Todd Graham has heard it over and over and over again.
His defense is going to struggle in 2014.
Arizona State lost nine defensive starters from the 2013 squad that finished fourth in the Pac-12 in total defense and first in intereceptions.
Stars Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Chris Young and Alden Darby, Davon Coleman and Robert Nelson are gone, and it stands to reason the Devils will have a difficult time replacing them.
Thus, the defense is going to struggle in 2014.
“I’m a defensive guy so I like the challenge,” Graham told the Pac-12 Network Thursday at Media Day.
Graham’s offenses have been quite effective, yes, but his reputation has always been as a defensive-minded coach. While it can be said he walked into a great situation at ASU with plenty of talent already on the roster, it can also be argued that the Devils weren’t exactly dominant until Graham arrived.
So, he must have done something right to get the most out of what was there. Now the challenge is getting the same kind of production from a group of young players and relative unknowns.
“Obviously I’d like to have Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Chris Young,” Graham said, adding that he felt Young was the most underrated player on the defense and will be the most difficult to replace. “But the bottom line is I’ve got a lot of confidence in our team. We’ve just got to be able to adapt.”
The good news for ASU is it is not as if the defense is lacking talent. Returners Damarious Randall, Salamo Fiso and Jaxon Hood all have experience as starters, and newcomers like Darrius Caldwell are expected to play a big role.
But Graham believes the group will be fine in large part because the game plan that did so well to maximize the talent that was there before is still in place.
“We developed a system and a scheme that can create explosive plays and takeaways and TFLs and sacks,” he said. “We’ve been one of the top five teams in the country for two years straight, and that’s just because of the personnel. I like the system that we’ve developed.
“We’ve got to adapt it and tweak it a little bit, but I’ve got all the confidence in the world that we’ll be productive again.”
Of course, they’ll have to do it all without two of its top JUCO recruits, Dalvon Stuckey and Darrius Caldwell, as neither was able to qualify academically and will be unable to enroll at ASU.
“It’s disappointing, we had a couple of guys that didn’t make it,” Graham said. “(But) if you’re depending on a couple of guys, you’re in trouble in this league.”
It’s very possible that the Devils, for all the concern over their defense, may actually be fine there. And even if the team takes a step back on that side of the field, the offense may be good enough to make up for it. But if the defense isn’t any worse, this could be a very dangerous team.
That’s exactly what Graham is expecting.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in our guys, and we’ll be creative,” he said. “We’ve got a move or two up our sleeves. We’re going to impact the quarterback, we’re going to get after it.
“Like I said in my press conference when I took the job, at Arizona State we’re going to play defense. I’ve got confidence we’ll get it done, and it’s my job to do it.”