Sophomore defensive tackle Jaxon Hood wants to build off of last year, when he started as a true freshman. if his performance in Monday's Arizona State camp scrimmage was any indicator, he's well on his way to doing just that.
Hood finished the scrimmage with and unofficial total of three sacks and two tackles for loss. Obviously coach Todd Graham was pleased with the performance.
"Jaxon had a really good day today," Graham said. "A lot of negative yardage plays, did some good things, had a good spirit about him and he was competing."
Hood flew under the radar a last season for two reasons. He was overshadowed by the talent surrounding him like senior defensive tackle Will Sutton and junior linebacker Carl Bradford.
The other reason was because of the position he plays. In Graham's defensive scheme Hood's position, known as the nose tackle, is a tough place to get sacks or TFLs by design.
On the majority of plays Hood is working a 1-technique, meaning he is lined up in between the guard and the center. Most plays Hood will take on a double team, engage both offensive linemen so one of them cannot move up to the next level and block a linebacker.
By accomplishing that Hood clogs the A gap -- the space on either side of the center -- and the linebackers can make a play.
So far, Hood has taken his game to the next level.
Instead of just absorbing double team blocks, he is doing a better job of splitting them to make a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. His stat line at the end of Monday's scrimmage is evidence of that.
Hood said his improvement is simply from being more comfortable at the next level.
"It's just confidence really," Hood said. "That and more explosion and just feeling it you know and just being used to the college double team now. I'm built to stop a double team. I've got my big legs and I'm shorter."
Hood said he is playing with more confidence. But first-year defensive line coach Jackie Shipp said Hood is playing smarter and seeing the game in front of him better.
"He got better at attacking the line of scrimmage, not looking for the football, not looking at the blocking scheme, attacking the man that he is aligned on and understanding that that man is going to tell you what the outside man's pressure key is going to do," Shipp said. "[He's] seeing a small picture instead trying to see a whole big picture. So it made him more aggressive."
Hood did not say he has any specific statistical goals he wanted to accomplish this season, but rather, wants to build on his first season by focusing on "Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals."
Sulka's been given a chance to earn a starting spot along the offensive front in recent practices. So far he has made the most of the opportunity and Monday's scrimmage was no exception.
He took every rep at the right tackle spot with the first team offense in the scrimmage. Junior Jamil Douglas stayed at the left guard position and junior Sil Ajawara was with the second group at left guard.
The most impressive part of Sulka's performance Monday was his pass protection. This summer Sulka accomplished the difficult task of gaining about 20 more pounds without losing quickness.
After a couple days adjusting to the greater number of reps, Sulka has shown very solid footwork blocking the outside rush.
He had some good blocks against ASU speed rusher Carl Bradford and was very consistent picking up outside blitzes from linebackers like senior Anthony Jones.
Offensive line coach Chris Thomsen has seen Sulka's improvement in the pass game.
"He's done a good job at pass protection," Thomsen said. "He's added some weight over the summer so he's a little bit more physical in the run game. Just as a whole he's done a better job."
For Sulka the secret to pass protection is all in the first step.
"Coach Thomsen actually works us on a vertical kick where we're getting back real quick and long first step," Sulka said. "It's something that I've really keyed on and it's something that I'm going to continue to do better and it's just kind of natural to me."
It has been no secret that ASU is going to be a run based offense.
When it comes to the offensive linemen, they get the privilege to block in front of weapons like sophomore running back D.J. Foster and senior running back Marion Grice.
Sulka said being in front of those playmakers is extra motivation because if all five linemen sustain their blocks, Foster and Grice can take it to the house on any play.
Graham said junior quarterback Taylor Kelly did not participate in the scrimmage because he had a cut on his head from an elbow on Sunday.
Redshirt freshman Salamo Fiso got extensive second team reps during the scrimmage. Graham said Fiso is battling with senior linebacker Steffon Martin for the SAM linebacker job.
Graham said freshman linebacker Chans Cox is going to stay at the devil position, but it's been a difficult transition. The true freshman is still adjusting to the next level and playing with his hand in the ground for the first time in his career. On most of his pass rushes he was ineffective.
Graham said senior linebacker Junior Onyeali will be focusing on the devil linebacker position and will be primarily a third down pass rusher.
There were a lot of penalties and missed assignments from the wide receivers. Graham attributed that to fact that most the receivers are new players who have only been on the team one week.
The second and third offensive line groups struggled against the second and third defensive line groups in the scrimmage. It might be a weak barometer of the status of the young offensive line. The lower half of the defensive line depth chart is still filled with some experienced players like senior defensive tackle Davon Coleman and senior defensive tackle Jake Sheffield, the latter of whom earned praise from Graham for his scrimmage performance. The back-ups to the offensive line are a little younger, like sophomore tackle William McGehee and redshirt freshman guard Stephon McCray.
The offense started off a little slow and could not sustain a drive early in the scrimmage. Senior center Kody Koebensky was the one that spoke up and tried to get the offense motivated, especially his group at offensive line.
Steffon Martin probably had the best play of the scrimmage. Martin was deep hole by the end zone covering freshman wide receiver Ellis Jefferson. Martin was right in front of Jefferson with perfect coverage jumped up and intercepted the ball.
Redshirt sophomore corner back Rashad Wadood was beaten by senior wide receiver Alonzo Agwuenu twice during the scrimmage but the secondary was otherwise very impressive on the day.