Could Arizona State's Linebacking Corps Be the Best in the Pac-10?

Kristian SiutaCorrespondent IIJuly 29, 2009

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 01:  Willie Tuitama #7 of the University of Arizona Wildcats fumbles the ball as he is tackled by Travis Goethel #44 and Luis Vasquez #97 of the Arizona State University Sun Devils during the second quarter at Sun Devil Stadium on December 1, 2007 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Much of the talk on the defensive side of the ball, in the Pacific 10 conference, usually revolves around the USC Trojans. However, this season, the linebackers in Tempe, AZ might have something to say about that in 2009. 

The Sun Devils' Defensive Coordinator and linebackers coach, Craig Bray, has to be sitting back in his chair smiling as he analyzes his two deep. 

With All-Pac-10 performers Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel returning for Bray he also has quality depth in the likes of Shelly Lyons, Brandon Magee, and Gerald Munns. 

Not to mention Lyons and Magee's former high school team mate Vontaze Burfict all from Southern California's Corona Centennial high school. 

Some might question the youth of the Sun Devils depth at linebacker, however, their veteran leader Mike Nixon will usher in the youth and show the "young bucks" the ropes. 

Nixon, a 25 year-old former L.A. Dodger minor league catcher, has played in 38 games in his Sun Devil career. In those games Nixon has totaled 180 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, five sacks, 12 pass break ups, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. 

Last fall, Mike Nixon led Craig Bray's defense in tackles with 90 and five interceptions. His five interceptions in 2008 tied him with the Pac-10 lead. 

Just recently the Senior was named to the 2009 Lott Trophy watch list. 

With all of Nixon's accolades in Tempe, he garners much deserved respect among his fellow linebackers. 

But, Nixon is not the only stud at the second level for the Sun Devils. Travis Goethel has been an impact performer, like Nixon since he stepped on the Tempe campus. 

One of the most consistent performers for Dennis Erickson and the Sun Devils the past three seasons, Travis Goethel, has started every single game the last two seasons at strong side linebacker. 

Goethel has tallied 171 tackles (103 solo), 12 tackles for loss, 12 pass break ups, five sacks, and five interceptions, while starting 29 of his 38 games on campus. 

This past spring, Goethel moved inside with Nixon and Shelly Lyons on the outside. Geothel showed the speed to get to the sideline and possesses the power to stop the run inside the tackles. 

However, with the anticipation of super-prep All-American Vontaze Burfict's arrival shortly, Goethel is most likely to move back outside to his strong side linebacker position. 

Burfict was considered by many as the best inside linebacker in the 2009 recruiting cycle. USC was all over the Corona Centennial product until national signing day. 

The 6'2" 244 pound Burfict has all the tools to be successful at Arizona State. He has three other Centennial team mates on the defensive side of the ball, as well as All-American defensive tackle Lawrence Guy plugging up holes in front of the linebacking corps. 

Not only will Lawrence Guy and the defensive tackles help protect the linebackers on the second level, but the Sun Devils might have one of the best defensive ends in the league to rush the passer in Dexter Davis. 

Craig Bray has many options to improve his third ranked defense from 2008 to challenge the big boys at the top of the conference this upcoming season with the imposing combination of speed, size, and strength at the three linebacker positions. 

The pressure from the Sun Devils defense might come from more areas than teams can game-plan for. The secondary has lock-down ability, and will have to perform up to their potential, because Bray will be calling numerous man to man coverage blitzes to attack opposing offenses early and often in 2009.