Go back nine months and ask Kivon Bennett whether he thought he'd be in Jonesboro. The notion would've seemed ludicrous at the time.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native was in the midst of his best stretch in four years at Tennessee, notching a pair of sacks in consecutive games at Arkansas and Auburn, and emerging as one of the best pass rushers in the nation.
Then everything spiraled in a matter of hours.
Bennett was caught speeding on the morning of Dec. 1, and in a subsequent search of his car, University of Tennessee police found a handgun, more than 44 grams of marijuana and a scale. By that evening, he'd been dismissed from the Volunteers football program.
Predicting Arkansas State University as Bennett's next destination at that point would've been foolish. But a relationship between the standout defensive end and Coach Butch Jones handed the Red Wolves a coup.
The 6-2, 236-pound Bennett is set to be the centerpiece of a revamped defensive line under Jones and new defensive coordinator Rob Harley as ASU transitions away from the 3-4 scheme it ran a year ago and plays with a four-man defensive front.
The Red Wolves were aggressive on the transfer market this offseason, grabbing Bennett, former Tennessee teammate John Mincey, Joe Ozougwu (North Texas), Thurman Geathers (Louisville) and Quay Mays (West Virginia) to team up with the returning trio of Terry Hampton, Vidal Scott and TW Ayers on the line. And though ASU ranked 33rd in the nation in run defense a year ago, per Pro Football Focus, its pass rush was among the FBS' worst -- 114th out of 128 teams, and better than only Texas State in the Sun Belt.
"You want to affect the quarterback ... with relentless effort, toughness up front," Harley said at last week's ASU media day. "You win in the trenches, bottom line. That won't change in football. So that's always going to be a stress for us."
Ozougwu is a stand-up rusher who played three seasons at North Texas and will be among the leading candidates to play opposite Bennett. Ayers is now listed as a defensive end -- he was on the roster as a tight end in 2020, but made starts at both spots -- and Geathers, a former three-star prospect, has the potential to emerge as a surprise despite appearing in just six games at Louisville last fall.
There's familiarity in the form of Hampton and Scott, returners who both appear locked in as starters for the 2021 opener against the University of Central Arkansas. El Dorado alum Hampton started every game at defensive end a year ago and recorded multiple tackles in each contest. At 293 pounds, though, he's a better fit as an interior threat in a 4-3 scheme.
Scott has been repeatedly praised throughout camp after starting five games last fall, but he'll get competition from Mincey -- who appeared in 24 games over three seasons with the Volunteers -- and the 310-pound Mays.
"We're hungry," Ozougwu said of the Red Wolves' defensive front Monday. "We haven't really accomplished anything, any of us. We're all misfits and just coming together."
Defensive line at a glance
Returning starters TW Ayers, Terry Hampton
Losses Noel Iwuchukwu, DeQuan Ball, Forrest Merrill, Tukua Ahoia
Who’s back Vidal Scott, Quinton Lee, Sosaia Tuitavake, Corbet Mims, JB Brown, Hunter Moreton, Deris Jackson, Charles McRae
Who’s new Kivon Bennett (Tennessee transfer), Joe Ozougwu (North Texas transfer), John Mincey (Tennessee transfer), Thurman Geathers (Louisville transfer), Quay Mays (West Virginia transfer), Dennard Flowers, Torren Coppage-El, Elija Veasey (Henderson State transfer), Jalil Muhammad, Tim Hardiman
Analysis: This group will revolve around Bennett, who logged four sacks in his final two games at Tennessee before being arrested and dismissed from the program. He’ll be on the edge with Hampton and Scott as the beef in the middle — both know how to get after the passer as 3-4 ends, but they should be better fits in Rob Harley’s 4-3 scheme. Ayers, Ozouguwu and Geathers will all be options on the end of the line opposite Bennett, and Mincey and Mays bring power-conference experience to the Red Wolves as reserves up the middle.