While the ASU football team’s offense spent a lot of time in the end zone last season, the 2008 version of the ASU defense is looking to keep opponents out of it.
This season, the Sun Devils feature some established leaders as well as a crop of young talent to accomplish that goal.
The offense is sure to provide fireworks this season, but a potential Rose Bowl trip to Pasadena, Calif., will depend largely on the play of the defense.
“I don’t know if there’s anybody that has a pair of defensive ends like [senior] Luis Vasquez and [junior] Dexter Davis that we have right now,” coach Dennis Erickson said.
Davis constantly harassed quarterbacks as a sophomore in 2007, leading ASU with 10.5 sacks. Another good season for Davis will mean long Saturdays for Pac-10 quarterbacks.
Davis’ counterpart, Vasquez, anchored the left side of the defensive line with 4.5 sacks of his own last season. The transfer from Arizona Western Community College combines with Davis to control the line of scrimmage.
Redshirt freshman James Brooks and freshman Lawrence Guy will contribute at defensive end as well.
At tackle, senior David Smith brings a wealth of experience. Smith has started every game the past two seasons and has shown improvement in his final fall camp.
Sophomore Saia Falahola will start next to Smith at the other tackle spot. Falahola played sparingly in 2007, but coaches have been impressed with his progress.
Sophomore Jonathan English, a 300-pounder who was one of only three true freshmen to see the field for the Sun Devils last season, will help clog the middle for the ASU defense.
Senior Paul ‘Unga, junior Spencer Gasu, and redshirt freshman Bo Moos are slated to be key figures along the defensive front.
This year’s unit will be without Robert James, now a member of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, who was the leading tackler for the Sun Devils last season.
But that doesn’t mean the Sun Devils lack experience: Junior Gerald Munns will anchor the middle.
Munns had 20 tackles as a sophomore and was named to the watch list for the annual Butkus Award this season, which recognizes the nation’s top linebacker.
Junior Travis Goethel also looks to duplicate an outstanding sophomore season. Goethel finished second behind James on the team in tackles last season with 71. His versatility allows him to play any of the linebacker positions.
At the final linebacker spot, juniors Mike Nixon and Ryan McFoy will share playing time throughout the season.
Nixon, a 25-year-old who played three years of minor-league baseball before joining the ASU football team in 2006, was fourth on the team in tackles last season with 58.
McFoy converted to linebacker after playing safety as a true freshman and is now more comfortable at the position.
Freshmen and high-school teammates Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee will add raw talent to the group as well.
Sophomore Omar Bolden has already established himself as one of the conference’s best.
A member of last season’s All-Pac-10 Freshman Team, Bolden has also taken up a leadership role.
“I lead by my example, but at the same time, I need my voice to be heard,” Bolden said.
Bolden’s speed alone makes him a valuable defender, but his ability to cover has improved from a freshman season in which he started nine games for the Sun Devils.
One of the most intriguing battles during fall camp was for the cornerback spot opposite Bolden. That battle is still being fought.
Junior-college transfer Terell Carr and walk-on Pierre Singfield have competed fiercely for the job with the scales tipping up and down for each throughout practice.
Freshman Josh Jordan will add depth as a fourth cornerback for the Sun Devils.
The strength of the defense begins with safety Troy Nolan. He gave quarterbacks fits last year, recording six interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns.
A transfer from the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., Nolan quickly became one of the best defensive backs in the Pac-10 as he earned Second-Team All-Pac-10 honors.
Nolan’s selection as a team captain before this season illustrates the trust players and coaches have in the senior leader.
Senior Rodney Cox is a viable counterpart to Nolan in the defensive backfield. Cox sat out Thursday’s scrimmage with a back injury but should be ready to go for the opening weekend.
Sophomore safety Max Tabach played well in camp during Cox’s absence and will provide depth to the secondary.
Freshman Clint Floyd is expected to see playing time at safety, too.
Reach the reporter at Nicholas.Kosmider@asu.edu