As Arizona State returned to the practice field for the first time Sunday following its drubbing at the hands of Oregon three days earlier, its best part of the day wasn't a big hit, circus catch for a touchdown or long converted field goal, it was simply seeing one of its own in full dress.
Junior defensive tackle Will Sutton didn't practice after suffering a right knee injury on the game's second play from scrimmage, but what was a crippling blow to ASU's chances against the Ducks wasn't for the potential All-American.
As ASU coach Todd Graham alluded following his post-practice availability session Sunday, there initially was real concern that Sutton would be out for a long time, but a positive MRI result coupled with some limited stretching in full pads showed that if anything, a week-to-week prognosis is conservative and he could be back very soon, certainly Oregon State on Nov. 3 if not this week against UCLA.
"It's not going to be a long term because we're not going to let it be a long term," ASU defensive line coach and co-coordinator Paul Randolph said. "He's working. 'Are you running yet' is what I ask him every two minutes. But he's working is tail off and I expect to see him running again in the next couple days. But Will is excited about working to get back, no question about it, and we're going to get fired up when he's back."
Even after essentially missing an entire game, Sutton still ranks third nationally in quarterback sacks and fifth in tackles for loss as well as second in both categories in the Pac-12.
"Will is such a catalyst for our team," Randolph said. "When he makes a play he gets everyone excited, offensively, defensively, special teams. He has the affect on his teammates. In losing him we lose him making a great play. The whole stands erupt, the fans, everybody is hanging off the rafters and then he gets hurt….That's what we missed, we missed Will in the first half in the backfield being disruptive."
Offensive line depth a strength
When senior right guard Andrew Sampson went down with a right ankle sprain in the first half with Oregon, his loss didn't prove to be anywhere near as detrimental to ASU's offensive capability as Sutton's loss was on defense.
Redshirt freshman Vi Teofilo replaced Sampson seamlessly and may have shown that the future is even brighter at the position than the present.
"We were very excited about how he played," Graham said. "I think coach (Bob) Connelly felt he played very physically, got after it and did good. He is a physical specimen. (Tyler) Sulka is another guy we want to get more playing time. There's things we're looking to do with him, maybe use more linemen, guys going in there. But Vi, Mo (Latu), Sulka, Evan Goodman, Sil (Ajawara), those are really quality guys that don't have the reps, but he did a good job, he really did. I was pleased with that."
Teofilo said his mindset was to not be too nervous or tight, and that he'd been told in the week prior by Connelly that he'd had his best practices of the year.
"He told me I played very fast, I played my heart out so it felt good," Teofilo said. "I felt slow, I definitely felt slow on the field, but I looked fast on film so it's pretty good."
After three weeks completely away from the program, junior defensive tackle Mike Pennel, all 350-plus pounds of him, returned to the practice squad Sunday.
Pennel was suspended following ASU's Sept. 29 win over Cal, in which he did not play, for comments posted to his twitter account expressing dissatisfaction with his role. He was subsequently removed from the official roster and did not participate in any team activities for 22 days.
Graham said Pennel is on a plan of improvement and the coaching staff hopes that he is able to be successful. The path likely won't be an easy one.
"Our expectations are, Mike came out today, great attitude, working, having fun, and loving football," Randolph said. "We had a great conversation and he said, 'Coach, I missed it. I missed football, I missed the guys.' Our expectation is for him to come out with a great work ethic every day and just go to work and I thought he had a good day today."
For the second straight time, ASU will play an opponent that had a bye week leading up to the contest, something that isn't lost on Graham as his team prepares for UCLA on Saturday.
"They're a week ahead of us so we tried to catch up today and just tried to introduce a little bit of UCLA," Graham said. "Our guys know the significance of this game. Obviously this is a must win for us. Our guys are focused on being championships and winning the south and this is a really good UCLA team coming in. These guys play very well, very explosive, playing very good defense, it's two very closely matched teams."