November 7, 2008

Former walk-on becomes indispensable leader

The ball is snapped and Slade Norris is out of his three-point stance like the crack of a whip.

In three short strides, Norris blows past Arizona State offensive tackle Jon Hargis and sets his sights on quarterback Rudy Carpenter. ASU running back Shaun DeWitty slides over to chip block, but it's already too late. Carpenter pumps once, then tucks the ball and braces for impact as Norris spins him to the turf.

The entire play lasts less than five seconds, and it doesn't even affect the outcome of the game - three plays later Carpenter throws a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Andrew Pettes, cutting Oregon State's lead to 27-25 and setting up a do-or-die two-point conversion attempt with 21 seconds left - but it's the type of play that Norris makes with regularity and it's also the type of play that has earned the 6-foot-3, 245-pound defensive end a reputation as one of the Pac-10's top pass rushers.

"It became very clear that they were impacting that game," OSU head coach Mike Riley said of Norris and fellow defensive end Victor Butler, who teamed to sack Carpenter four times on Saturday night. "When Arizona State would leave a back in or a tight end in to chip them and basically get a double team on our ends, it became evident how big that is because that really affects you in the passing game and getting [receivers] out. They have to keep more people in, they have less people out and we've got … a better chance of covering [their receivers]. That's theoretically how it works."

Perhaps no one on the field better understands the trickle-down effect of Norris' pass rushing ability than Norris himself, whose career arc from walk-on safety to scout team linebacker to starting defensive end has given the fifth-year senior a unique perspective on how the many individual parts of the OSU defense work together to stifle opposing offenses.

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