TEMPE, Ariz. — It’s good to have choices, and Arizona State head coach Todd Graham believes he has three, maybe even four, players to choose from to rotate at Devilbacker — ASU’s hybrid lineman/linebacker position.
Redshirt sophomore Edmond Boateng and redshirt senior De’Marieya Nelson are listed as the co-starters at that position, but Graham said redshirt junior Antonio Longino “has really stepped up his game” and should see significant playing time.
Redshirt senior Marcus Washington, who has played running back and tight end for the Sun Devils before switching to defense this spring, is also in the mix.
“I think Edmond is a guy who has really helped us because that position looks a lot different than it did last year. He’s emerging as a player in that position who is really allowing us to do more of what we did last year,” Graham said.
“I feel really good and think that a strong point for us right now is the Devilbacker position.”
Filling the playmaking spot on defense was a priority for Graham heading into fall camp. He needed to find someone to replace Carl Bradford, who parlayed 8.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss last season into a fourth-round NFL Draft selection by the Green Bay Packers.
“I’ve watched film of (Bradford) every day since I’ve been moved to Devil,” said Boateng, who joined the team this spring after transferring from New Mexico Military Institute. “I’m just trying to emulate him and be better than him because you always got to strive for excellence.
“He set the bar, so I’m just trying to set it higher.”
Boateng feels his effort — his “motor,” as he described it — convinced the coaches that he could succeed at the position.
“You got to be able to get off the ball,” he said. “Definitely, when it comes down to pass rush, they’re looking for you to get that sack. That’s what I’ve really got to strive to do, is I’ve got to make an imprint this game, definitely.”
The ability of Boateng and Longino, who appeared in eight games as a backup linebacker and on special teams last season, to quickly grasp the Devilbacker position has allowed Graham to rethink his plan on how to utilize Nelson.
With the graduation of Chris Coyle and Darwin Rogers, Nelson (seven catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns in 2013) is this year’s No. 1 option at tight end.
“I figure 15-20 snaps on defense. If he can play more than that, more power to him. We’ll let him play all he wants,” Graham said.
“We feel good about the depth there (at Devilbacker), and De’Marieya is obviously a critical part of what we do offensively. Three weeks ago, I would’ve told you we would have him primarily on defense. Those guys have stepped up, so he can be a primarily offensive player.”
To his credit, Nelson, who rushed 15 times for 53 yards and two scores a year ago, is ready for whenever his number will be called.
“I’m going to keep rolling until the wheels fall off,” he said. “It’s rare (playing both sides of the ball). I give it all up to the man above for allowing me to have the ability to even do so.
“I’m a big team guy, and whatever the team needs, no whatever what my role may be, I’ll do that.”
Though Graham may have preferred one player to emerge as the starter, depth is never a bad thing.
“We have a lot of new guys playing there, so we are going to see how they respond,” he said. “Antonio and Marcus are more stand-up guys, and De’Marieya and Edmond are more hand-in-the-ground guys. So, we have four guys that can play that position, and I feel good about it.”