As is always the case, many Arizona State returners showed up for the first day of fall camp looking a bit different.
Some players got leaner over the summer and others bulked up. It's rare, though, for a coach to make a significant physical transformation, so Todd Graham's near 30 pound weight loss turned heads.
Graham walked on to the practice field looking a lot slimmer. Count senior linebacker Chris Young among those surprised by the change.
"It was definitely kind of weird," Young said. "At first he never used to run with us up and down the field and now I see him running with us and yelling at us so that's different."
Young would know something about a body image change.
He started every game last season at the spur linebacker position. The position is a cross between a defensive back and a linebacker. It calls for a leaner and more agile player who can cover in space.
Toward the end of spring practice Young moved inside and got reps at the WILL linebacker position. Graham must have liked the way he performed to end the spring. Young got all the first team reps today at the WILL.
"He just trained," Graham said. "He'd never really been trained the way [strength coach Shawn Griswold] and the way the program does. He's weighing almost 250 pounds and he's stronger, faster and more explosive. Obviously we'd like him to stay at the WILL linebacker because I think he's better suited there. If we could have Anthony (Jones) or Carlos (Mendoza) or one of those guys come on at spur."
The WILL backer needs to be a thicker and stronger body to plug the gaps in the middle. Young knew this going into summer strength workouts.
"Definitely with the position change I'm putting on a little bit of weight," Young said. "The first five games are going to be (all about) power, more power and even more power. All in all, I definitely got bigger and better and I'm ready for the upcoming season with the position change."
Young's body shape now more closely resembles former ASU WILL linebacker Brandon Magee, but Young is taller and longer. Young gave credit to Griswold for his increase in size over the summer.
Young did not only have to change his body but also will have to tweak his technique moving inside.
Moving to the WILL means less slot receivers to cover but more lead blockers and pulling guards to take on. The size makes a lot of sense.
Besides the new collisions, Young said the biggest difference will be his pre-snap reads.
"I'm definitely looking at the guards, seeing what the guards' tendencies are such as down block, pull and all that as well as what the quarterback is doing -- drop step, quick pass, play action and all that," Young said. "Those things are going to play a big part of my success when the season starts."
After playing as a quasi-defensive back last year, Young is more than comfortable in coverage. That confidence has transferred over to the new position.
In the seven on seven drills in practice today, Young was making strong reads on the ball and was very quick moving sideline to sideline.
Young said playing the spur last season will no doubt give him an advantage in coverage at the new position.
Battle along defensive line
Two defensive linemen were among those who made impressions coming off the bus today.
Conway went from 260 pounds and May and is close to 285. His secret was, "focused eating."
"I was lifting as hard as I could but I was more focused on eating," Conway said. "The workouts that we're doing here at ASU, anybody that's doing these and going through them you need to eat like four times what you would normally eat in order to gain. If you're eating what you normally eat, you are going to lose. A lot of kids, sometimes they lose during the summer because of how rough and rigorous the workouts are."
Coleman must have been eating a lot too. One word to describe him after the summer is -- solid.
He added some numbers to the scale but also to his max lifts in the weight room. Coleman said the strength increase came from pushing himself in the weight room.
The increase in effort came from special motivation.
"Basically it's my last year, last go-around. It's now or never and I want to win as bad as ever," Coleman said. "Every day I lifted I thought about that."
Both linemen will benefit from their off-season gains, and are among the strongest players on the roster. Conway and Coleman are currently competing in camp for the starting end spot, though Coleman is also likely to back-up Will Sutton at 3-technique tackle.
Graham said he is going to use the depth to his advantage and cycle in more defensive linemen, something he couldn't do last season. But both players want to win the starting nod, and to do so they'll not only have to fight one another, but also ward off another newcomer, highly rated junior college transfer Marcus Hardison.
"Gannon had such an incredible summer. He's up to 280," Graham said. "Obviously Marcus Hardison factors into that and you've got Junior (Onyeali) at the defensive end spot as well. We just elected, that's kind of Davon's best spot (inside). We looked at the video of last year and he played well there. It gives us some depth there as well as we've got Mo Latu there inside.
"So I feel good about where we're at with our depth on the defensive line. We've just got to find the best guys and play them. Obviously we need to play a lot more than we did last year. There were games last year where Will played over 90 plays. He'll play as much as he wants to but we've got to be able to rest him some too."
Conway said the competition from Coleman will push him during camp.
"If someone is pushing me, I know I'm going to get better that day because I know I have to be 100 percent focused all the time or else I might lose my spot," Conway said. "So I'm just competing every day."
Place kicking was a concern for ASU last season. The fact that incoming freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez worked during the morning "veterens" practice today was evidence of that. Gonzalez also kicked with the firt-team field goal unit over redshirt junior kicker Alex Garoutte, who was also dressed out.
Players who will take part in the afternoon practice today were not dressed but watched the morning session. Sophomore linebacker Antonio Longino, a junior college transfer, was the only player walking around with a notepad and pen taking notes during practice.
Senior running back Kyle Middlebrooks was the only player wearing a green non-contact jersey. He did participate fully in drills and his knee looked solid despite wearing a brace for a surgically repaired ACL tear suffered last year.
Graham said highly anticipated junior college receiver addition Jaelen Strong may not practice this evening as the school is still getting all his transcript paperwork in order.