ASU Football Fall Camp Primer: Defensive Line

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By Christian Petersen By Christian Petersen

Could this be the best single position unit in the Pac-12?

Let's take a look.

The Arizona State defensive line is headlined by a consensus All-American. Next to him is a Freshman All-American next to him, with a speedy pass rusher and former Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year at one end, a pair of stout defenders on the other, and the unit is being joined by one of the five best junior college recruits in the country.

Yeah, this very well could be.

While Will Sutton was making history, the front line of the Sun Devil defense solidified around him to become the piercing edge of one of the nation's most fearsome defenses. Thanks to Sutton's decision to forgo the NFL Draft and return for his senior year, the group has a chance to be among the all-time best that Tempe has ever seen.

Who's Back

  • RSr. Will Sutton: 6-foot-1, 303 pounds
  • So. Jaxon Hood: 6-foot, 290
  • Sr. Davon Coleman: 6-foot-2, 276
  • Sr. Junior Onyeali: 6-foot, 241
  • RSr. Gannon Conway: 6-foot-4, 280
  • Sr. Jake Sheffield: 6-foot-3, 272
  • RSo. Mo Latu: 6-foot-3, 338

Who's New

  • Jr. Marcus Hardison: 6-foot-5, 290
  • Jr. Demetrius Cherry: 6-foot-6, 275
  • Fr. Corey Smith: 6-foot-7, 260
  • Fr. Kisima Jagne: 6-foot-5, 251

Who's Gone

  • Corey Adams
  • Toa Tuitea

Starting Lineup

Will Sutton returns at tackle with the difficult task of following up his All-American and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award winning season, but he's certainly capable. He's worked diligently over the offseason, and now checks in over 300 pounds, while keeping the same quickness. While his numbers may not reach last year's levels (13 sacks, 23.5 TFL) due to the increased attention offenses will pay him, he will still be the linchpin of the defense.

At tackle, Jaxon Hood looks to build off a stellar true debut season that saw him make 26 tackles and register three sacks while earning Freshman All-American honors. Like Sutton, he's bulked up and is poised to take his game to the next level.

As for the other starting spot...

Camp Battle to Watch: Defensive End

Junior Onyeali opened the year as the starter at defensive end, before giving way to Davon Coleman. Onyeali is a pure pass rusher, racking up six sacks last year. Coleman brings a stouter presence to the spot and had a fine year, notching 66 tackles and five sacks of his own.

However, both ran afoul of team rules over the offseason, and veteran Gannon Conway exited spring practice as the starter. A blue-collar type at 6-foot-4, 261 pounds, Conway doesn't wow with talent, but can hold his own at the point of attack to allow his teammates to make the play. While not the favorite to win the job, a strong camp will earn him a spot in the rotation.

The most intriguing option is newcomer Marcus Hardison, one of the top juco players in the nation. A rare combination of size, strength, and quickness, he will begin at end, but also has the ability to slide inside to tackle. How the coaching staff will utilize him, and fellow newcomer Demetrius Cherry, will be a key situation to monitor.

X-Factor: Junior Onyeali

Perhaps no player on the defense has teased fans more than Onyeali. The speedy pass rusher has shown flashes of brilliance in between bouts with injury and discipline issues.

After registering six sacks last year, Onyeali was involved in a domestic violence incident in June. He remains on the roster, but with the team's suddenly very deep defensive line, reps could be hard to come by if he misses any time. 

If Onyeali can right his ship, he would bring yet another dynamic pass rushing element to a defense that ranked second in the nation in sacks.

Overall Situation: 5 pitchforks out of 5

No unit on the team, including running back, has more talent and more depth than the defensive line. While Sutton deservedly gets the headlines, he's surrounded by several quality players and a few budding stars.

The front line will once again be the key to the Sun Devil defense, and with the depth and talent present, it's hard not to expect another huge year from the unit.