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ASU Football: After tumultuous 2016 season, the Sun Devil offensive line is primed for improved 2017

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A new coach hopes to bring aggression and consistency to a unit that lacked just that last season

Jacob Franklin/House of Sparky

In 2016, the Arizona State Sun Devils had issues protecting the quarterback - and that might be an understatement.

ASU allowed 41 sacks, putting them 123rd in the nation at keeping their passer off the ground and worst in the Pac-12 by seven sacks.

Enter Rob Sale.

Hired in February, Sale headed west from the University of Louisiana-Monroe, where he presided over an offensive line that was twice better than ASU’s, allowing 19 sacks in 12 games.

Admittedly aggressive and competitive in nature, Sale has brought that philosophy to coaching Sun Devil linemen.

“He’s hard on us, so it kind of fires us up and gets us more in an angry mood,” sophomore Cohl Cabral said. “We just take it out on whoever’s across from us instead of him.”

And that’s what Sale has been looking for, saying his players are responding the way he’s hoped.

Throughout camp, the majority of first-team reps have gone to (from left to right) Cabral, redshirt junior Sam Jones, senior A.J. McCollum, redshirt sophomore Steven Miller and redshirt junior Quinn Bailey.

The group of five has worked together through the fall to create strong communication across the line of scrimmage as they grow more comfortable moving as a unit.

“We’re all on top of it,” Cabral said. “We know all the calls, we’re on the same page. And even if we make the wrong call, we’re all going to do the same thing on the wrong call and we can live with it when it comes up on film.”

But that doesn’t mean the line is a finished product.

A season ago, injuries across the starting five contributed to the lack of success from the unit. Jones and Zach Robertson both started game one of the season against Northern Arizona, but were forced to watch the Territorial Cup from the sideline with lingering injuries. The departed Stephon McCray also missed time, meaning 60 percent of last season’s original starting unit to cede their spots at some point, creating opportunities for those down the depth chart.

“Some people who might not have gotten experience got experience and got some snaps in games,” Bailey said. “It made the twos more aware of what can happen with injuries and they need to be ready to play at any time.”

Sale had similar issues with ULM in 2016. Just one of his offensive linemen started all 12 games for the Warhawks. He’s experienced the importance of keeping backups ready, and Sale believes he has guys that can play with the first team at a moment’s notice.

“Even the second-tier guys have gotten better, and that’s what you want to see,” Sale said. “There’s a couple dependables in there that you can throw out in critical situations and perform at a high level.”

At the end of the day, Jones said the messaging hasn’t changed much in terms of what’s expected from the unit.

“It’s just assignment, technique and effort,” Jones said. “If you get better at all those three things, at the end of the day whatever happens happens, but you did your best.”