Left behind after the departure of Marcus Hardison is a starting spot in the trenches for one Arizona State defensive end who can try to fill the shoes of one of ASU’s key defensive leaders last season.
Hardison, who recorded a team-high 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season, is a tough player to replace in any given year, but so far this spring, junior defensive end Edmond Boateng has stepped up and made ASU head coach Todd Graham think twice if Hardison had really left.
“Thoroughly impressed with Boateng,” Graham said. “I told him today that I couldn’t tell the difference. I thought Marcus was pretty good, Boateng is fast and athletic. Much faster I think than Marcus was. Obviously Marcus was a lot bigger, but Boateng is probably the most improved guy up front to this point.”
Boateng, at 6-foot-3 and weighing about 260 pounds, is getting his shot at the first-team defensive end position this season and is planning to make the most of the opportunity given to him.
“I’ve always been told and reassured that I can handle end really well and it’s almost surprising to a lot of people,” Boateng said. “But when they see me get off the ball and handle the o-lineman like I do, you know, I’m not going to boast about myself, but those things you can’t really deny so just playing at end, getting bigger, height is there, arms are there, I always get told that stuff.”
Last season, Boateng bounced around between several positions including nose tackle, and then got moved to defensive end where he competed with Hardison for the starting role.
Boateng said eventually the coaches wanted someway to incorporate both himself and Hardison on the field at the same time and that’s when Boateng got moved to the Devil backer position. He then fluctuated back and forth from end to Devil depending on the scheme
“I’m at end right now and I’m loving it and coach Graham comes over to me some times and tells me, 'This is the spot we need you at,' so it’s reassuring thing to hear,” Boateng said. “I’m just working hard.”
Regarding the comparisons to Hardison, Boateng said the interesting thing is, coaches don’t usually compare him to Hardison, they focus on his game and how his game can be improved using his skills.
“What’s funny is, I’m not going to say this in a bad light, but they don’t really bring Marcus Hardison up,” Boateng said. “They want me to play how I play. They recruited me for how I play, not for filling in a role. With me knowing that, I know how well he (Hardison) did and progressed and I know those are shoes to fill, I know at the same time I have my own shoes and I have to run with those and make myself with my capabilities.”
Helping Boateng the most with harnessing his energy and skills is ASU defensive line coach Jackie Shipp.
Boateng said one of his biggest challenges is having his eyes in the backfield instead of keeping his eyes on the player who’s right in front, blocking him.
“He (Shipp) is just preaching on the basic fundamentals on just keeping composure, but as oppose to in general, he’s really liked to where I’ve progressed compared from last year to now and I’m hearing that from everybody so it’s giving me a lot of confidence.
“My mind tends to race really fast when I’m on the field and tends to go everywhere,” Boateng said. “He wants me to stay calm and you know start squeezing a lot more when it comes to those 10 and 11 personnel, those down blocks and I’m getting it step by step.”
Along with Boateng, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Renell Wren is getting a shot at playing defensive end. So far, Wren has been practicing with the second-team.“Renell, still, he’s got unbelievable size and speed and all that, he’s still looks like the game is still fast to him and he’s got to just get after, quit thinking,” Graham said. “He’s had a solid two or three days. I look at the film today and I want him to turn it loose more. Get more, just quit thinking.”
While Wren is still young, having an entire redshirt year where he got to learn and observe Marcus Hardison helped him progress as a player.
“I was working against Marcus Hardison all the time,” Wren said about last season, “He is kind of my inspiration so I’m just trying to follow his footsteps and being higher than what he is already and working hard to get it.”
Wren is listed at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, but looks considerably bigger after his first off-season in the program's strength and conditioning program. He said that while most freshman want to come in and play right away, he appreciated that he got to redshirt so he could study the game more and gain more experience before he hits the field.
Over the offseason, Wren said his focus was to get faster and stronger while working on his mental game by watching and studying a lot of film. Shipp has also reminded him about getting his pad level low and exploit all his energy while on the field.
During Thursday’s practice, Wren got chippy with senior offensive guard Christian Westerman during the so-called 'W Drill,' stemming into a shoving match between the two before being pulled apart by teammates and coaches.
Bringing that same intensity to the field each day is Shipp, who both Boateng and Wren gave high remarks.
“It’s crazy, he (Shipp) is intense but you can’t deny productivity and once you see yourself getting better and people are noticing that and you see that it’s coming from him and how hard he pushes, you can’t argue with that,” Boateng said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s setting up my future and you know he’s giving me the best opportunity to play at the next level and that’s what I want tot do. If it’s hard now, it’s not going to change.”
While Hardison may have departed the program, his work ethic and productivity left marks on the growing defensive line group.
“When it comes to the mindset Marcus Hardison had, he was, if you watch film, he never got off the field and he’s a big guy so just the endurance that he had, it’s good that he instilled that into the defense as a unit and we got to take that with a high head and put that on the field,” Boateng said.