Standing at 6-foot-5, 297 pounds, Arizona State sophomore defensive lineman Renell Wren is one of the most physically impressive players on ASU’s roster.
Huge-framed and rangy, Wren has the athletic build and body type of an NFL defensive lineman. However, despite his pure power and strength, he hasn’t been able to translate his skills onto the football field with any real consistency.
After redshirting his freshman year and only playing in four games last season, Wren still needs more live reps and this year, he might get that chance.
Wren has been taking first-team reps at defensive end during fall camp with sophomore Joseph Wicker moving from end to Devil backer in certain defensive formations. Along with end, Wren could also see time at 3-technique or nose depending on ASU’s defensive package.
ASU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said while Wren is a “physical specimen," ASU's coaches are still shaping and coaching Wren to play with technique and understand the nuisances of his position.
“When he does come off the ball he can be so disruptive and he can be a force inside and I really like what we’ve seen from him from this point,” Patterson said. “He just wants to be good so that’s helped in his progress as well.”
Working on being more aggressive, Wren said Graham, Patterson, defensive line coach Joe Seumalo and defensive ends coach Shawn Slocum all have told him to use his hands as a tool to be dominant.
And if four coaches telling him weren’t enough, even Wren’s parents have too.
"It's funny because I talk to my mom and my dad about using my hands and they say that's very destructive on the line,” Wren said. “So they send me videos on YouTube and I look that up myself on YouTube and everything.”
In addition to an increase use of his hands to apply pressure and reach the quarterback, Wren said he has been working on keeping his pad level low.
Being so long and tall, Wren obviously has some clear advantages on the field, but the disadvantages come in the form of giving an offensive lineman in front of him too much blockable surface area.
“I'm just taking it one day at a time and listening to coach Joe (Seumalo) and everything and taking constructive criticism and putting it on the field,” Wren said.
Last year, Wren saw action in four games as a reserve defensive lineman and had one tackle. He redshirted his freshman year after being rated a four-star recruit by Scout.com coming out of Lutheran North High School in St. Louis, Missouri.
Wren was ranked the No. 36 defensive end in the nation by Scout.com and was regarded as the top defensive lineman in the state of Missouri. He verbally committed to the Sun Devils in December 2013.
With the Sun Devils looking to replace nine defensive starters in 2014 -- including three senior defensive line starters in Gannon Conway, Davon Coleman and Junior Onyeali -- Wren was in the same 2014 recruiting class as fellow defensive linemen Edmond Boateng and Tashon Smallwood.
Despite all of the personnel losses, one of the main reasons Wren took a redshirt year was due to the success of the players in front of him.
Smallwood, Boateng, senior defensive lineman Viliami Latu and former ASU defensive lineman Marcus Hardison all contributed to ASU’s run defense in 2014 with Hardison leading the pack with 10 sacks, 53 tackles, two interceptions, and one fumble recovery.
There wasn’t enough room in ASU’s rotation to include Wren and by the time 2015 rolled around, the Sun Devils again had a strong group with Smallwood, Wicker, Boateng, Latu and former ASU defensive lineman Demetrius Cherry.
Only a sophomore, Wren now has time to develop this year and into the future.
A key part to his evolution will be the addition of Seumalo to ASU’s coaching staff. After two years under ASU’s former defensive line coach Jackie Shipp, Seumalo brings a new perspective and fresh eyes.
"Coach Seumalo is more calm but intense too and everything,” Wren said. “He's like a laid back but good coach and everything. He gets you hyped up and stuff. I would say he's strict to a point but he understands where you're coming from too and he likes to talk to you about it through individuals and all that. I really like him and hope to see great things in him through the years he's here."