For four years Dexter Davis governed the defensive end position at Arizona State, starting a school record 50 straight games. However, Davis has graduated and is headed to the NFL Draft, creating an opportunity for JUCO transfer Dean DeLeone to fill some pretty big shoes.
A 6-foot-2, 245 pound first-team All-American transfer from Orange Coast College in Coast Mesa, Calif., DeLeone had significant time prepping for his spot on the depth chart after closely analyzing Davis's game last season.
"Yeah I've definitely learned a couple more pass rushses," DeLeone said. "Last year I played behind Dexter and that helped because he's all-Pac-10 and everything like that. He's going to be going to the league. He knows a lot, was good mentor to learn stuff from."
The transition from junior college to the FBS level can be quite a challenge for any athlete. The amount of time spent learning an entire new defense and mastering it can make for a long adjustment.
"Last year the speed was a lot faster than I was used to, I was learning a lot more plays," DeLeone said. "At the junior college level it's pretty basic as far as defenses. It takes a while to adjust.
"I would say the most difficult part of the adjustment was getting used to having to do a specific assignment," DeLeone said. "You've got to get used to being responsible for what you always have to do. You can't always just make the play."
However, DeLeone feels confident that he's had enough time walking through the motions and is ready for action. Sun Devil coach Dennis Erickson has seen the improvement in DeLeone within a year and admits the competition is intense and will only increase in the fall.
"He's getting better all the time," Erikson said. "He's healthier than he was a year ago. He and Gregory Smith are alternating for that spot, completion for that job. They'll both play, that's how it is. We need to stay healthy that's all. And then we have [Nduka Onyeali] coming in as a freshman so that gives us pretty good depth."
With Onyeali, the defensive Player of the Year in Colorado, and Smith, a player who saw action as a true freshman last season, the competition is heavy for DeLeaone. In order to keep his job at starting weakside defensive end, he is aware of where he needs to improve.
"I need to get out there and work on my all around game," DeLeone said. "I need to be more consistent. I can't be as inconsistent. I want to definitely keep my starting job when the season comes around and keep it throughout the year."
Along with needed consistency, the entire defense must play readily and be prepared to perform as they did last season. The Sun Devils led the Pac-10 and ranked 13th nationally in total defense in 2009.
"We've got a few things we need to work on," DeLeone said. "We need to just build on what we did last year. We can't just automatically think that's going to happen again. We've got to stay hungry to better our position last year. Last year we were No. 1 in the Pac-10, this year we want to be No. 1 in the nation. We've got a lot of work to do to get there."
The Sun Devils had an abbreviated session lasting under 90 minutes Thursday as Erickson wanted to keep them fresh for their upcoming scrimmage.
"I want to get something out of Saturday," Erickson said. "We're a little worn out. I think you get a little fatigue about that third week of spring ball. We need to get something Saturday so they're healthy and they can run around and we can get a full scrimmage out of it, so that's why we were so short today."