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October 23, 2012
Way back in fall camp, the Arizona State defensive coaching staff told its players about an incentive program designed to honor arguably the most celebrated student-athlete in program history.
Over the course of the first seven games of the season, however, no one stepped up quite high enough to earn the recognition, leaving some players hard to remember that it even existed.
That all changed Tuesday when ASU defensive back Alden Darby stepped onto the practice fields.
Instead of wearing the customary white mesh jersey for defense, the junior donned a camouflage No. 42 uniform with the name "Tillman" printed on the back.
The honor, according to ASU coach Todd Graham was meant to show how a specific player on the Sun Devil defense represented the late Pat Tillman both on and off the field. The criteria for earning the distinction included: having a serviceman mentality, excelling academically, being a great player on the field and finally embracing his intangibles.
"Honestly, I forgot about it," Darby said of the jersey. "I wasn't working towards it, I was being me. During camp, coaches told us there would be a jersey available. Now that was months ago. Then they approached me last week and it was a surprise."
Darby, who will wear the specialized jersey from here on out at practice, took the acknowledgment with great respect for who it remembers.
"It's an honor," he said. "(Tillman) competed with character, integrity, poise and passion. I watched a game of his not too long ago, he played the way you're supposed to play. That's a great guy you want to model the program around."
Through the first seven games of the season, Darby has two interceptions and 41 tackles.
"He's been phenomenal," Graham said. "Those are hard to come by. He's earned that jersey because every single day he's brought it on the field and off the field."
Graham added other players on the defense can earn the Tillman jersey like Darby if they fill the same set of criteria he has.
Sutton and Pennel updates
After days of uncertainly, Graham finally disclosed the nature of ASU junior defensive tackle Will Sutton's injury that knocked him out of the Oregon game on Thursday.
"It's a bone bruise," the coach said. "It's not a ligament or anything like that, so it's something that he can tolerate."
As for Sutton's status moving forward into the UCLA game, it appears unlikely but the staff will have a better idea as the week progresses.
"We'll know more on Thursday, he's moving, he wants to do more but we're not letting him," Graham said. "He's progressing, he suited up today. We're being more cautious than anything. We're working hard to get him back, I think it's going to be soon but whether he plays or not this week I honestly don't know."
If Sutton is unable to play, that will make ASU nose tackle Mike Pennel's standing even more important. The junior who is practicing for the first time since being suspended after the Cal game participated in drills with the regular defense on Tuesday while junior Jake Sheffield nursed an injury that has plagued him since camp's outset.
"Jake strained his calf a little bit more, so (Pennel) was over there in depth," Graham said. "He's had a good two days, we'll see how he progresses."
Coleman moves inside
To help combat Sutton's absence from the defensive line, the Sun Devils practiced ASU junior defensive end Davon Coleman at defensive tackle on Tuesday alongside freshman Jaxon Hood with the first group.
"I actually like it more than the end because it's really less thinking and I'm just firing off," Coleman said. "I'm just more aggressive so I actually think I'm better there believe it or not."
In seven games this season, Coleman has amassed 24 tackles including four and a half for loss. He believes he and the rest of the defensive line, which allowed over 300 yards rushing to Oregon last week, will bounce back this Saturday.
"We saw a lot of mistakes on film and we just know that we're better than we played," Coleman said. "We just have to step it up because this is a big game in the South."
Kelly moving past miscues
What bothered ASU sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly most about his performance Thursday against the Ducks was his turnovers.
Two interceptions in Sun Devil territory set up two quick Oregon touchdowns basically put the game out of reach.
Both picks happened when the Ducks dropped a linebacker into zone coverage, taking away an intermediate route the quarterback was looking for.
"Protect the football is a huge thing for me, those turnovers were crucial points in the game," Kelly said. "The first one was a bad ball, I tried to fit it in. The second one I didn't see him. There were a few things that happened that I didn't see before."
From there, down by multiple scores, Kelly felt the offense got out of rhythm and that compounded the mistakes several times over.
"It might have affected a little bit of our confidence but we didn't execute," he said. "We're confident in ourselves though to bounce back."