ASU’s Sutton dismisses critics of his weight, stats

TEMPE, Ariz. — Through three games last season, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton had tallied five tackles for loss, including three sacks, and was getting started on a monster season that ended with consensus All-American honors.

Through three games this year, Sutton has just 0.5 tackles for loss and no sacks, leading to a good deal of chatter — and some criticism — about what’s different this season.

Sutton brushed off criticism about his increased weight Wednesday and said the only thing that has really changed this year is the size of the target opposing offenses have on him.

“People think it’s my weight, but they don’t understand teams are gunning for me now,” Sutton said. “It’s a lot harder to make plays now when you’ve got double-teams.

“People just look at it as ‘He’s not making plays, so let’s find something to pin something negative on.'”

There have been misconceptions about how much weight Sutton actually put on in the offseason.

Sutton has been listed as having played last season at around 270 pounds, his weight in the team’s media guide, which is produced during the summer. In truth, Sutton played around 280 pounds and was up to about 295 pounds when ASU played in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in December.

ASU coach Todd Graham said at Pac-12 Media Day that Sutton was up to 305 pounds, making him tougher and better at stopping the run. But with Sutton’s stats not quite as expected in the early going, people began to talk about the added weight.

Last week, an NFL.com story cited an anonymous NFL scout as having said Sutton put on “bad weight,” causing him to lose some of his signature explosiveness. Sutton and his coaches couldn’t disagree more.

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” Graham said. “To me, I know that the training our guys have gone through — not just talking about any particular player — all of our guys are faster, stronger and more explosive.”

Sutton was asked directly Wednesday how he feels compared to last season.

“Just as fast,” Sutton answered. “Probably not faster, but just as fast. Stronger, though. A lot stronger.”

Sutton finished last season with  23 1/2 tackles for loss and 13 sacks en route to the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Award, so the extra game-planning attention from opposing offenses was not unexpected. Graham said Sutton is getting double-teamed on almost every play.

And a large chunk of those double-teams have come from two elite offensive lines — Wisconsin and Stanford. Sutton has managed to get penetration into the backfield, but against predominately power-running attacks like Stanford and Wisconsin, the opportunities for a sack or tackle for loss are fewer.

“We’ve played guys that haven’t thrown the football,” Graham said. “Stanford, I think, attempted 17 passes. And the first game he played (against Sacramento State), he only played two quarters. So he’s played two games and two quarters, and two of those teams have been teams that pretty predominately run the football.

“If he’d played more in the first game he’d probably have more sacks. We’re not concerned about all that.”

All things considered, there is plenty to explain Sutton’s lack of statistical production. But while Sutton may not be making the plays himself, he and coaches insist he’s still having a significant impact.

The attention on Sutton is creating more opportunities for teammates like Devilbacker Carl Bradford. That hasn’t been totally apparent against offensive fronts like Wisconsin and Stanford but should be once ASU reaches the more favorable part of its schedule.

With the season just three games old, Sutton still has plenty of time to display that he hasn’t lost a step and is stronger than ever. He should get plenty of chances to make good on his decision to return for his senior season rather than enter the NFL Draft early.

He will continue to face double teams, and his numbers might or might not come. Either way, he and coaches remain confident his presence will still be felt on defense.

“I’m doing my job,” Sutton said. “Nobody’s running through my gap, nothing’s hitting through my hole. I’m still getting pressure on the pass. So I’m still doing my job.”