ASU Football Fall Camp Primer: Defensive Backs

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By Brad Denny By Brad Denny

Third and 29

Nearly two years later, that phrase still hurts Sun Devil fans. It came to embody a porous Arizona State pass defense that ranked 108th in the nation in 2011.

Yet, it now feels like ancient history.

Last year, with two starters gone and the challenge of learning a new scheme, the prognosis for improvement in the ASU secondary was shaky at best.

Then a funny thing happened. The ASU pass rush became one of the country's best, and the players in the secondary stepped up in a big time way.

When all was said and done, ASU finished the year ranked third in the country against the pass, allowing just under 168 yards-per-game.

Heading into this year's fall camp, the secondary is once again replacing two starters, but a talented group of returning players and an influx of new recruits is giving ASU a chance to field their deepest group of defensive backs in recent memory.

Who's Back

  • Sr. Alden Darby: 5-foot-11, 192 pounds
  • Sr. Osahon Irabor: 5-foot-11, 181 
  • RSr. Robert Nelson: 5-foot-11, 167
  • RJr. Lloyd Carrington: 6-foot, 190
  • RSo. Rashad Wadood: 5-foot-11, 186
  • RFr. Laiu Moeakiola: 6-foot, 209
  • RSo. Ezekial Bishop: 5-foot-11, 194
  • Sr. Marlon Pollard: 6-foot, 169
  • Sr. Shane McCullen: 6-foot-2, 200
  • RSo. Luke Williams 6-foot-3, 198

Who's New

  • RJr. Damarious Randall: 6-foot, 185
  • Fr. Marcus Ball: 6-foot-3, 205
  • Fr. Will Early: 6-foot-1, 200
  • RSo. Solomon Means: 6-foot-1, 170
  • Fr. Jayme Otomewo: 6-foot-2, 190
  • Fr. James Johnson: 6-foot-2, 200 

Who's Gone

  • Keelan Johnson
  • Deveron Carr
  • Kevin Ayers
  • Jarrid Bryant
  • Kevin Anderson

Starting Lineup

For the second straight year, the Sun Devils will need to replace two starters in the secondary, but the two they return are top-notch.

In his first season as a starter, Alden Darby earned second team All-Pac-12 honors thanks to his playmaking ways. Beyond being one of the conference's top safeties, Darby also emerged as a key leader on the defense, and the expectations for him this year are deservedly sky high.

Over the last two years, Osahon Irabor has quietly developed into one of the Pac-12's top cornerbacks. He has good size, awareness, and cover skills, and should contend for all-conference honors in his final season.

Fall camp will see intriguing battles at field corner and field safety, each featuring returning veterans trying to fend off newcomers (or the newly eligible).

Camp Battle to Watch: Nelson vs. Carrington vs. Wadood

The starting spot opposite Irabor will be one of camp's top battles.

Nelson served as the team's nickelback last year, and finished last season tied for second on the team with three interceptions. While slightly built, Nelson has good cover skills and can make plays on the ball. He exited spring listed atop on the depth chart at field corner.

Maybe the most talented cornerback on the roster, Wadood has been beset by injuries during his career, but was one of the defense's top players this past spring. If he can stay healthy, Wadood figures to see plenty of action, whether he is a starter or not.

The early leader for the job is Carrington, the former Pitt player who sat out last year after his transfer. Carrington has the best size of the group, and has impressed the coaching staff with his coverage skills. 

Regardless of who wins the starting spot, this trio gives the team much needed depth to face a pass happy league, something that was lacking a year ago.

X-Factor: The New Guys

ASU brought in six defensive backs in the 2013 class, but a few of them have a great chance at being major contributors this fall.

Damarious Randall was one of the nation's top junior college players, where his skills in the secondary and as a returner earned him All-American honors. The speed 185-pounder has the skillset to play both cornerback and safety, but he will start at field safety, where he will challenge incumbent Laiu Moeakiola for the job.

Another versatile talent is true freshman Marcus Ball, who the coaching staff will look at at both safety and the SPUR linebacker spot. His size, ball skills, and tackling ability make him an ideal fit for the Sun Devil secondary.

While many expected Randall and Ball to compete early on, few thought that freshman James Johnson would come on as strong as he has at this point. Through the early portions of camp, Johnson has caught the eye of the staff and could remain in the mix for a big role.

If some of the incoming players can put together a strong camp and earn prominent roles, it will give the coaching staff a wealth of attractive options to unleash on the opposition.

Overall Situation: 3 pitchforks out of 5

The Sun Devils may not finish as highly ranked against the pass as they did a year ago, but they have a chance to be a better overall unit.

As long as Darby and Irabor stay healthy, they will have two of the Pac-12 best at their respective positions. It will then fall upon a deep crop of talented players to fill in the field corner and safety spots, as well as the other nickel and dime spots.

With one one of the nation's premier pass rushes helping them, the secondary is starting ahead of the curve. Should they make strides in fall camp and begin to play to their potential, it should make for a stifling unit.