August 30, 2008

Season Preview: DB

The play of Arizona State's cornerbacks impressed us as much as any other position group on the team in the month of August relative to our expectations coming into camp. There of course was an expectation sophomore Omar Bolden would be very good, coming off a freshmen campaign in which he earned second-team freshman All-American honors by, and he was.

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 as you are generally going to be able to find in the country.

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 could be poised to become one of the top cornerbacks at the school in recent history, perhaps ever.

But it was the play of others at the position that really surprised us.

Heading into Saturday's opener it remains unclear whether Terell Carr or Pierre Singfield will be the other starter, but the competition in camp served to bring out the best in both players.

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. The junior college transfer worked hard in the spring but it was very hit or miss. It started out that way in fall camp, but he continuously got better to the point where Carr was handling his assignments as well as Bolden last week.

Still, it was fellow junior transfer Singfield who made the biggest impression because of his status as a walk-on. He may be the top walk-on on the roster. The 5-11, 195 pound junior improved his body in the off-season, getting leaner and stronger. He has better skills and technique than one would expect given where he has come from and how little time he has spent at this level.

The play of true freshman walk-on Josh Jordan has also been remarkable. Jordan, 5-10, 175 pounds, is extremely scrappy and intelligent. He plays as hard and as seriously as anyone on the roster, and he absorbs what he's asked to do on the field and works to immediately put it into his live reps. He could back-up Bolden, or even emerge as the starter at the other side, and he'll play a lot in the nickel defense as well.

Beyond those five players, veterans Travis Smith and Grant Crunkleton will provide depth and attempt to make their way up the depth chart through the fall. Both have had high moments in their careers and we thought Crunkleton, though a bit more limited athletically, had a strong camp overall.

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 could be the team's top defensive player. Nolan has tremendous instincts and an innate ability to make plays.

At strong safety is 6-1, 212 pound Rodney Cox, who rose up the ranks last year rise as one of the safeties 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 makes as few assignment mistakes as anyone in the secondary.

The team's No. 3 safety is mid-year junior college transfer Max Tabach, a sophomore who 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.

The backup strong safety is true freshmen Clint Floyd, who surprised in camp with his assimilation to this level. Floyd isn't big or extremely athletic, but he played quarterback in high school and has a natural sense of what is going on around him and he is extremely savvy.

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 didn't have as strong a fall camp as we thought he might, but nonetheless he's a legitimate candidate to spent quite a bit of time on the field, especially with the nickel defense.

Camp Grade: A- The secondary met or even exceeding our expectations in camp, especially the play of the cornerbacks. You can't expect guys like Carr and Singfield to step in and do as well as Justin Tryon right away, but they'll be solid players in their own right and Jordan looks to be a real standout sooner than later. At safety, depth is limited, but ASU can count on its top four on the depth chart.

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