ASU Football Fall Camp Primer: Who we'll be watching on defense

ASU Football Fall Camp Primer: Who we'll be watching on defense

Junior Onyeali delivers one of two punishing sacks that were administered to Utah quarterback Jon Hays near the end of the first half.

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by Brad Denny

azfamily.com

Posted on August 5, 2013 at 11:02 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 6 at 2:10 PM

Don't miss our earlier look at players we'll be watching on offense

Will Sutton. Carl Bradford. Alden Darby.

Every Sun Devil fan knows the names of the defense's biggest stars, and most of the eyes will be focused on them throughout the 2013 season.

But with Arizona State's fall camp beginning today, we take a look at some of the unit's other players who will be looking to make their mark over the next four weeks and use it as a springboard towards a big year.

Marcus Hardison, DE: A consensus All-American anchors the line, with a Freshman All-American right next to him, and a pair of capable ends to either side. One may think the ASU defensive line is set, but they added Hardison, the nation's fifth-ranked junior college recruit, to the mix.

The 6-foot-5, 280 pounder brings an intriguing skillset to the Sun Devil line, having the size and strength to play tackle, and the quickness and moves to rush off the edge. He will begin his ASU career at field side end, but will also learn other positions along the line to take advantage of his ability.

“I made my goals the first day I came in," Hardison told me last month. "Coach Graham gave me a piece of paper. My individual goals are: Be a first team All-American, Pac-12 Player of the Year, beat Terrell Suggs’ sack record, the Nagurski Award, Lombardi Award."

The first step towards those lofty goals will come this week with his first snaps of fall practice.

Carlos Mendoza, LB: ASU's defense returns eight starters, and one of the key holes comes at WILL linebacker, formerly occupied by Brandon Magee. Mendoza saw limited action there last year as a true freshman, and notched two interceptions in Magee's place against Illinois before losing most of the year due to injury.

The 6-foot-1, 219-pounder has been recovering from nagging injuries over the offseason, but could very well be a factor during camp at either WILL or the SPUR spot to take advantage of his speed and range.

Laiu Moeakiola, S: Like Mendoza, Moeakiola had his true freshman year cut short due to injury, but he has returned to compete for the vacant job at field safety. 

Moeakiola had a strong spring, and enters fall camp atop the depth chart at the safety spot opposite Alden Darby. However, he will have stiff competition in the form of newcomers Damarious Randall and Marcus Ball, and a healthy Ezekial Bishop will also be in the mix. 

With his speed and hitting ability, Moeakiola is a good fit for the Sun Devils' defensive scheme, but he will need a strong—and healthy—showing over the next four weeks to earn reps in a suddenly deep secondary.

Junior Onyeali, DE - Perhaps no player on the defense has teased fans more than Onyeali. The speedy pass rusher has shown flashes of brilliance in between bouts with injury and discipline issues.

After registering six sacks last year, Onyeali was involved in a domestic violence incident in June. He remains on the roster and is practicing, but with the team's suddenly very deep defensive line, reps could be hard to come by if he should miss any additional time. 

If Onyeali can right his ship, he would bring yet another dynamic pass rushing element to a defense that ranked second in the nation in sacks.

Rashad Wadood, CB: Last season, it was an atypical week that didn't have at least one defensive back going down with an injury. So frequent were the injuries that the team ultimately had to move three offensive players over to the secondary.

One of those injured players was Wadood, whose true freshman year in 2011 was also ended prematurely by injury. Those setbacks have hurt the team's depth at cornerback, but Wadood now appears healthy and ready to make an impact.

Wadood is one of the most talented cover corners on the team, and he showed his skills during the spring. He often ran with the starters, and emerged as one of the breakout stars of the sessions. 

The 5-foot-11, 186 pounder is currently listed as the primary backup at both corner spots, but his challenge to Robert Nelson for the starting job at field corner should be one of camp's top battles to watch.

Chris Young, LB: Young is already a known commodity. During his debut year at the FBS level in 2012, Young was a key contributor, racking up 82 tackles (14 for loss) with two sacks and an interception from the SPUR spot.

His high level of productivity now presents the coaching staff with a problem: Keep him at SPUR, where he excelled, or try him at WILL to replace Magee?

Last Friday during a press conference, Graham provided the answer...at least to start.

Young played both spots during spring, and was listed as the starter at both spots exiting spring. Now up to a stout 240 pounds, Graham said that Young will begin fall camp at WILL. Regardless of his spot, Young only cares that he is on the field.

“Wherever the team needs me,” Young said of his preference. “As far as SPUR or WILL, I’m comfortable at both positions. I really like both. At the end of the day, all I look to is whether I start, whether it’s at WILL or SPUR.”

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