The start of Arizona State's 2012 season is just 12 weeks away. Of course, you're already following our daily countdown posts and our 5-Pack series to get you ready for the beginning of Sun Devil football, Todd Graham style.
We now debut a new weekly feature in which we will list the 12 most important Sun Devil players for this season. This is not simply a "best players" list. Oh no. This factors in everything: the player's talents, team needs, expectations, value amongst his position.
We begin this countdown with the No. 12 player on our list: defensive tackle Will Sutton.
One of the many players from the Corona Centennial-to-ASU pipeline, Sutton came to Arizona State over offers from rival Arizona and Nebraska.
He played in all 12 games in 2009, including two starts, making 17 tackles and raising expectations for a breakout sophomore season along the Sun Devil defensive line. A strong fall camp did nothing to quell the excitement surrounding him. However, just a few days before the season, he was ruled out for the year due to academics.
That setback dealt a blow to the Sun Devil defense in 2010, but did nothing to lower the expectations surrounding the talented Sutton, and he carried those into 2011.
Slimmed down by 15 pounds, Sutton appeared poised to become the force along the defensive front that the school had hoped to have since the days of Dexter Davis. However, the production fell shy of those lofty ambitions. In 13 games, including 12 starts, he made 33 tackles with only 5.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks. Solid production, yes, but far from the level a player of Sutton's caliber should achieve.
So once again, high expectations for Sutton roll over to another Sun Devil season. But unlike the past few years, the talent of Sutton seems to have found a perfect fit with the team's new defensive scheme.
Gone are the days of the standard 4-3 alignment, in which bending-but-not-breaking was prized. In its place is the new aggressive and attacking mindset installed by defensive coordinator Paul Randolph, who also serves as defensive lien coach. One of his new favorite--and most versatile--toys is the ultra-talented Sutton.
At 6'2", 270 pounds, Sutton has the build to play the defensive tackle position in a 4-3 scheme that he has done over his first three years. But when the team switches to a 3-4 front, or even a 3-3-5, Sutton's quickness and agility allows him to slide to defensive end, where he can attack off the edge or serve as the linchpin for run defense.
That versatility will allow Sutton to become a constant and fearsome presence along the defensive line no matter the down, distance or personnel the team or opposition employs. Stout and strong enough to shed offensive linemen against the run, he is also quick enough to beat them to rush the opposing quarterback.
The new defensive philosophy of attack will start up front, and Sutton is the most talented playmaker in the unit. As a result, a lot of what the defense will want to do will be dependent upon the play of Sutton.
With the talent, scheme, and playing time all in place, it's now time for Sutton to play to his potential. If he does, the Sun Devils could have an all-conference player anchoring a surprising defense. If not...well...it could be a long year.