Bill Slane

Sun Devils boast talented group of leaders at linebacker

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One of the more interesting story lines going into the fall practices for the Sun Devils was the group of linebackers. Who was going to be starting come Sacramento State? Who was going to replace Brandon Magee? The picture came in to focus during those practices and became clear when the team announced the depth chart earlier this week. The group that the Devils will field in their first game is certainly talented, but maybe more importantly, they are a group of smart players and great leaders on the field.

If there was one lock going into the fall practices, it was without a doubt Carl Bradford. The redshirt junior will start at the team’s devil backer position; a hybrid position that entails playing time at both outside linebacker and defensive end.

If it weren’t for Will Sutton’s phenomenal season last year, Bradford would’ve gotten more attention than he has. Bradford had over 20 tackles for loss last year and what was even more impressive was how it looked as though he got better as the season wore on. No one can question Bradford’s ability; he can move around the field to different positions and will see time with his hand in the dirt as well to rush the passer, which he did very well a year ago with 11.5 sacks last season.

One player that head coach Todd Graham had some high praise before practice last week was senior Chris Young. Graham said that Young reminds him a lot of himself when he was that age, so it’s not surprising then that Young has said that he wants to be a coach sometime in the future.

Having players like that on the field is crucial to a team’s success. Player’s that can be coaches on the field on defense can be the difference between an average unit and a top defensive squad in the nation. Take the University of Alabama for example, a team that has consistently had a top defense in the nation. Of course recruiting the top defenders in the nation is a big reason for their success, but it is also the caliber of players they recruit. They recruit leaders; they recruit players who can be coaches on the field. Players like DeMeco Ryans, Dont’a Hightower, and Courtney Upshaw. While Chris Young may not have the same physical ability as some of those players, he is in the same mold as a leader on the field.

The starting unit, according to the official depth chart, is rounded out by a trio of interesting names. Redshirt senior Anthony Jones, senior Steffon Martin, and redshirt freshman Salamo Fiso all have spots with the first unit. Jones didn’t record many stats last season but showed some promise at times in coverage, his best moment coming in the Oregon game in the form of an interception along with a 36-yard return for a touchdown. With both Jones and Martin being seniors, it would certainly be a good time for them to step up not just as leaders but also as potential playmakers in the defense. 

Then there’s Fiso who redshirted in 2012, his first season with the Devils. Currently listed on the depth chart at 226 pounds, he might need another year before he breaks out as a playmaker on the defense. But he’s currently listed as the swing SAM and WILL linebacker, so he will likely be seeing some significant playing time this season.

Two names that aren’t listed as starters on the depth chart that intrigue me are redshirt freshman Carlos Mendoza at the spur position, and true freshman Chans Cox at the devil backer spot. Mendoza went down during the Illinois game last season with a shoulder injury that cost him the rest of his freshman year. Mendoza flashed some ability before being injured, including an interception in that game against the Illini that set up a touchdown for the Devils. If Mendoza can come back to being fully healthy after the injury, he brings some incredible depth at the Spur position.

Chans Cox on the other hand is simply a true freshman that has worked as hard as anyone on the team and has gotten the attention of his coaches. Coach Graham has noted his desire to get Cox playing time this season. Cox is the tallest linebacker on the team listed at 6’3” and looks imposing in pads on the practice fields. Cox is a player that may look even better when the lights come on and he can really tackle someone. If you’re looking for someone to watch in the first game of the season next Thursday night against Sacramento State, I’d look out for number six at the devil backer spot later in the game.

This unit has pretty much everything you want in a group of linebackers. It has the proven veteran in Carl Bradford, the guys with upside in Young, Martin, Jones, and Fiso. And it has the youth for the future that can make an impact this season with Chans Cox. There will certainly be movement with this group, some won’t hit their ceiling, players will get hurt, and guys will have to move around to spots they aren’t as comfortable with. But as far as the near future is concerned, the Devils have a very intriguing group of linebackers that will be on the field for game one. 

ASU Devils Den intern Bill Slane will be writing a weekly column for the site during the fall semester.   He can be reached on Twitter @bill_slane

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