Arizona State spring football: Sun Devils have to start rebuilding defensive unit

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

The Sun Devils lost almost every one of their defensive starters from 2013.

The Sun Devils came together quickly under Todd Graham, winning the Pac-12 South in his second season as head coach in Tempe in 2013, but a lot of their success came from a talented senior class that just departed, especially on defense, so Graham now must rebuild almost his entire defense in 2014. In total, the Sun Devils lost nine or 10 of their primary starters from 2013, and this spring, Graham's biggest task will be choosing which mostly unproven players will be filling in for those starters.

The Sun Devils might lose the most talent upfront, with two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, defensive tackle Will Sutton along with standouts Gannon Conway and Davon Coleman. Standout junior at defensive tackle Jaxon Hood provides some talent and experience to help transition and former JC transfer Marcus Hardison is expected to also fill in. Hood is a great run-stopper and Hardison fits the bill that the Sun Devils have had success on their defensive line as he is a big but athletic and versatile player who can play all along the line.

The wild card up front for the Sun Devils could be massive junior defensive tackle Mo Latu, who at 6'3 380 has the potential to keep their run defense strong if he can move at that size and become a consistent starter. I also wouldn't be surprised if junior college transfer from Florida Dalvon Stuckey ends up being the guy at defensive tackle as he has a better balance of size and athleticism at 6'3 325.

The Sun Devils were also gutted at linebacker, losing eight of their top nine players at the position in their depth, including star junior Carl Bradford, who declared early for the NFL Draft. The top linebacker coming back for the Sun Devils is sophomore Salamo Fiso, who was one of the best freshman linebackers in the country in 2013 and a great pass-rusher. With his pass-rushing skills, Fiso could ease the pain of Bradford's early exit.

The rest of the starting linebacker spots are going to have to be filled with players with limited, or no experience at all and they all assuredly will be under a microscope during spring ball. Some of the top candidates include sophomore Carlos Mendoza who has great speed and could use it to fill the void of Chris Young. After Mendoza, though it's a major mix of unknowns who will have to start emerging in spring - redshirt freshman Chans Cox is probably the most intriguing of the group, as a former elite recruit who has versatile athleticism and great size.

The defensive backfield is just about as gutted in experience as the defensive front and linebackers for the Sun Devils as both starting cornerbacks and one safety have graduated. The difference here though is that they do have a bit of experience waiting in the wings.

Senior Damarious Randle is back at safety, but there will be some massive shoes to fill with Alden Darby graduating and junior Lloyd Carrington and sophomore Laui Moeakiola will likely compete for it in spring. Moeakioloa is more of a big player, who has linebacker size and Carrington is more of a small player who excels in pass coverage.

At cornerback, junior Rashad Wadood will be expected to step up as a starter but the other spot is a bit more of an open competition. Junior college transfer Kweishi Brown could step in immediately as they had to fight off other big time schools for him and their other returning cornerbacks are relatively unproven. If Brown can't transition quickly, junior Ezekiel Bishop has experience and could step up into the starting spot.

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