TEMPE — The health of running back Marion Grice has been an Arizona State secret since he was forced from the Sun Devils’ 38-33 victory over UCLA and was later seen on crutches.
ASU coach Todd Graham said the senior back, who leads the team with 20 touchdowns, is day-to-day. Tuesday’s practice was closed to the media, and Grice’s level of participation was kept under wraps.
If Grice can’t go, the Sun Devils are at least well-stocked at the position, with sophomore D.J. Foster and junior Deantre Lewis in line for more action. Foster has been more of a receiver this year — he has 10 more catches than carries — and Lewis has been a seldom-used reserve, but both are familiar with Grice’s offensive duties should they need to step in.
“They’ve done a great job all year long in being prepared if their number’s called,” offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. “You’ve seen all of them line up at that position before throughout the season. I know Marion is working to be full speed.”
The Sun Devils might be loathe to change Foster’s role, as his 52 catches and 524 receiving yards are second on the team behind Jaelen Strong. The sophomore has taken some snaps in the backfield in practice but also will continue to split out wide.
That would leave a significant uptick in work for Lewis, who has 269 yards and a touchdown on 49 carries this year. Lewis has touched the ball only four times in the past three games but has experience with a higher volume of carries. As a freshman in 2010, he rushed 92 times for 539 yards and four scores.
“I’m pretty sure teams (overlook me),” Lewis said. “If they remember, I’ve done stuff in the past. I’m the same guy I was freshman year. You can take me for granted all you want. I’ll hit you in the mouth.”
It’s doubtful that after failing to finish above .500 in at least half of their college careers that ASU’s seniors could have imagined themselves competing for a Pac-12 title on their way out the door.
Now, as they prepare for what could be their final game at Sun Devil Stadium — if ASU falls to Arizona, the Pac-12 title game would be in Palo Alto, Calif. — seniors Osahon Irabor and Alden Dardy did some looking back.
Finishing 6-7 in 2011 “was a tough year, but it helped us grow as a team and as a program,” Irabor said. “This group of seniors really persevered through that and embraced what Coach Graham has brought to this program.”
Darby said dealing with a coaching transition helped him grow as a person, but he isn’t ready to say goodbye to his home field just yet. He’s not even considering the possibility that Saturday could be his last game in Tempe.
“I don’t let that come in my mind at all,” Darby said “I plan on hosting the Pac-12 Championship here.”
Praise for Sutton
Will Sutton’s 2013 totals of three sacks and 9½ tackles for loss might pale in comparison to his career-high numbers last year — 12 sacks and 23½ tackles-for-loss — but Graham thinks his senior defensive tackle is even better this go-round.
Sutton put on about 20 pounds in the off-season, which some think might have slowed him and contributed to his drop in tangible production. Graham doesn’t see it that way.
“I think he’s had a better year than he had last year, in my opinion,” Graham said. “It’s not all about somebody’s individual statistics. What he does and how he’s developed as a player, the unselfish attitude he has and the power that he has, he’s a great player. The reason why our guys respect him so much is the passion which he plays with.”
ASU senior defensive back Marlon Pollard was named to the Pac-12 All-Academic first team Tuesday, and junior quarterback Taylor Kelly was named a second-teamer. Seven other Sun Devils were honorable-mention selections.