is still hurting after the loss at Oregon, and he thinks Ohio State was louder than Autzen. Is coaching a problem for USC -- and we're not talking about Pete Carroll.
- Washington QB Jake Locker looked pretty good at practice, while Nick Holt talks defense.
- Some Washington State notes. What did Paul Wulff say on his radio show?
- A look at the Pac-10's hot coordinators. And ranking the Pac-10 tailbacks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State has been utterly dominant while winning its first two games. The Sun Devils' defense is ranked No. 1 in the nation. The offense ranks ninth with 44 points a game.
Now, take that information, crumple it up and throw it out the window. Coach Dennis Erickson knows that pounding on Idaho State and Louisiana-Monroe means little.
|Matt Kartozian/US Presswire|
|Saturday's game at Sanford Stadium will be Danny Sullivan's first start on the road.|
A trip to No. 17 Georgia on Saturday? That's a bit of an upgrade in competition.
"We'll find out a little bit more about what we are as a team, that's the bottom line," Erickson said. "It doesn't matter who they are or what their rank is. We're [asking] right now, 'where are we at as a football team?'"
Erickson repeated variations of those sentiments to a variety of questions: Georgia will be a measuring stick for the Sun Devils.
If they manage to win, or least keep things competitive into the fourth quarter, they might become a top-half of the Pac-10 team, though the Bulldogs probably aren't in the class of California or USC this season.
If they can't keep up, then Arizona State likely falls in with the gaggle of teams scrapping for six wins and bowl eligibility in the lower-middle, bottom-third of the conference.
Of course, one game, win or lose, doesn't a season make. It's possible the Sun Devils in Athens, Ga., won't be anything like the Sun Devils in November. Still, this is the first chance to evaluate Arizona State against a first-rate BCS conference team.
Georgia opened a can of whup butt on the Sun Devils last year, the 27-10 count not doing justice to the Bulldogs dominance.
Georgia took a 21-3 lead into halftime and mostly coasted home. They outrushed the Sun Devils 176 yards to 4 and outgained them overall 461-212.
"They pretty much dominated us," Erickson said. "We didn't play very well and they played well."
The first question is how Arizona State quarterback Danny Sullivan will handle his first start on the road in one of the nation's tougher venues -- "Between the Hedges" at Sanford Stadium.
That's impossible to say. Sullivan is a senior, but the last time he faced a fast, elite defense, he crumbled after coming off the bench in 2008 at USC.
While the Georgia defense doesn't compare to USC -- it's given up 34 points per game -- two of those games were on the road, so the home crowd should help.
"Until you go in there and experience it, you just don't know," Erickson said.
On the other hand, this is a different group of Sun Devils. The defense is deeper and faster than last year's and, while there's lots of experience, a youth movement led by tackles Lawrence Guy, a sophomore, and William Sutton and Corey Adams as well as linebacker Vontaze Burfict -- all true freshmen -- is most intriguing.
Yet the biggest difference might be on the offensive line.
In 2008, the Sun Devils started converted defensive lineman Jon Hargis at left tackle and 289-pound redshirt freshman Adam Tello at right tackle. Things didn't go well for either.
A far more experienced Hargis is now the left guard, while Tello is his backup. NFL prospect Shawn Lauvao moved out to left tackle, while guard Matt Hustad and tackle Tom Njunge give the Sun Devils far more athleticism on the right side. Neither was healthy last year.
Is it a great offensive line? No. But last year's unit didn't have a chance -- the Sun Devils ranked 113th in the nation in rushing and surrendered 34 sacks (109th in the nation). This time around, it might.
"We're much more solid, we have more depth," Erickson said. "We're playing a little bit better, technique-wise and so forth. We made some moves to get our best players in the right positions. As we go through the next 10 weeks, if we lose a guy or two, we'll put people out there who play pretty well. I like where we're at. Are we a great offensive line? No, but we're getting better all the time and we're better now than we were at this time last year."
Georgia, meanwhile, entered the season having to replace running back Knowshon Moreno and quarterback Matt Stafford, NFL first-round picks who dominated the action in last year's game. The Bulldogs seem to be getting their legs under them after opening with a loss at Oklahoma State. They had just 257 total yards against the Cowboys but piled up 530 yards Saturday in their win over Arkansas.
"Joe Cox is playing extremely well at quarterback," Erickson said. "The last two weeks, I didn't see any drop-off."
A key matchup will be Bulldogs sophomore receiver A.J. Green against the Sun Devils secondary, particularly cornerback Omar Bolden. Last year, Green dominated Bolden, catching eight passes for 159 yards and a touchdown.
Erickson's advice to his team on handling the frenzy of a road game in an SEC stadium? Have fun.
"You talk to our players about it and they're excited to go down there and experience [that]," he said. "It's going to be fun; they're looking forward to it."
Sounds like the Sun Devils are eager to find out who they really are in 2009.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Arizona State's offense managed one major highlight -- a 35-yard touchdown run from Ryan Bass -- but the Sun Devils' defense dominated the spring game Saturday.
Some main points:
- Senior Danny Sullivan completed only 8 of 16 passes for 42 yards, but he didn't throw an interception as Samson Szakacsy (9 of 14 for 50 yards) and true freshman Brock Osweiler (7-14, 66 yards, two picks) did. Sullivan will enter the fall No. 1 on the depth chart, but the biggest news out of the weekend at the position was the departure of sophomore Chasen Stangel, who had fallen to No. 4. He is the second scholarship quarterback to bolt this spring, joining Jack Elway, though Elway will remain at ASU.
- How good was the Sun Devils' defense? From the Arizona Republic: "There were three interceptions (Ryan McFoy, LeQuan Lewis and Josh Jordan), a fumble recovery (Clint Floyd), seven sacks (including a pair by Jamarr Robinson), four failed fourth-down conversions and 10 punts in as one-sided a conclusion to spring practice as anyone would care to witness."
- The news wasn't all good for the defense: Defensive tackle Otis Jones tore his ACL. The redshirt freshman would have at least added depth on the defensive interior, and his loss increases the pressure for incoming freshmen Corey Adams and William Sutton to be as good as advertised.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The good news is Arizona State's defense has looked good this spring. The bad news is the offense hasn't.
The important question for the Sun Devils as they focus on erasing a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2008 is whether the defense looks good because the offense is bad or the offensive looks bad because the defense is really good.
|Nick Doan/Icon SMI|
|Linebacker Mike Nixon earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors in 2008.|
"They're going through some growing pains," senior linebacker Mike Nixon said. "Hopefully it's more us playing really well right now than them helping us a little bit."
With just over a week until the April 18 spring game at Sun Devil Stadium, most are taking the optimistic approach: The defense is more athletic, experienced and deeper than it has been in recent years, so this crew could be one of the best units in the Pac-10.
With defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and end Dexter Davis, there are two certified stars -- and future NFL draft picks -- on the defensive line. The linebackers are running eight-deep with super-recruit Vontaze Burfict arriving in the fall. Coach Dennis Erickson says he's got "four or five" cornerbacks who can play. Replacing safety Troy Nolan won't be easy, but the coaches have been pleased with Ryan McFoy.
But it's not just about lots of bodies.
"We're getting close to the type of team speed we need on defense like my defenses have had over the years," said Erickson, referring to the sleek units he had at Miami and Oregon State.
Of course, the offense is breaking in a new quarterback -- senior Danny Sullivan is the decided leader to replace Rudy Carpenter -- and three potential starting offensive linemen are sitting out with injuries.
You may have heard ASU's offensive line struggles mentioned a couple of times over the past two seasons.
That's why a grizzled veteran like 25-year-old linebacker Mike Nixon, who played in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system until 2005, isn't ready to talk about the Sun Devils as the second-coming of USC, circa 2008.
Sure, the defense is having fun. Sure, it might talk a little smack to the offense, which seems overwhelmed at times. But these are not fall Saturdays.
"There's a fine line between being confident and being cocky," Nixon said. "We've got to be confident. But we've got to go out and prove what we think we're capable of this year. We had moments last year when we played great games defensively. But then you turn on the Oregon film or the [Arizona] film."
Nixon is recalling the 54 points and 537 yards the Ducks piled up. Or the 24 second-half points Arizona recorded that ended a three-year winning streak in the rivalry game and knocked the Sun Devils out of bowl eligibility.
|Tom Hauck for ESPN.com|
|Coveted prospect Vontaze Burfict could be an immediate starter at middle linebacker.|
The Sun Devils have been solid on defense the past two years -- ranking third in the Pac-10 in scoring defense in 2007 and fourth last year -- but coordinator Craig Bray said he's expecting a step up from solid to dominating.
A defense can't dominate without speed everywhere, and that's why recruiting speed has been the chief concern since Erickson arrived.
That also means no veteran starter is safe, even Nixon, who's being challenged by sophomore Shelly Lyons, despite earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors in 2008 and tying for the conference lead with five interceptions.
Incoming freshmen defensive tackles Corey Adams and Will Sutton are expected to get looks for the defensive line rotation, and Burfict is practically being penciled in at middle linebacker, where the Sun Devils have Travis Goethel and Gerald Munns, who both have significant starting experience.
"There's definitely a position for [Burfict]," Bray said. "If we have one position that's lacking athleticism, it's our 'Mike' 'backer. If Vontaze can pick it up -- and we're pretty simple -- then he's going to make a big difference."
Bray added that the depth at linebacker could inspire him to adopt some 3-4 looks to get more of them on the field, though he's yet to use the scheme this spring.
After another practice when the offense only produced a handful of positive plays, it's hard not to acknowledge what's going on: "Yeah, we've been dominating," Bray said.
Arizona State has long been known for quarterbacks and offensive firepower, and for 2009 to be a dramatically better season than 2008, the offense will need to pick it up.
But it seems fair to say that Erickson subscribes to the hackneyed football cliche, "Defense wins championships."
Might the Sun Devils be building a defensive power in the desert?
"It would be nice, being a senior, for that to be our legacy -- when ASU turned into a defensive program," Nixon said. "I think we've got the talent to do that. I think we've got the depth to do that. Now I just think we've got to actually do it."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Turns out the post on Pac-10 defensive tackles doesn't fit our present format either. Drat.
So let's take another look.
- Arizona: Earl Mitchell leads a crew of five returning tackles from the 2008 depth chart, not to mention the return from suspension of former starter Lolomana Mikaele.
- Oregon State: Stephen Paea had five sacks and 11 tackles for a loss in 2008. He's a load. Junior Mitchel Hunt is the frontrunner for the other tackle, and the depth chart features four or five guys who can play.
- UCLA: Brian Price's 14 tackles for a loss led all conference interior defensive linemen. If he sharpens up against the run, he could become an All-American. Jerzy Siewierski and Jess Ward will battle for the spot next to Price. Both have seen significant action.
- USC: Fili Moala is gone, but four of the top five tackles from 2008 are back, including returning starter Christian Tupou. Sophomores Jurrell Casey and Armond Armstead look like the next great Trojan DTs.
- Arizona State: Lawrence Guy earned Freshman All-American honors and Saia Falahola and Jonathan English have both seen a lot of action. In the fall, 292-pound touted freshman Corey Adams arrives.
- Stanford: Ekom Udofia, Matt Masifilo, Sione Fua and Brian Bulcke give the Cardinal an effective, experienced crew inside. They combined for 12.5 tackles for a loss in 2008.
- California: A 3-4 defense obviously means fewer tackles, but the Bears top two nose tackles -- Derrick Hill, who will miss spring after arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and Kendrick Payne -- should be solid.
- Oregon: Both starters need to be replaced. Tonio Celotto, who battled nagging injuries last year, and Blake Ferras appear to have the inside track, but newcomers will have to help immediately.
- Washington: Everyone is back, but no one stood out in 2008. The thinking is sophomores Alameda Ta'amu and Senio Kelemete should be much better after being prematurely thrown into action. There's also junior Cameron Elisara and Johnny Tivao, a 5-foot-10, 350-pound JC transfer.
- Washington State: Three of their top four tackles on the season-ending depth chart are gone, but maybe that's the good news. Junior Toby Turpin, who had 20 tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss last year, will man one spot and Bernard Wolfgramm is the frontrunner for the other.
Final Hawaii 12 Colorado 21 Final Utah 26 Michigan 10 Final Georgia State 14 Washington 45 Final California 45 Arizona 49 Final 2 Oregon 38 Washington State 31 Final San Diego State 7 Oregon State 28