We begin a twice-weekly series counting down the 13 most important players to ASU's 2013 season
The ashes that were the Arizona State pass defense were still smoldering as 2011 came to an end. With a calendar set to turn into a new year, both starters at safety were leaving, there was an entirely new scheme to learn, and the outlook was dire.
But then a funny thing happened.
The Sun Devil secondary played really well. Really, really well.
Helped by a dominating pass rush, the ASU passing defense made a remarkable turnaround last fall. They allowed over 100 fewer yards-per-game than they did in 2011, improving their national ranking from 108th to the third-best passing defense in the country in the process.
However, the unit returns to a familiar state. Once again, the group loses two starters, and uncertainty about whether the secondary can put together another banner year has returned.
Looking to be proactive, the program signed six defensive backs in the 2013 class who will battle for playing time. But perhaps the most important addition to the this year's secondary is a player who is beginning his third year in Tempe.
Redshirt sophomore Rashad Wadood is coming back after a year lost to a torn labrum. The injury prevented him from building upon his true freshman season in which he saw action in 10 games. However, that too was an injury-shortened experience, as he tore his ACL late in the season at Washington State.
The injury bug that has bitten Wadood over the early part of his Sun Devil career have hindered what is otherwise a very intriguing and talented prospect, one who happens to play at one of the team's biggest areas of need.
Wadood possess a good frame for the cornerback position, checking in at 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds. He combines that size with sub-4.5 speed and the cover skills needed to be a shutdown corner. Perhaps most important of all, he has the work ethic and drive to come back strong from his early-career setbacks to reach his potential.
Finally healthy, Wadood emerged as one of the defense's top players during spring practices, no small feat on a unit that wields weapons like Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and Alden Darby. He continually provided lockdown coverage downfield while seeing plenty of action with the first-team unit at field corner.
For the Sun Devil defense to repeat as one of the country's best, Wadood will need to shake off the injuries and play to his the level of his abilities.
ASU is set at one corner spot with senior Osahon Irabor, who has quietly become one of the Pac-12's best. Exiting spring, Robert Nelson is listed as the team's other starting cornerback. Nelson provided a solid presence last season as the team's nickelback and should provide a steady presence. But as the team found out last year, cornerback depth is a valuable commodity.
Due to injuries to expected contributors like Wadood and Devan Spann, the team was forced to scramble for warm bodies in the secondary, which included moving three offensive players—Deantre Lewis, J.J. Holliday and Jarrid Bryant—to defense.
Wadood will push Nelson in fall camp for that starting spot opposite, with other spring standouts Lloyd Carrington and Marlon Pollard in the mix as well. If the team can get their three top corners set into their roles—and healthy—heading into the season, it will be a major boost to the unit.
ASU will be facing a host of dangerous offenses this fall, and they will need a deep secondary. A healthy Wadood would likely provide a firm answer to the only real question to the Sun Devil defense, and put them in position to make the move from "very good" to "great".