Graham touts improved defensive line depth

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Arizona State coach Todd Graham said Thursday the depth of his defensive line is the best he's ever had.
While he didn't also mention it's only his second year with the Sun Devils, it does make clear he thinks its area where the program is improved.
Last season, when senior All-American tackle Will Sutton was knocked out for two games with a knee injury, there was massive drop off at the position.
When healthy, Sutton and sophomore tackle Jaxon Hood often played essentially the entire game, an uncommon feat for a position coaches like to keep fresh.
As visible in Thursday's practice, there are multiple competent options at depth along the defensive front, giving the team versatility.
Now it's a matter of Graham and his defensive assistants finding the right player combinations.
While there were no first-team changes with the offense or defense during the team period, there were several noteworthy moves with the second-team defense.
Specifically, sophomore defensive tackle Mo Latu moved up from the third-team to the second-team at the 1-techinique spot.
"Mo (Latu) is coming on," Graham said. "He's a great run stopper in there."
Coming off a minor surgical procedure on his knee this summer, Latu came into camp out of shape at 380 pounds and in need of building up his conditioning level.
"The last few practices my knee has started to loosen up and I can bend it better and do more so I'm getting more confident," Latu said. "Now I just have to keep getting in better shape so I can do the things the coaches want from me."
Since last year, Latu has made the transition back from offensive guard to defensive tackle and is working towards becoming a force on the field. But first he knows he'll have to make a small impact.
"They have told me they'd like to see me be able to play like 20 snaps," Latu said. "That's what I'm trying to do. I want to be a starter of course, but I'm going to try to work my way up to that."
Another key addition to the defensive depth chart this year has been highly rated junior college transfer Marcus Hardison. Latu's move up to the second-unit in the only media observed team period Thursday allowed Hardison to shift over to what Graham has called his more natural 3-technique position.
"I think Marcus Hardison has had his two best practices," Graham said. "It was a struggle. He'd never really practiced at the pace we practice at and all that. That's hard, and I'm really proud of him because he's come off two really good days. Not the mock game, but the two practices before that he really did well."
Hardison was pleased with getting reps at a position where he feels better suited, but know that to play a lot he may have to move around considering Sutton anchors the position on the depth chart.
"Right now on the field-wise, my abilities, the 3-tech is definitely the position that I should be in," Hardison said. "Though for this year, it's wherever I fit in for this year."
Hardison said he would play wherever the team needs him, but in order to improve his game, defensive line coach Jackie Shipp had him tweak his stance.
"I've adjusted (to the change)," Hardison said. "Once I switched my stance, I come out a lot more explosive and low. The only thing that I'm working on now is keeping my head up. I have a habit of coming out and keeping my head down and they don't like that right now."
Along with the shift in defensive line technique and modification to his stance, Hardison has mentally been trying to change his tendencies on the field.
"Right now I'm just trying to make better practice habits," Hardison said. "Then I'll get work a little harder to get this technique down."
The adjustment to Division I football has been steeper because Hardison has been asked to learn three of the four defensive line positions.
However, Hardison said all he has to do is be a little more focused in order to make fewer mental mistakes and positively contribute to the team.
"When they need me, I'll come in and just bust my tail every play," Hardison said.
Along with Shipp helping him out with his game, players like Hood and Sutton have helped him get up to speed.
"We sit right next to each other," Hardison said of Hood. "We're both in the learning stage right now so Coach Shipp expects a lot out of us.
"[Sutton] teaches me something every day in the film room," Hardison said. "He's an awesome teammate, he teaches me hands down his knowledge. I'm getting better every day."
Calling senior Jake Sheffield an improved player and sophomore Sean O'Grady a position surprise, Graham believes he has more capable options to tinker with.
"We've got better depth than we've ever had," Graham said. "You've got (starting senior) Gannon (Conway) and (backup senior) Davon (Coleman) at the end so you're really solid there. (Sean) O'Grady is a guy who is really coming on and can play end or 3-technique and we think will play for us some. Get some plays.
Freshman linebacker Chans Cox, who appears to have secured the back-up devil position behind junior Carl Bradford, adds more depth to the roster as well as senior pass rush specialist Junior Onyeali.
"When you look at the end position, great depth, when you look at the nose position, great depth," Graham said. "At 3-technique you've got Marcus and Jaxon backing it up and at devil, that's the only place -- Chans (Cox) is doing a good job, it's just he's young and learning everything. So we'll see. Junior (Onyeali) is a guy who is a third down pass rusher right now and he's got to be able to get a lot better to be able to play on first and second down. He's kind of in-between the two so we're trying to figure out a place for him."
Junior safety Damarious Randall and redshirt freshman linebacker Carlos Mendoza were still in green non-contact jerseys at practice today. Mendoza was conditioning on the bike.
Junior wide receiver Joe Morris was not in a green non-contact jersey for the first time. Morris went through individuals but didn't participate in the team period.
Senior tight end Darwin Rogers was not in a green non-contact jersey as well, his first practice after suffering a concussion a week earlier. Rogers didn't practice in individuals, but caught a pass for a large gain in the team period.
Sophomore defensive lineman Sean O'Grady had his right hand taped up, a change from the heavy wrap he had on in previous practices. O'Grady had surgery for a broken finger and wore a cast in the spring.
Junior defensive tackle Demetrius Cherry was back at practice after being suspended for a few days for a team rules violation.
Freshman linebacker Viliami Latu played the SAM, taking the place of senior linebacker Grandville Taylor, in the lone team period observed by media.
Sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong was observed being tested out as a possible kickoff returner for the first time.
Junior walk-on Dom Vizarro got the first punts at practice.
After muffing two kickoffs, sophomore running back D.J. Foster was assigned to run 200 yards with up and downs every five yards after practice by receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander.