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ASU Football: Robert Rodriguez and Darien Butler on Lole injury, defensive line depth

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Next man up

Zac BonDurant

The Arizona State defense is a tight knit bunch. At all three levels, players see familiar faces, friends they’ve taken the field with for at least two prior seasons. The brotherhood on this side of the ball runs deep, and Jermayne Lole’s teammates and coaches know just how much the senior defensive tackle has been through leading up to his likely season ending injury.

“I want to be clear, injuries are the hardest part of this game. Especially when you get so close to your guys,” defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez said following Monday’s practice. “In particular, I have such a love and respect for Jermayne. It’s our obligation as a team to do our best to replace the production, but you can’t replace the person.”

This past year, Lole lost three family members to Covid-19. In a time when it was easy for everyone to feel sorry for themselves and lament the pandemic, the suffering Lole endured easily puts things in perspective. Luckily, he has a family in ASU football, and more specifically his defensive brethren, that will always have his back.

“Myself, Marivin, Herm and all of his teammates are going to do our best to show him we love him,” Rodriguez said.

“Something like that, it hurts us,” linebacker Darien Butler said of Lole’s injury. “I’ve just been praying on him, he just finished surgery and i’m praying he gets back and ready to roll.”

Rodriguez on his group’s depth

“I feel way better about the depth this year than I did at this time last year. It’s not even close. If I had sat here a year ago, I couldn’t have said I trust Stanley Lambert to go out and play for us, the kid has worked so hard for a year and I trust him to go play for us. We have a lot more candidates that work really hard and that we’re going to like.”

Shannon Forman and Omar Norman-Lott headline the group, and both have tremendously impressed Rodriguez in camp.

“I’m really proud of Shannon and Omar. I’m sleeping well at night because I still have a high standard for this group and it’s being held right now, and those two are both two men who are better than they were last year. Shannon’s tough as nails. If somebody wants to get heavy and play big boy football he can do it. He’s also more athletic, and has improved a lot in his pass rushing, which was an area he wasn’t great in.

In contrast, Norman-Lott is a bit more naturally gifted when it comes to getting after the quarterback.

“Omar I think when he was born he was already rushing the passer. He’s got a quickness that I can’t teach. He’s so energetic and athletic almost like the tasmanian devil, he’s gonna just bounce around and destroy everything. So we have to have balance there, making him a better and more disciplined run defender and pass rusher. The tasmanian devil in him will knock over a lot of trees, but maybe the quarterback’s still standing. He’s also matured as a person, I’m really excited for his future.”

One thing is clear, the trio of Butler, Merlín Robertson and Kyle Soelle have played more than enough snaps together to develop a chemistry that can separate them from Pac-12 counterparts.

“Most definitely, just from the way we talk to each other and look at each other, we already know what we’re gonna do,” Butler said when asked whether the chemistry is at an all time high. “We’ve been in this together so long, three or four years, we’ve seen so much and are really comfortable.”

The defense began camp in the driver’s seat, dominating the Sun Devil offense early, but Jayden Daniels’ unit has made up ground in the last 6-7 practices. If iron sharpens iron, ASU will be razor sharp on both sides of the ball on September 2.