The Gomez Files: Defensive Ends Look To Replace Terrell Suggs

Aug. 25, 2003

By Brian Gomez

Replacing the nation's sack leader isn't an easy chore, but Arizona State head coach Dirk Koetter has found at least a handful of defensive linemen willing to assume the formidable task.

Although none of Koetter's pass-rushers enter this season with the hype that surrounded former Sun Devil defensive end Terrell Suggs, they each boast their own strong points, raising hope for more production as a unit than one individual could ever provide.

'The four-man rush is where the Terrell Suggs' of the world show up,' said Koetter, whose defensive line last year recorded 52 sacks, 24 of which came from Suggs. 'With the four-man rush, they've always got five or six blocking four, so somebody has to beat their man.'

Last season, that 'somebody' was nearly always Suggs. This year, it could be several different players, depending on which ones emerge from a group eager to prove there is life after 'T-Sizzles.'

Meet the four players who will likely be called upon to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks: junior defensive end Jimmy Verdon, sophomore defensive end Nick Johnson, graduated defensive tackle Brian Montesanto and senior defensive tackle Shane Jones.

Verdon served as Suggs' understudy a year ago during a productive sophomore campaign in which he earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention accolades after making 48 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks.

Even though Verdon can also play tackle, he'll line up at defensive end unless an injury to another lineman forces him to switch positions. He's trying to develop consistency, especially when facing bigger guys.

'I don't feel pressure,' said Verdon, who's backed at defensive end by junior Connor Banks and freshman Kyle Caldwell, among others. 'The most pressure I get is from my wife because she's my biggest critic. I just take it one day at a time and do what I've got to do.'

Having gotten his feet wet last year as a true freshman in ASU's 'Cobra' pass-rush unit, Johnson figures to play opposite Verdon. He's still trying to refine his moves and his timing.

Johnson made a name for himself last season by using a 'rip move' in which he would spin and touch his hand to the ground, before attempting to turn the corner. It was distinctly different from his teammates' moves.

Verdon usually bull rushed the edge, then got around with a 'swim move,' while Montesanto relied on a 'shake, spin and stutter step,' and Jones used a 'power rush,' Johnson said.

'Coach (Ted Monachino) says pass rush is all about effort,' said Johnson, who last year tallied four sacks and 16 tackles, 10 of which were solo-efforts. 'When it comes time, all of us will give 100 percent.'

Montesanto moved from defensive end to tackle last season, enabling him to play a position that better suits his abilities as a powerful run-stopper. He's also capable of getting to the quarterback, evidenced by the fact that he marked three sacks last year.

'It wasn't an easy transition, but I'm happy that I stayed in there,' said Montesanto, who's backed at defensive tackle by junior Gabe Reininger, redshirt freshman Ali Likio, senior Matt Mason and sophomore Josh Kirkwood.

After working his way into the starting lineup midway through last season, Jones feels prepared to handle increased responsibilities as a mainstay along ASU's defensive line.

Jones' strength is his ability to stop the run, something the Sun Devils did quite often last year when allowing an average of 119.4 yards rushing per game. Jones made 44 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss, but failed to register a sack.

'My run defense is strong,' Jones said. 'I just need to work on my pass rush.'

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