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October 6, 2011

Camaraderie heavily relied upon for Sun Devils

The phraseology behind 'Band of Brothers' originates from Shakespeare's Henry V, St. Crispen's Day Speech (Scene 3), a work that celebrates the King's leadership through a fictional motivational speech, as well as the bond between his disadvantaged English soldiers fending off French Knights: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother."

More than a half a century removed from the film adaptation, it's an overused phrase now adopted by the Arizona State offensive line.

For those rolling their eyes: The attitude it evokes could be the difference this Saturday. It not only fits the difficult times the unit faces, it literally fits, XXL and up.

"Band of brothers," senior tackle Dan Knapp said. "We have t-shirts, it's around the locker room and it's a big thing now. We all play for each other and that's what it is all about. Tyler (Sulka) is going to come in and play for the veterans on this team and we're going to play for the younger guys."

Consider the quagmire the offensive line is in. Going into a hostile environment, facing a strong defensive line and a team hungry for its first Pac-12 win no-less, they're likely without senior center Garth Gerhart, who up until Saturday had started every game and made all the critical front calls in Noel Mazzone's offense. They'll have a new, though experienced, starter at left tackle in Knapp, and will likely rotate two inexperienced starters at right tackle with hobbled senior Aderious Simmons and the green redshirt freshman Sulka.

A desperate measure arises should another brother go down.

His name is Adam Tello, and he's decided to forego early retirement, endure back-pain and risk long term health complications to continue his final year of eligibility.

"I'm just doing it for my teammates because I know they are in a tough situation with Garth and Evan being out, and their back-ups aren't really experienced, "Tello said. "I'm just trying to fight through the pain and do what I can to help them. They are more important to me than my body. Some guys are coming up to me and asking 'hey, what are you doing, man, this is your back, and you need it for the rest of your life?' But to me, my teammates are more important and this win is going to be a big win for us. I'm going to do whatever I can to make people feel better or just be there for them."

The sacrifice does not seem to be lost on his brothers. Even if Tello doesn't play Saturday, his presence and experience will help new starting center, sophomore Kody Koebensky.

"Mentally, I wouldn't say it has been easy, but it's been a big help to have such experienced guys around me," Koebensky said.

While Koebensky will lean on veterans like Tello, he's mirrored Gerhart since he came to ASU. While Gerhart was in street clothes Wednesday, he gave instruction to Koebensky during practice.

"On film and watching film with him he shows me what works, how to block guys well; he gets the job done with really good technique," Koebensky said. "I aspire to play as much as I can like him. The main thing is pad level. He plays with great pad level. How he gets off the ball in pass blocking and how he uses his hands in pass blocking."

How the student applies Gerhart's techniques could go a long way toward deciding Saturday's contest. The Utes mix up 30 and 40 fronts and have two nose tackles who often command double teams, even when they're lined up as one-gap defensive tackles. But perhaps most important is how Koebensky calls blocking assignments. If the trend that started in the second half of the Missouri game is any indication, the Utes are likely to throw myriad blitz packages at the inexperienced offensive line.

"Kody is a pretty conscientious guy; he knows exactly what we are doing and how to make the calls," offensive line coach Gregg Smith said." It's like when he had to go in Saturday. It's not so much what we are doing; it is how fast things are happening. The speed of the game is so much different than from out here Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. So that was the biggest thing he had to get used to. And also when you're not playing your conditioning gets down a little bit. He was pretty tired when that game was over."

While Koebensky searches for his breath, it's plausible his teammates will be straining to hear his cadence in a loud stadium.

"I think it takes a little bit of development, but it's nothing big," Koebensky said of the adjustment to his voice. "The guards and tackles, we all hang out and we feel pretty comfortable with each other."

And it's not exactly clear who will be joining him at the right tackle position Saturday. Sulka got the majority of repetitions Wednesday, but it was Simmons' original spot.

"I'm trying to get both of them ready," Smith said. "Obviously, Aderious is coming off the injury, just getting his confidence in his ankle and for all the things that he can do. He did a lot better today than he did yesterday, so he kind of showed me that once he got out here and moved around after yesterday, I think he was 'maybe I'm okay after all.' It's just a matter of being confident and knowing he can go out and play."

Smith says playing time will be awarded by merit.

"Those kids are extremely athletic, they know what they are doing," Smith said. "Both are probably going to play and it's actually who is going out there and perform the best that is going to stay on the field and continue to play."

The Sun Devils' tackles, much like the rest of the line, will have to do better than they did in their first road performance of the year against Illinois. While junior quarterback Brock Osweiler held the ball too long at times, a much healthier line struggled with Illinois' strength and speed, had difficulty picking up stunts and blitzes, and generally looked physically outmatched much of the game.

While the team that day struggled running the ball on first and second down, it seemed to play right into the defense's hands with a preponderance of pass. Illinois was often in a 30 front, just like Utah is likely to be.

Smith believes his boys, however constituted, have an answer this time, or perhaps more appropriately -- a plan to force Utah to answer to.

"Actually, the 30 front is really good for us because it is really good to run the football against," Smith said. "So, I'm always hoping they stay in it a little bit. They do a lot of pressure out of it too. We don't necessarily have to adjust to them, they have to adjust to us. That is our whole thing on offense. We're the ones who control it, and it's got to make them nervous when No. 32 (junior Jamal Miles) is running out there on the outside and they've got to be a little bit careful of some of the things they do."


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