Sutton anchors inexperienced defensive line

One of the more overlooked positions heading into spring practice has been the Arizona State defensive line, which after a losing half of its starters from last season to graduation, is also undergoing schematic changes to help spark the kind of attack up front Sun Devil fans have been hoping to see on the field for quite some time.

Helping lead this young, though experienced, group into the offseason has been junior Will Sutton, who after coming off a subpar sophomore campaign, is ready to become the dominant playmaker this team has been seeking.

As a freshman, the Corona Centennial (CA) High School product turned heads for the Sun Devils, starting in 2 games and playing in all 12 during the 2009 season. Unfortunately, he was forced to sit out his sophomore year due to being academically ineligible before returning to action in 2011. Last year he recorded 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks, starting in 12 of the team's 13 games.

In light of that performance, Sutton says he's been working in earnest, anxious to make an impression on the new Sun Devil coaching staff and eager to assert himself as the leader on the Sun Devil defensive line.

"Oh man, I've been working a lot harder since the end of last season," he exclaimed recently after practice. "Like twice as hard as I've ever worked before. And if I'm sore or hurting, then I know I've got to go even harder. I'm just trying to get my teammates up too, because it's going to take all of us to do this.

"This team isn't just about one person; it's about all of us. If somebody gets down, you've got to encourage and help bring them up to play to the best of their ability."

That leadership will be relied upon this upcoming season as the Sun Devils will be looking to replace the loss of former starters Bo Moos and Jamar Jarrett from last year's squad. So far this spring, Sutton has found himself flanked by Greg Smith, Gannon Conway and Toa Tuitea, making for a group which lacks experience, but one brimming with potential and willing to be coached up.

"Oh yeah, I feel real comfortable with what we have," Sutton remarked. "It's hard losing guys like that, who had experience and were our seniors, but last year we played a lot of guys and everyone gained a lot of playing experience, so we're going to miss them, but not, at the same time."

Already without the services of Junior Onyeali and Davon Coleman, both of whom are currently suspended from the team for unrelated reasons, the young Sun Devil defensive line is learning on the go, still uncertain as to what the finished product may look like. For now though, Sutton and his teammates are busy familiarizing themselves with a new defensive scheme, implemented by defensive line coach Paul Randolph, and aimed at better utilizing the talents of Sutton and his teammates.

"Our base defense is a 3-4," said Sutton. "They're basically like the defensive ends from last year, but now they're converted to do a lot more linebacker type stuff. We're going to drop more. We're going to stand a lot more. I really like it because now I stay in the three- technique the whole time.

"I don't have to play nose (tackle) now, so I'm more freed up to just attack," he added. "I feel like it's helping me become a better a player and a better person. I really just like what they're having us do now."

Helping Sutton and the rest of the Sun Devil players prepare for the next four weeks of spring ball has been the re-commitment to the strength and conditioning program at Arizona State. The team has been introduced to the training methods of coach Shawn Griswold since the offseason began, getting their first taste of what to expect from the new caching staff and up-tempo pace they plan to operate at throughout the season.

"Well some of the things are the same as before, but really a lot of it's different now," Sutton described. "We're attacking our workouts a little more now. Our tempo is definitely higher. Our tempo in the weight room is a lot like our tempo is on the field. So when we get in there we're working out really hard for like an hour and fifteen and just always working real hard."

Hard work, a high octane pace, accountability and character are just some of the culture changes Todd Graham and his staff are trying to instill into the Sun Devil program. While outsiders have been clamoring for such changes, the players seem to gladly be accepting them as well, according to Sutton.

"They've got a lot of energy," he said of the new staff. "Their main thing is character, and with character comes respect. If you respect the coach, the coach is going to respect you. And this staff has said they're definitely going to do whatever it takes to make us better both on and off the field. I really like that."

While the team is off this week for Spring break, a new wrinkle in the practice schedule this year, the players will have another 12 practices and 2 scrimmages to get as familiar as possible with the new changes in Sun Devil country before the summer starts.

For Sutton, it's another 12 practices to prove he's ready to lead both on and off the field, and become the force this defense needs at the line of scrimmage.

"I'm just trying to get an inch better each day," he stated. "We've got fifteen practices and our coach's main thing is for us to get an inch better every day and by the end of the spring we hope to get fifteen inches better, so that's our goal. We're just going to work on the little things and get better."


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