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ASU Football: ‘Nobody’s spot is safe’ on hungry Sun Devils defensive line

In an effort to improve, the Sun Devils are battling amongst each other for starting roles.

Photo taken by Nick Ramirez

TEMPE – As the heart of monsoon season diminished bringing Tempe temperatures back to their daily triple digit norm, Sun Devil practices and depth charts are heating as well up bringing a fiery competitive nature to fall camp just weeks before Arizona State’s home opener against New Mexico State on Aug. 31.

“Nobody’s spot is safe,” said defensive line coach Michael Slater.

“The depth charts aren’t magnets. They change daily,” Slater added. “You take one lazy step and somebody is right behind you trying to get your reps. That’s what we want to create. It’s competitive.”

No matter age, grade, experience, or recruiting stars, Slater made it clear: every practice is an all-out war.

Freshman Shannon Forman, formerly a two-star recruit, earned his Southern University Lab School (Baton Rouge) diploma in May, and he’s already found himself thrown into first-team tempo drills alongside Sun Devil veterans JoJo Wicker and Tashon Smallwood.

A major defensive line realignment took stage in Payson, as sophomore George Lea, who appeared in 10 games last season, was swapped for Foreman in the Camp Tontozona scrimmage.

“My eyes started getting big. It was just like a shocking moment for me,” Forman said. “Right before the scrimmage. You’re nervous. You’re going against the number ones and I kind of was nervous the whole day -- Butterflies that whole morning. But I just went out there and balled… I had to show my competitiveness.”

Timid or not, Forman proved he had the work ethic to earn first string playing time. He’s a guy Slater has deemed incredibly “coachable” and at 6-foot-1, 299 pounds has the frame to play the position.

Lea, one of Forman’s counterparts, admits he slacked in Payson, as he saw a true freshman take his spot.

“Yes, people have been working harder than me,” Lea said. “And I’ve just been going through the motions… when we were at Camp T for our last scrimmage, the “aha” moment popped. Just finishing the plays. Just the effort.”

Lea said Forman competes and that it’s something they need on their team; competition.

Lea went back to performing first-team drills on Thursday’s practice, as he filled in for Forman who placed on second-team. Freshman D.J. Davidson, junior Dougladson Subtyl senior Renell Wren are also much in the mix for a starting job.

“I know George, he’s gonna be competitive,” Foreman said. “I’m going to be competitive. I know D.J. Davidson is going to be competitive. No one wants to lose their job.”

The pack elevates eachother each day and Slater sees an evident leader.

“Tashon [Smallwood] is consistently the hardest worker,” Slater said. “He’s the standard right now. So we’re trying to get everybody to his standard.”

Not because he racked up 43 tackles in 2015 (the most of any defensive lineman), or started in 32 games since his freshman year (the most of any Sun Devil football player), but because of his work ethic.

Alongside him is Wicker. A defensive threat who may be the most talented on the Sun Devils. Foreman doesn’t see them as competitive foes, but brothers, who are rooting for him to improve.

“Not only does he (Smallwood) care about himself, he cares about everyone else. He wants everybody to eat… I’m 100 percent behind him,” Foreman said. “JoJo is like a big brother. I can talk to him and ask him stuff. He’s just a good player. He’s probably going to be one of the most dominate players in the Pac-12.”