Gonzales: Arizona State’s competition on defense ‘amazing’
TEMPE, Ariz. — Before last season, the Arizona State Sun Devils were hit with a tough blow.
In the team’s first scrimmage, linebacker Tyler Whiley went down with a foot injury, effectively ending his season before it began.
But now Whiley’s healthy, and the level of fight he’s bringing to the table hasn’t gone unnoticed by defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales.
“The competition’s amazing,” Gonzales said after practice on Tuesday. “You see Aashari [Crosswell] over the last four days, he’s really improving in there and showing up.
“Tyler Whiley saw that too. I think sometimes, competition breeds excitement and I told Tyler he’s going to play next year, we’ll find out where.”
Although Whiley was originally listed as a wide receiver prior to Herm Edwards and staff taking over, he showed a lot of potential on defense. The rest of the team took notice as he was dubbed one of the emotional leaders of the team by Gonzales after he went down with his injury.
Crosswell turned heads last season with his play in the Ranger position. Not only did he rack up 43 total tackles, he also caused headaches for opposing quarterbacks, recording four interceptions in the team’s final five games.
Now with Whiley back in the fold, the Sun Devils gain more options as they look to build on last season’s success.
“Whichever one of those guys is the best Tillman, the other one will probably be a Ranger,” Gonzales said of the duo. “And all this cross-training makes it possible, and they definitely have the body style to do it and it’s turned out to be a great experiment.”
Merlin Robertson expected back sooner than later
While ASU gets after it in Spring ball, there’s one glaring piece that’s missing; Merlin Robertson.
The linebacker was the life blood of the ASU defense last season.
But Sun Devil fans shouldn’t fret over his absence from practice.
“I think we’ll have him out before the end of spring ball,” Gonzales said when asked about the linebacker’s absence. “I love Merlin, love him like a son.
“We have standards around here and sometimes playing time is the best thing to get people to understand. … They know that no matter who they are, everyone’s held to a certain standard … so he’ll definitely be back.”
Robertson was seventh among Pac-12 linebackers with eight missed tackles and played more snaps than any true freshman in the Pac-12 with 749. In his 11 starts, the linebacker led the team in tackles (77), tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (5.0).