Along with the Oregon running backs and the USC wide receivers, there may not have been a better position group in the Pac-12 last season than Arizona State's defensive line.
Led by All-American Will Sutton, the Sun Devils were a disruptive force both on the ground and against the pass. With Sutton's surprising return, every key contributor from last season is back, and with the addition of a strong group of recruits, the dominance could be even greater in 2013.
The lone change on the defensive front comes in the form of Jackie Shipp, who takes over the unit's coaching duties from Paul Randolph, who has moved to linebackers. After 14 seasons as Oklahoma's defensive line coach, Shipp brings an exceedingly impressive resume to Tempe, and will have all the tools to boast one of the nation's best fronts.
After your departure from Oklahoma, walk me through the process that led you to ASU? What were the big selling points for you?
Jackie Shipp: You have a great university with a beautiful campus to recruit to. Coach Graham and his coaching staff. Coach Graham personally as the head coach here, his mission and what he believes. This place to me has always had a lot of potential. It can be a very special place. I played against this team years ago in the early 80s when then had some helluva players here. I think that can be done here. They've been to the Rose Bowl. This is a very special place and you can win here. You can recruit here. You just have to go out and do it.
What do you feel are the core elements that make for a top-notch defensive line?
JS: Being very fundamentally sound. Playing hard all the time, and having mental and physical toughness.
Coach Graham called this current group the best defensive staff he's had. While you've only been here a short time, what is your evaluation of the defensive coaching staff?
JS: Great group. Coach Randolph, Coach Ball, our corners and special teams coach, Coach Lorig; you're talking about guys who know their game and know their fundamentals. They know what is expected defensively. They know the scheme. And you also have Coach Graham as the head coach, a defensive guy. He's right there with you. To me, that's always a positive. You want the head coach to be on your side of the ball (laughs). A great scheme here, a great plan and philosophy to be successful. We just have to implement it and go to work.
You inherit an All-American in Will Sutton. What is your evaluation on where he is as a player right now, and what things will you be looking for him to improve upon this season?
JS: Just getting more fundamentally sound. He's going to have to come with better fundamentals and better effort, because now they know who he is. They'll be coming after him now.
After he earned Freshman All-American honors last year, how good can Jaxon Hood be?
JS: Oh, he can be a lot better than what he is. He was just a freshman last year. He has a very high ceiling. All these guys have a very high ceiling.
Junior Onyeali has seemingly been poised for a breakout year the last few seasons. Do you feel is he is primed for a big senior year?
JS: We're hoping for him to have a big senior year. He has a chance to be a good player, but he just has to get back healthy and go to work.
One of the most talked about additions in the 2013 class is Marcus Hardison. What do you think he will bring to the ASU defense?
JS: He has to get here and play. He was a junior college All-American, but now he has to get here and prove all of that. He has to come here, work hard, and learn what we want done, and give his best effort to get on the field.
What are the most important things that you want to accomplish during spring practice?
JS: We want to be a lot more fundamentally sound and understand what we're doing from a play calling standpoint. Why we're doing something. Learn from the standpoint of why I do things like this. Memorize it.
What should fans be looking for from the defensive line in 2013?
JS: They should have high expectations.