In 2022 the Arizona State football team needed to rely on its defense because of a boatload of newcomers on offense. But the unit turned out to be a massive disappointment, a significant factor in a 3-9 record, which included a 2-7 in Pac-12 play.
In 2021 ASU boasted the top-ranked defense in many conference categories but during the past season the Sun Devils were seventh in yardage allowed (422.1 ypg), ninth in scoring defense (31.4 ppg) and ninth in rushing defense (188.7 ypg). The back end of the defense fared best at a respectable fourth (233.4 ypg), which is good because four of ASU’s five returning starters on defense are in the secondary.
Of ASU’s nation-leading 26 Division I transfers, 11 are defensive players, and three are special teamers.
With spring football set to start on Tuesday for the first time under new coach Kenny Dillingham, here’s a closer look at the defense, which players have departed and what newcomers have joined the program. Brian Ward takes over as defensive coordinator, after previously serving in the same capacity at Washington State.
Position coach: Vince Amey (first year)
Lost to transfer: Omarr Norman-Lott (Tennessee), Joe Moore (Missouri). Lost to graduation: Nesta Jade Silvera, B’Ahmad Miller, Travez Moore, T.J. Pesefea
Additions: E Clayton Smith (6-4, 245, R-So., Oklahoma), Tristan Monday (6-4, 276, R-Fr., Wisconsin), E Prince Dorbah (6-2, 229, R-Jr., Texas), DT Dashaun Mallory (6-3, 210, Sr., Michigan State), DT Samuel Benjamin (6-5, 260, R-Fr., Idaho State), Ian Shewell (6-3, 248, R-Jr., New Mexico), E Elijah O’Neal (6-4, 245, Jr., Butte CC, Calif.), E Ashley Williams (6-5, 225, Zachary HS, La.), C.J. Fite (6-1, 280, Tatum HS, Tatum, Texas), Landen Thomas (6-3, 260, Zachary HS, La.), Kyran Bourda (6-3, 285, St. Augustine HS, New Orleans).
Returning: Michael Matus (6-2, 260, Sr.), Anthonie Cooper (6-2, 275, R-Sr.), B.J. Green (6-1, 275, Jr.), Gharin Stansbury (6-6, 245, R-So.), Dylan Hall (6-5, 255, R-Sr.), Robby Harrison (6-4, 325, R-Fr.), Blazen Lono-Wong (6-4, 270, R-Fr.), Jhalil Rivera-Harvey (6-2,310, Jr.), Brandon McElroy (6-5, 310, R-Jr.).
Overview: ASU looked to be in trouble here with every player on the two-deep either graduating or hitting the portal, but Cooper, Green and Stansbury opted to pull out of the portal and return. Cooper was a starter and Green was one of the team’s best pass rushers. Stansbury had looked to be one of the more athletic prospects but a hamstring injury prevented him from being a contributor last season. This was a position where the staff hit the portal hard because of the expected defections. There’s probably no room for more additions here, and it will be interesting to see how this unit gels given the number of newcomers. Significant here is the return of DE Michael Matus, who sustained a torn ACL before the season even started and remained mum for much of the season as to whether or not he would use his last year of eligibility. Not only is his experience a plus, so is his leadership as he is one of the most highly regarded payers in the locker room.
Position coach: A.J. Cooper (first year)
Lost to transfer: Connor Soelle (Oregon). Lost to graduation: Merlin Robertson, Kyle Soelle
Additions: Tate Romney (6-3, 220, R-Fr., Brigham Young), Krew Jackson (6-5, 204, R-So., Kansas State), E-LB Travion Brown (6-3, 230, Sr., Washington State), K’Vion Thunderbird (6-1, 215, Kenwood Academy, Chicago).
Returning: James Djonkam (6-3, 245, Jr.), , Caleb McCullough (6-2, 215, R-Jr.), Will Shaffer (6-0, 235, R-Jr.).
Overview: ASU was thin here last year and that has not changed, so more bodies should be added. In Robertson and Kyle Soelle the Sun Devils lose a duo with a combined 24 starts last season and 74 in their careers. There are some on the defensive line whose skill set could morph to linebacking. Much of last season the Sun Devils went with a lot of packages that involved only two linebackers in favor of an extra defensive back. That helped compensate for limited personnel at linebacker and that could be the case again this season.
Position coach: Bryan Carrington (first year)
Lost to transfer: Keon Markham, Kejuan Markham, D.J. Taylor (Cincinnati). Lost to graduation: Khoury Bethley, Timarcus Davis
Additions: Shamari Simmons (6-0, 180, R-Sr., Austin Peay), S Xavion Alford (6-0, 190, R-Jr. USC), S Shawn Russ (6-3, 185, Dunbar HS, Fort Myers, Fla.), S Montana Warren (6-3, 180, Henderson HS, Texas), S Josiah Cox (6-2, 180, Lincoln HS, San Diego), CB Keontez Bradley (6-1, 172, Mansfield HS, Ohio), Keith Abney (5-10, 170, Waxahachie HS, Texas), Lenox Lawson (5-11, 175, Mesa Red Mountain HS).
Returning: Ro Torrence (6-3, 210, R-Jr.), Chris Edmonds (6-2, 215, Sr.), Jordan Clark (5-10, 185, R-Sr.), Alijah Gammage (5-11, 185, R-Sr.), Willie Harts (5-11, 180, R-Sr.), Tarik Luckett (6-2, 205, Sr.), R.J. Regan (5-11, 180, Jr.). Macen Williams (5-11, 190, R-Jr.), Ed Woods (6-0, 180, R-Jr.), Isaiah Johnson (6-1, 190, R-So.).
Overview: The Sun Devils are in great shape here with a good core of experienced players. Johnson was the fourth ASU player to return after initially going to the portal. The Markham twins left after the coaching change in the third game and Taylor was a backup at best, so other than Bethley nothing of note was lost.
Position coach: Charlie Ragle (first year). Also serving as assistant head coach.
Losses: K Carter Brown (Cincinnati), K Jace Feely (Colorado), P Eddie Czaplicki (USC), LS Gage King (Central Florida), LS John Ferlmann (Ohio State), KR D.J. Taylor (Cincinnati), KR Daniyal Ngata (Washington).
Additions: PK Dario Longhetto (6-0, 185, Sr., California), P Josh Carlson (6-0, 185, Sr., New Mexico State), Slater Zellers (6-1, 235, Sr., California).
Overview: This is a unit that needs a complete overhaul. Czaplicki was also the holder on kick attempts. Dillingham and Ragle went out and got replacements, all of whom were starters at their respective schools, but a versatile player who could handle multiple roles should be added, just for some insurance. The other units were not without loss as Ngata was the primary kick returner while Connor Soelle was instrumental on the coverage team.