With the beginning of fall camp just a couple of weeks away, it’s time to get prepped for the upcoming season. The Sun Devils lost seven starters on offense and five starters on defense to graduation from the 2015 team, so there will be a lot of new names on the 2016 depth chart. Here’s a guide to help you get a grasp on all of the position battles that will be occurring during pre-season practice starting Tuesday, Aug. 3.
On defense, most of the front seven will be filled by experienced players, with the Devil-backer position being the lone exception. Most of the question marks are in the defensive backfield, with Jordan Simone, Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown all graduated.
Defensive Line (Nose, Tiger, End)
Returning starters: Tashon Smallwood, Joseph Wicker
Other returning players: Ami Latu, George Lea, Edmond Boateng, Renell Wren, Jalen Bates, Tremell Topps
Newcomer: Christian Hill
The starters here are pretty much set, and make up a pretty formidable front three: Latu, Smallwood and Wicker. Lea is likely to join the rotation on the inside, with Wren fighting to be part of it as well. Bates and Boateng will be competing to back up Wicker at end. Bates has the higher ceiling of the two, but may still be a year away from being a meaningful contributor. There is also the possibility of Bates or Boateng moving to the Devilbacker position.
Returning starter: none
Other returning players: AJ Latu, Malik Lawal
Newcomer: Dougladson Subtyl
Latu is listed as the starter, but there is a lot of uncertainty at this position. At media days, Graham stated that there was one member of the 2016 class who hadn’t yet qualified academically, but for whom they were hoping to receive good news. He was referring to Subtyl. If he qualifies, he’s the likely starter here. He has the size and explosiveness to be very effective at this position. If he does not qualify, the situation is iffy at best. Latu lacks the explosiveness to be an effective pass rusher, while Lawal, at just 220 pounds, is quite small for the position, and would struggle against the run. If the coaching staff doesn’t feel comfortable with Latu or Lawal, there is the possibility that Boateng or Bates gets moved over and it becomes more of a traditional defensive end position. Koron Crump, currently slated at spur linebacker, could see time here in pass-rushing situations, as could DJ Calhoun.
Linebacker (WILL, SAM)
Returning starters: Salamo Fiso, Christian Sam
Other returning players: DJ Calhoun, Khaylan Thomas, Carlos Mendoza
This position group is one of strength for the Sun Devils. Both Fiso (SAM) and Sam (WILL) are potential all-conference performers, and Calhoun is a solid backup at WILL. Thomas could see some time backing up Fiso.
Returning Starter: none
Other returning players: Marcus Ball, Coltin Gerhardt
Newcomer: Koron Crump
With Laiu Moeakiola being moved to safety, there is no returning starter here. Ball has the tools to be quite good at this spot. Krump was impressive in spring practice, and has a good chance to start as well. Graham has stated that he’s willing to play different people at this position depending on the opponent. We’ll see how that plays out – a possibility is that Ball could start against spread teams and Crump or one of the other linebackers could start against pro-style teams.
Returning starters: none
Other returning players: Kareem Orr, Gump Hayes, Tyler Whiley, Tim White
Newcomers: J’Marcus Rhodes, Maurice Chandler, Robbie Robinson, Deion Guignard, Bryson Echols
Graham indicated this week that Orr would be one of the starting corners. The other position is pretty much up for grabs. Highly-rated JC transfers Rhodes and Chandler were on campus in the spring, but were limited in practice due to nagging injuries. Those two, along with Gump Hayes or Texas transfer Bryson Echols, are the most likely to win the starting spot. Robinson could challenge for a depth position. Graham stated at media days that White’s first responsibility was as a playmaker with the ball in his hands, so although he’s listed as a starting corner on the official depth chart, I don’t see him getting much action at corner unless things get really bad.
Returning starter: Armand Perry
Other returning players: Laiu Moeakiola, Chad Adams, James Johnson, Dasmond Tautalatasi
Newcomer: Chase Lucas
At media days, Graham announced that Moeakiola would be the starting bandit safety, and Perry the starting field safety. Moeakiola moves from the spur position, and this move is probably partially motivated by an effort to keep him healthy. Both he and Perry should be pretty solid as starters – Perry looked good last season before he was injured in the second game. The depth is questionable, though, as Johnson, Adams and Tautalatasi have yet to look like Pac-12 worthy players. Lucas is a probable redshirt.
Now you are all set to go watch practice at Camp Tontozona and know who to watch and what to look for. Hope to see you there!