In 2009, the Arizona State defense was built up to be one of the most dominant defenses in the past 10 years. Sun Devil fans were not disappointed when ASU finished the season ranked first in yards against, second in points allowed, and second in takeaways among the Pacific 10 Conference. Now the question is, how can recruiting help improve this defensive unit moving towards the future?
The defensive line was by far one of ASU's strong suits this past season, with senior leader Dexter Davis at defensive end chasing down quarterbacks. Davis will be missed next season, but who does ASU have returning to fill his shoes, which rank third at ASU on the all time sack list?
Lawrence Guy, who next season will be a junior already, will anchor the middle of ASU's overpowering defensive line with either Corey Adams or Will Sutton, both of whom will be true sophomores next season.
The loss of Davis will be tough for Defensive Coordinator Craig Bray to cope with, but the Sun Devils will have to depend on juniors James Brooks and Jamarr Jarrett, as well as one of Dennis Erickson's junior college transfers from last season, Dean DeLeone.
Although the Sun Devils will look to continue their defensive prowess of recent seasons, Recruiting Coordinator Matt Lubick has hit the trail searching for the top notch talent that can propel the maroon and gold defense to the next level.
Jackson Jeffcoat, a defensive end from Plano, TX, is one of the top high school seniors in the country and is heavily considering pledging to ASU come signing day. However, the Sun Devils will have to recruit against the likes of USC, Texas, Oklahoma, LSU, and Georgia, among others.
But the Sun Devils might have the best recruiter of all when it comes to Jeffcoat. His father, Jim Jeffcoat, was a highlight reel performer at ASU and in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys.
Jeffcoat would be a nice feather in the cap for ASU, eerily similar to the last recruiting cycle with highly touted Vontaze Burfict. But what about the recruits that have already committed to play for Dennis Erickson?
Bruce Irvin, a four-star defensive end with a great combination of size and speed (6'4" 230 lbs. 4.6 forty yard dash), will likely be the replacement for the graduated Dexter Davis. With Irvin on one side, and the powerful James Brooks as the other book end, the ASU front four might be the most feared in the PAC-10 next season.
Now, how will the losses at linebacker affect the ASU defense in 2010?
All-Conference standouts Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel will undoubtedly be lost next season, especially in terms of the mental aspects of the game. Both Nixon and Goethel were the teachers and mentors to the younger crop of linebackers in Tempe, but it is now time for the students to display their progress and production on the field.
But now it is the time for the high profile Corona Centennial High School (CA) linebackers to make their impact. Vontaze Burfict had the type of breakout season that Sun Devil fans anticipated, since the day that he pledged to play for ASU. Burfict topped off his debut season by winning Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Pac 10.
The question is, can Burfict's high school teammates, Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons, fill the holes vacated by Nixon and Goethel?
Magee is a little further along than Lyons, as Magee has been featured on passing situations, but Lyons has been relegated mostly to special teams duty so far in his career. Magee, Burfict, and Lyons might be the most athletic of the linebackers, but Nixon and Goethel made the difference on the field with their mental preparation and awareness.
Also, don't sleep on Gerald Munns, who was granted another year of eligibility. Munns began 2009 as the starter in the middle, however, the young Burfict exploded onto the stage following the Georgia game. Munns is a hard-nosed, tough football player who brings passion and intensity that will elevate the defense's play on the field.
If these Centennial linebackers continue to digest the system and progress through the Spring and Summer workouts, we could be talking about a top 10 defense nationally.
However, the only area that has held back the defense has been the secondary. ASU's defensive backs have been heralded for intercepting quarterbacks and changing the momentum of the game. But in 2009, the Sun Devil defensive backs were exposed when the games were on the line.
Just think back to the Georgia game in late September, and remember the images of Georgia receiver A.J. Green having his way with Pierre Singfield, Omar Bolden, and Terrell Carr.
Although, those defensive backs mentioned were ASU's most senior members of the secondary.
So, where does Erickson turn for help at cornerback and safety?
With all four defensive backs graduating, every position is up for grabs entering spring workouts. Senior cornerback Omar Bolden (knee surgery) should be 100 percent and ready to win his starting job back.
Now one of the surprises on defense this past season was the emergence of Deveron Carr. When injuries and suspensions depleted the already shaky cornerbacks, Carr, a special teams standout, stepped up and filled in admirably late in the season.
Carr and Bolden will likely top the depth chart heading into workouts, but for the defensive coaching staff, there is still a lot of work to be done on the recruiting trail to fill the voids of Terrell Carr, Pierre Singfield, and safeties Jarrell Holman and Ryan McFoy. Currently the Sun Devils have zero defensive backs committed for the 2010 recruiting class, and that certainly has to change.
What about special teams? Kyle Williams will no longer electrify Sun Devil Stadium in the return game, who will take on the role of game changer? What about the kicking game? Can Thomas Weber return to his 2007 Lou Groza Award winning form, or will his leg injury hinder his growth?
ASU Offseason Report: Special Teams is next.