Defensive tackle Will Sutton is among the Pac-12 Conference's, and college football's, most celebrated defensive talents. Sutton is the undisputed star of the outstanding Arizona State front seven. But in linebacker Carl Bradford, Sutton has a running mate who is every bit as much a part of the Sun Devils' prolific pass rush as the All-America defensive tackle.
Bradford ranked among the nation's leaders in tackles for loss season with 20.5, which put him in the company of ballyhooed stars as Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Barr and, yes, Will Sutton.
At July's Pac-12 media day, head coach Todd Graham sang Bradford's praises.
"Thirteen sacks, that's pretty good. Lot of [tackles-for-loss]," Graham said. "I look for Carl to be the best [linebacker] in the country."
Though Sutton may be more recognized nationally, Bradford is far from a sidekick. Their on-field dynamic is symbiotic.
"One of the things Will will tell you helps him is the surrounding cast he has around him," Graham said.
Sutton expounded on Graham's thoughts during his media day address.
"Coach talks about building relationships and I feel like our relationships are stronger than we ever had," Sutton said. "We believe in one another and we don't have to worry about somebody else doing their job because we know that they're going to get it done."
The entire ASU defense recorded a staggering 52 sacks in 2012, second only to Stanford. Sutton and Bradford together were responsible for more than half.
Opposing offensive lines face a dilemma scheming for the Sun Devils. Doubling up on Sutton on the interior is not an option, because that weakens the edge from where Bradford blitzes. Likewise, designing coverage exclusive to handle Bradford thins the middle for Sutton to dominate.
Indeed, the two feed off one another. Their success is mutual, and in 2013 they are taking that to another level. Each is pushing the other to make history.
The duo told Doug Haller of The Arizona Republic that they both want to eclipse Terrell Suggs' single-season sack record of 24.
Haller calls it a "competition within the competition," an extra motivational tool to push the Sun Devils to work even harder.
Graham said that the team's hard work manifested in the offseason with prolonged efforts in the weight room. Bradford power-cleans over 400 pounds, the head coach said.
Such strength gives the linebacker's tackles an added wallop, which is sure to make opposing quarterbacks aware of Bradford's location on the field at a given time.
Likewise, Sutton bulked up from a year ago, packing on muscle to tip the scale at 305 pounds.
"Our guys are stronger, faster, more explosive," Graham said. "These guys have really bought into our philosophy of studying the game."
While the ASU defense is primarily known for wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks—and rightfully so—there is a facet in which the Sun Devil front seven has room for improvement.
"Our No. 1 goal is...rush defense. That's the thing that has to be elevated," Graham said.
A season ago, ASU surrendered nearly 183 rushing yards per game, and 4.3 yards per carry. While the sack record is a hot topic of conversation coming out of Tempe, how Sutton and Bradford lead the Sun Devil defense in stopping the rush may determine if the program reaches its first Pac-12 championship game.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.
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