Young Transitions Back to SPUR

A position change can often be challenging for any player to make, especially during the season, but that's exactly what Chris Young has been asked to do. After starting the first four games at the WILL linebacker position, the senior is making his transition back to SPUR, a position he excelled at last year. As ASU prepares to play Notre Dame, Young says he feels he's up to the challenge.

Before arriving in Tempe, Chris Young starred at Arizona Western College where he totaled 111 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, five fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles, two interceptions and six defensive touchdowns on his way to being named Arizona Community College Athletic Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year.

Young excelled at both the safety and linebacker positions, so when he committed to Arizona State in 2012 it only seemed right to insert the defensive playmaker into the SPUR linebacker role, a hybrid position that combined both responsibilities in the new, attacking Arizona State defense.

Young finished third on the team last season with 82 tackles to go along with two sacks and an interception while starting in all 13 games for an Arizona State defense that statistically ranked as one of the top units in the nation. However, the one area that the Sun Devils struggled the most was against the run, and the departure of Brandon Magee created a large void to be filled heading into a season where the run defense figured to be tested early and often.

So, heading into the offseason, Arizona State Head Coach Todd Graham asked Young to make the change from SPUR to WILL in an effort to shore up the run defense in anticipation of early season games against Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame.

"WILL's a physical position," said Young, who estimates that he added close to 20 pounds over the summer in order to prepare for the physical rigors of his new position. "You've got to have certain smarts to play the position and when I talked to Coach Graham before I made the move, he said physicality was something that I brought. Playing WILL is similar to playing SPUR. It comes to me naturally and made the transition that much easier to do."

Despite suffering a minor thigh injury early on in the team's season opener, Young has recorded 29 tackles so far in four games, including 10 in each of the last two contests to lead the Sun Devils.

"It wasn't really challenging at all," he remarked. "Every position will have its own adversity, whether it's coverage or miss keying, but it's not really challenging. It's about just being able to focus mentally and physically just coming with it on every play. Those are always going to be the two main factors and I just didn't find it challenging for me to get the hang of it."

However, after making it through the three game sled against some of the more physical running opponents the Sun Devils will face in 2013, Graham sensed that Young's talents may once again best suited on the outside, where he can help containment against the perimeter running of opponents which has repeatedly hampered the ASU defense in the last three weeks.

On Tuesday, the Sun Devils showed off a linebacker trio that they had yet to play this season, with Young back at SPUR, senior, and fellow Arizona Western College teammate, Steffon Martin back at SAM, and redshirt freshman Salamo Fiso taking over at the vacated WILL position.

"It's been a lot of running," said Young of his first two days back at his old position. "I'm going back to my roots, I guess. It's all second nature for me at SPUR. I like the position just as much as I like WILL. I know I'm going to be given a lot of opportunities to make plays on the outside and I just got to do what I can do to help this team win.

"It takes 11 players to make sure their assignments are done for things to go right, so me being comfortable in my position just helps all 11 of us accomplish what we need to."

While the Sun Devils have done quite a bit of shuffling at the linebacker position through the first month of the season, the hope is now that they've found the right group to help them regain the form they demonstrated in 2012, as a pass rushing unit with the ability to create turnovers and help jumpstart an ASU offense that currently ranks 12th in the nation in scoring (44.3 ppg).

"We're all big and we're all physical," Young said. "I think that's something that a lot of people don't see us for. We might be small in height but we're probably the biggest in heart. Across the board, we've got people that can run, can be physical, and have an instinct for getting to the ball. So it's a good collection of linebackers that we have.

"It's about the focus aspect of it though. The more knowledge you have of the game, the faster you can play, so essentially that's what we all need. We miss keys here and there, but we just need to work on our mistakes and make sure that we make them less."

The first challenge for the new-look Sun Devil linebacking core will be this weekend when the team travels to face Notre Dame (3-2) in a neutral field battle at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, TX. Through its first five games this year, the Irish have struggled to generate a consistent offensive attack, averaging just 379 yards of total offense and 25.4 points per game.

Notre Dame is led by senior quarterback Tommy Rees, who enters the game averaging 243 passing yards and has 10 touchdowns and five interceptions on the year. Helping pace the Irish offense is another senior, T.J. Jones, who has collected 346 yards rushing and three scores through the first five games of the season.

"They've got good vertical threats, with the tight end and a couple of their receivers," Young noted. "On the ground, they've got a good running back. He's fast, big, and obviously we've just got to do a good job of knowing our assignments and everything else will take care of itself."

A win over Notre Dame could be the springboard the Sun Devils and its defense need heading into the second half of the season, when conference action begins to heat up as the team hopes to make a run at the division crown.

"I was just talking to Coach Graham and we've just got to bring our intensity up a little bit," Young commented. "We're there, but like he said, we're never fully satisfied. We've just got to keep pushing to be the best, so that's what we've got to do."

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