Despite losing two key players from last season, the Arizona State secondary performed remarkably well during spring football and looks to be a potential team strength in 2008 so long as it can get relatively steady play the cornerback position opposite star sophomore Omar Bolden.
In just his first year with the program, Bolden proved to be among the upper echelon defensive backs in the Pac-10, earning nine starts and totaling 33 tackles, six pass break ups and one interception return for a touchdown.
The 5-foot-10, 195 pound Ontario, Calif. native was selected as a second-team Freshman All-American by Rivals.com following the conclusion of the 2007 season, and he could be poised to become one of the top cornerbacks at the school in recent history, perhaps ever.
Bolden has confidence in spades and the ability to back it up with overwhelming presence on the field. Physical at the line of scrimmage with excellent ball skills and anticipation in coverage, Bolden is as well-rounded and capable a young cornerback and you are generally going to be able to find in the country.
One of the biggest losses from last season's defense is the other starting cornerback position, where Justin Tryon was a two-year starter and an all-conference caliber player who totaled 56 tackles last season with three interceptions and a league-best 15 passes defended.
Replacing Tryon won't be easy, but in the spring Travis Smith and junior college transfer Terell Carr each showed signs of being capable in the role without too much drop off
At 5-9, 180 pounds, Carr isn't big, but he's a sure tackler with blazing speed and the ability to make plays on the football. He just needs to be more consistent with his technique, but he's worked hard at learning from Bolden and new ASU cornerbacks coach Greg Burns. Carr had knee surgery to repair torn knee meniscus, but he's expected to be ready early in fall camp.
Last season in practices and game appearances, Smith separated himself from other reserves at the position, demonstrating a combination of good size and quickness. At 5-11, 188 pounds, Smith has better closing speed than one might think at first glance, and he's rangy with good ball skills.
One of the biggest surprises in the spring was the play of Pima College walk-on transfer Pierre Singfield. Not only was the 5-11, 210 pound junior among the top walk-ons in the spring, he was one of the top cornerbacks on the roster, scholarship or no scholarship.
Singfield rose to second-team status ahead of Grant Crunkleton late in the spring. Not only is he the biggest corner on the roster, he moves well for his size, and he picked things up more rapidly than most newcomers. Crunkleton, a 5-10, 187 pound junior, was a regular at off-season workouts and he's likely to put forth a strong battle to keep from moving down the depth chart.
The Sun Devils will add several freshmen corners into the mix, most notably Josh Jordan from Las Vegas, Bishop Gorman High School and Deveron Carr from Scottsdale, Chaparral. Los Angeles, Crenshaw High School athlete Clint Floyd can play receiver or cornerback, but he has worked on defense with ASU teammates informally this summer.
Troy Nolan, has moved to free safety for his senior year where he will replace Josh Barrett after starring at strong safety last season, when he led the Pac-10 with six interceptions to go along with his 64 tackles and seven passes defended. The move was seamless, with the 6-2, 207 pound Los Angeles, Calif. native having a solid spring, as anticipated. Nolan has tremendous instincts and an innate ability to make plays. His leadership will be heavily counted on in a mentorship role with some of the younger members of the secondary in the program.
The big news of the spring was at the strong safety spot, where 6-1, 215 pound junior Rodney Cox continued to rise as one of the top playmakers on the roster. After starting summer camp in 2007 dead last on the depth chart, Cox rose to second-team status late in the year and is now the projected starter due to his dedication and intelligent approach to the game. He also lost upwards of 10 pounds at the behest of coaches, to improve quickness.
One of the biggest surprises on the team in spring was second string safety Jarrell Holman, who redshirted as a member of the scout team last season after transferring from Phoenix College. The 6-0, 203 pound Holman is fluid and mobile with good size. He's picked up the scheme now and looked very effective.
Mid-year junior college transfer Max Tabach has shown signs of the playmaking ability that led to a nation-best 16 interceptions as a high school senior at Scottsdale, Saguaro, but he is still in the early stages of learning the system. As impressive as he looks versus the pass, the 6-2, 205 pound sophomore enjoys coming up and hitting. He has a terrific frame and is a hard worker, reminiscent in some respect of former Sun Devil Zach Catanese. He has a lot of potential as a backup to Nolan at the free spot, where he will compete with senior Angelo Fobbs-Valentino.
What to watch in camp:
ASU needs a corner to step up and be sold opposite Bolden, namely Terrell Carr or Smith.
Singfield looked like one of the top walk-ons in the spring and frankly, was as good or better than several scholarship players. If that continues it will be a big boost to this group.
Are the Sun Devils set at safety with Nolan and Cox, or will one of the others on the roster unexpectedly challenge for first-team status?
Which freshmen will show signs of the most potential for the future?
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