The sudden, unexpected loss of Arizona State linebacker Brandon Magee, who ruptured an Achilles tendon in Saturday’s scrimmage, may have consequences that go beyond the physical talent he brought to the field.
Magee, a senior linebacker who contributed 73 tackles to an ASU defense that was arguably one of the best in the nation last year, was singled out by the defensive coaching staff as perhaps the best defensive player on the field last season.
But that doesn’t take into account the role he would have played in bringing some control to the Devils’ attacking defense led by the destructive, intimidating force next to him in the middle linebacker slot.
That would be the volatile junior, Vontaze Burfict, one of the best linebackers in the country and potential national Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. And an unpredictable headache for his coaches.
As good as the 6’3″, 252 lb. force of nature is, he won’t reach those heights unless he is able to control his emotions this season and eliminate the reckless behavior that has made him a target of referees. His temper has resulted in being hit for numerous unnecessary personal fouls over the course of his career – even to the point of being benched last season by head coach, Dennis Erickson.
Magee could have played an important role in keeping that raging aggressiveness under control this season. The two players have a history that enables Magee to understand Burfict better than most, and is the one person on the field that would have Burfict’s ear.
Both were teammates at Centennial High School in Corona, Calif. Burfict, who had academic difficulties early in his high school career, would stay with Magee’s family to get help from his mother, who was an academic counselor and would help him with his studies.
In fact, this season we might have seen an all-Centennial linebacking corps starting for the Sun Devils. In addition to Magee at weak-side linebacker and Burfict in the middle, senior Shelly Lyons had a good shot at starting at the strong-side position.
After last season’s eruptions, Burfict had resolved to turn over a new leaf and transform into a team leader on defense by getting his emotions under control. But an incident a little than more a week ago after practice has brought that resolve into question.
Burfict reportedly let an on-field incident with sophomore receiver, Kevin Ozier, spill over into the locker room. Punches were thrown between the two, with Burfict being called out for tossing the first one.
While the incident was downplayed by Erickson and it seems to have blown over, it contradicts the head coach’s comments earlier this summer when he told the media he was pleased with his hothead’s progress, that he has matured and become a leader in the off-season.
Hopefully, the locker room incident will serve as a warning bell.
ASU will overcome the loss of Magee this season. The team will even find a way to compensate for the loss of its All-Pac-10 cornerback, Omar Bolden, who went down with a season-ending ACL injury during spring practice.
But if the Sun Devils are going to realize the expectations put on them by the other coaches and the media, who have set them up as strong picks to win the Pac-12 this year and possibly finish high in the national rankings, they will need the hard-charging, damage-inflicting Burfict on the field.
Without Magee, keeping him on the field just got a little more difficult.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)