With starting middle linebacker Gerald Munns out for the rest of the year due to a family issue, Arizona State is turning to the player who filled that role for most of last season.
Morris Wooten, a senior who made his season debut on Sept. 20 with a team-high eight tackles against Georgia, gets another chance to start after being limited by a thumb injury, then benched for four games — the Holiday Bowl in 2007 and the first three contests of this year — due to an undisclosed team rules violation.
“We have to come together, work and count on each other to make plays,” Wooten said Tuesday. “A good player is not with us, and we have to play through that and get better.”
Wooten, a transfer from Glendale Community College who started eight of the first 11 games a season ago, is a run-defense specialist. When he is on, is a self-described “maniac” on the field.
“There’s no question that he can be an Energizer bunny out there,” coach Dennis Erickson said. “He’s all over the place, and he can add some intensity to our defense.”
Mike Nixon, who can play all three linebacker spots, will back up Wooten, with true freshman Shelly Lyons also in the mix. Lyons is returning to the middle after spending time on the outside.
The linebacking corps got a boost from the return of true freshman Brandon Magee, who has missed two games due to a pectoral muscle tear. Magee is backing up Travis Goethel at the strong-side spot, and Erickson said that he could at least play on special teams .
“All the linebackers, we’re ready to fight,” Magee said. “We’re tired of losing. We’re not losing any more.”
ASU could have a new starter at strong safety , where true freshman Clint Floyd has been taking practice snaps from Rodney Cox. Erickson was noncomittal , but Floyd said that he has been told that he will start .
“As of now, I’m working as if I’m starting,” Floyd said.
The athletic 5-foot-10, 183-pound Floyd came to ASU without a position before being put at safety, and he has vaulted up the depth chart.
“I didn’t think I would play safety, but I hoped I would,” Floyd said. “Things have worked out great for me.”
Erickson said the fact that California has not named a starting quarterback — Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore will compete in practice this week — will not affect how ASU’s defense prepares.
“They don’t do anything different with one guy than the other,” Erickson said. “Really, all you need to do is prepare for what they do offensively.”
Injury report: Defensive tackle Saia Falahola returned to practice after missing last week due to hand surgery, and running back Jarrell Woods sat out with a sore ankle.
During practice, wide receiver Kyle Williams was given regular updates on the American League Central Division tiebreaker between Chicago and Minnesota. His father, Ken, is general manager of the White Sox, who won 1-0 and go to Tampa Bay for the first round of the playoffs.
“If I had been watching the game, I would have been on pins and needles,” Williams said.