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September 24, 2009

Defense finds ways to keep it fresh

For all intents and purposes, Arizona State freshman linebacker Vontaze Burfict has looked like a bully since putting on the pads in Tempe.

During a non-tackling team drill at Tuesday's practice, Burfict gave a healthy shove to one of the scout team players. Down the scout player went. Almost instantly, every witness in the bubble exploded in a mixture of laughter and astonishment.

When asked about his favorite aspect of the game following Tuesday's practice, Burfict's response was simple.

"Hitting," he said. "Smacking people."

But it wasn't always that way. Growing up, he wasn't going around the playground demanding kids' lunch money, he was busy swooning.

"I was a ladies' man," Burfict said.

Though coach Dennis Erickson and his staff do plenty of shuffling with the first-team defense during practice, Burfict has seen lots of playing time with the No. 1s this week.

For what it's worth, Burfict has been flanked by senior Travis Goethel on the strong side and senior Mike Nixon on the weak side in practice.

Whether he's starting or not, Burfict's assignment stays the same. Step one is winning the individual battle against Georgia sophomore center Ben Jones. Step two is tracking down one of Georgia's athletes.

"I just got to get away from [Jones] and get to the ball," Burfict said. "That's all it is."

But linebacker doesn't appear to be the only unsettled position, as both the first-team cornerbacks and safeties are constantly being rearranged.

Junior Omar Bolden and seniors Pierre Singfield and Terell Carr have all received starts this year and all received playing time with the first team this week. Singfield has started both games, while Carr started over Bolden against ULM. Keep in mind Bolden had just returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a score, though.

As for safety, seniors Ryan McFoy and Jarrell Holman have held down the starting jobs in the first two games. Redshirt freshman Keelan Johnson, who's served as the team's nickel back, has been sharing reps with McFoy in practice.

Naturally, the three have been in a friendly competition for reps, but that's not the only thing they care about.

"Holman over there thinks he's faster than me," Johnson said. "But I'm the fastest safety."

Right on queue, Holman butted in the conversation and let his opinion be known.

"I am hands down the fastest safety," Holman said. "Hands down. Hands down. We're going to put that on the record, right now."

To which Johnson responded, "You better tie yourself down, you're floating away."

Funny thing is, Holman and Johnson didn't even bother to consider McFoy or sophomore Clint Floyd. Go figure.

For now, all is quiet on the defensive front. Senior Dexter Davis will be the starting strongside end, sophomore Lawrence Guy and senior Saia Falahola will patrol the middle and junior Dean DeLeone will man the weakside end.

It remains to be seen how much ASU will miss the presence of sophomore defensive end James Brooks, who is serving the final game of his three-game suspension for violating team rules.

At 6-feet-5-inches, 278 pounds, Brooks would be a great asset against Georgia's imposing offensive line. Not only that, but Erickson could insert Brooks' at strongside end, freeing up Davis on the weak side.

While Brooks' absence is important, it's taken a back seat to that of junior kicker Thomas Weber. Following Tuesday's practice, Erickson shed some light on the kicking situation.

"[Freshman] Bobby [Wenzig] is very consistent," Erickson said. "He's knocking them down in there pretty good. Nixon's got a huge leg so we'll see what happens. I don't know what I'm going to do for Saturday yet."


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