In Arizona State's most important game last season -- or any season as many fans would probably say -- Chris Young was asked to move from spur linebacker to a SAM position he'd never played before in a 41-34 Territorial Cup win over Arizona.
This year, it's possible he may again be asked to play a different position than the one he dominated at last season when he finished third on the team with 82 tackles and second in tackles for loss with 14.
In Tuesday's spring practice, Young moved for the first time from the spur position to the WILL spot where Brandon Magee was a mainstay as a senior last season.
"There's nothing that's too hard, nothing I can't do," Young said following the session. "It's a physical position and I like being physical. That's the whole part of me playing football I guess.
"It's not too different than what I'm used to. It's pretty easy. With me, I just always like to be physical period no matter where I'm at. For the most part you've got to buckle down and get to work."
The move isn't carved in stone yet, certainly not with junior college linebacker signees Antonio Longino and Eriquel Florence set to arrive in the fall.
Competition will be fierce across the board at linebacker in the fall, and the player who moved up to the first-team at spur Tuesday, senior Anthony Jones, knows he'll have to practice consistently well over a prolonged period to truly become a starter.
"I'm done with all that," Jones said, when asked for an interview about the development after practice. "None of that matters to me anymore."
Essentially, Jones was suggesting he's done being distracted by anything other than that which he controls.
ASU coach Todd Graham said his defense is improved across the board with the possible exception of two positions where it lost key starters Magee and free safety Keelan Johnson to graduation.
"Obviously we're trying to create competition," Graham said Tuesday. "(First-team SAM) Steffon (Martin) is a lot better. You can tell [strength coach Shawn Griswold] has done a great job training him physically and mentally. So he's a lot better, he's looked very consistent. Grandville (Taylor) (who was working at first-team WILL before Tuesday) has trained really well. Our linebackers are big, physical looking guys. Chris was really a bright spot today. That WILL linebacker, big shoes to fill, big shoes to fill at (free) safety. Everywhere else we're better."
Young, 6-feet, 233 pounds, said that he'll be much more capable of taking the punishment that comes along with battling offensive linemen who often reach his level and try to block him, after his first year in the Sun Devil winter strength and conditioning program.
"I probably won't feel it now but later in the season it's something I'm going to have to get used to," Young said. "It's a dramatic change physically, mentally, getting used to things. Lifting has really been a focus and is going to get me to where I'm trying to be so that I can take on lineman and have the type of [endurance] I want to have."
After getting a year of experience in the system, Young said he and Martin, a former teammate at Arizona Western Community College in Yuma, Ariz., as well as others in the unit, are better positioned for success in 2013.
"Steffon is someone I can definitely depend on in this defense and Anthony is really getting it going," Young said. "So there's some good things there. We're only as good as our weakest person. Everyone has to come together and make sure we're doing everything right."
Free safety remains under spotlight
Graham's other position under the spotlight this spring, free safety, saw solid play Tuesday from redshirt freshman Laiu Moeakiola, who moved up the depth chart last week after a couple big plays got behind sophomore Ezekiel Bishop.
"We were thinking about sliding [Moeakiola] over to spur and just trying to see where the best position was and then he came out here [Tuesday] and had a great day. He's doing a good job tackling. The biggest thing at that position is we've got to have great play. The ball is going to break the line of scrimmage, you're going to have some plays downfield, we've got to have a guy who can run it down. We've got to work hard in the summer program to get him faster but he tackled well today. Too many plays this spring the ball has broken and gone for a touchdown. I'm talking about with the 1s. That position we've got to make sure that doesn't happen. He and Bishop are competing for the job and he's doing well. And obviously great character kid, I think he's a leader among those guys and I think he's a tremendous person."
Picking up the pace
Spring practices haven't been the marathon sessions that some expected, including a Tuesday session that wasn't much longer than two hours. The reason, according to Graham: efficiency.
"I am really, really pleased with how much more physical we're working up front and with our guys and how they're going about -- you notice we're practicing a shorter period of time and getting more work in that period," he said. "We're actually getting 22 more reps and basically practicing 25 minutes less."