Skip to main content

Sun Devils Counting on Team Effort at Linebacker Position

Any linebackers for ASU will have to be ready to hit the field at any given time.

Arizona State's football program will have to plug some major holes heading into 2022. 

All eyes and attention is fixated on the quarterback battle, yet the Sun Devils will be plugging in new starters in many of their position groups from last season. The offensive line lost three of their five starters, while the secondary saw both outside cornerbacks and safeties depart ASU. 

As for the linebackers, the Sun Devils return three players with starting experience from last season, as guys such as Kyle Soelle, Eric Gentry and Merlin Robertson again look to anchor Arizona State's 4-3 defense. 

Soelle led ASU with a combined 82 tackles last season and added two passes defended, an interception and a sack. Robertson was third on the Sun Devils with 64 tackles while being one of three Arizona State players with three interceptions. Gentry slowly grew into a starting role as the season progressed and earned freshman All-America honors. 

Despite the seasoned experience at the top of the depth chart, the waters underneath are murky. Seven of Arizona State's linebackers (excluding Gentry) have equal or less experience to a redshirt sophomore. 

It's a steep learning curve for young players to adjust to the college level of play, but linebackers coach Chris Claiborne says each player will have to be ready to enter the battle in their defense. 

"I think the proof was in the pudding last year in games they (young players) came in and had to play. Eric (Gentry) played a lot last year as a freshman . . . I think ultimately, we got a good group of guys. They're competitive," Claiborne said. 

"They're competitive in everything and that's what we try to be, competitive. On special teams, we try to be competitive amongst each other. When they go against each other in special teams, they're trying to rip each other's head off. It's all love when we get in that room, but that's what we have to be about. We don't have no time to worry about anything else. No feelings or anything, just constantly competing."

Last season, linebacker Darien Butler was the heart and soul of Arizona State's defense. Now, Claiborne insists Soelle carries that torch heading into 2022.

He said, "Kyle (Soelle) definitely is that guy. I think 9 (Gentry) is going to learn to develop to be that guy. I think the MIKE linebackers in our defense ultimately have that (leadership) role because they have to speak so much and communicate so much. So I think ultimately 34 (Soelle) is going to be the top dog initially and I think he'll allow these guys to continue to grow and they'll roll. 

"You don't know who's gonna be on the field. I tell those guys I ain't scared. So we got to play. Everybody's gotta be ready to play. And as long as we have that mentality, we'll be fine."

When asked who has made the most strides in spring practice, Claiborne couldn't pick only one of his players. 

"Caleb McCullough (has had an) awesome offseason. He's moving to the SAM position (strong-side linebacker) and he really took on that and never complained or cried, and he's played really, really well. Really, really well. So I would say he's definitely one (that has impressed)," he said. 

"Merlin's had a great spring. His name doesn't come up in meetings, you know what I mean? So that's a good thing for him. Eighteen's done a god job too, Connor Soelle has had a good spring as well."

Any successful team knows it takes effort from every player in the locker room to achieve great things. 

While Arizona State continues to search for starters at key positions, they know they will be able to count on their crew of linebackers to steady the defense. 

Thank you for making your choice for Arizona State Sun Devils coverage! Make sure to give us a like on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more news, updates, analysis and more!


Arizona State Enters Final Week of Spring Practice Preaching Consistency

Darien Butler Visits With NFL Team

Trenton Bourguet Talks Leadership, QB Battle

Paul Tyson Excited for New Chapter With Arizona State

Arizona State Ready for Receiving Corps to Hit Next Level

Sun Devils Safety Khoury Bethley Adjusting Well to ASU, New Defense

VIDEO: Messiah Swinson Talks Transfer Portal, Why He Chose ASU

Arizona State Embraces Diversity of Style in Backfield

Robby Harrison Young, but Ready to Wreak Havoc