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CAMP TONTOZONA – With his post-practice weightlifting session over, A.J. McCollum walked across the field looking like a prize fighter. The bearded Arizona State senior center wore a championship belt around his waist, a reward given to the offense for winning the day.

“Pretty cool,” McCollum said.

Give credit to the line.

WEDNESDAY PRACTICE REPORT: Discipline takes a hit

Outside of the secondary, ASU’s offensive line might be the biggest question mark entering coach Todd Graham’s sixth season. Last year, the Sun Devils couldn’t run the ball. They struggled in pass protection. Not much went right.

Under new position coach Rob Sale, the Sun Devils, down two starters from last season, are trying to reverse course, and over the past two days, they’ve made progress here among the pines.

“We’ve had two good days back-to-back,” Sale said. “That’s been the challenge. To stack them on top of each other and not just have a good day, fall back two steps, then move forward two steps, so it was good.”

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Graham and his staff keep score throughout practices. In certain drills, it’s offense against defense. Winner gets a point. The defense had won Tuesday. McCollum said Wednesday’s competition came down to the final period on the goal line.

The situation: Third-and-goal from the 2.

Play 1: With senior Frank Ogas lined up at fullback, senior Demario Richard took a hand-off and charged into the first-team defense. Touchdown.

Play 2: Sophomore quarterback Blake Barnett pitched to freshman running back Eno Benjamin. Too easy. Touchdown.

Play 3: Junior quarterback Manny Wilkins rolled left and fired a pass to sophomore tight end Alexander Otero. Touchdown.

Play 4: Freshman running back Trelon Smith broke through the line. Touchdown.

“We got all four,” McCollum said.

Somebody get that belt.

“It just (reflects) the emphasis we’ve been making this camp, getting tougher every day, and there’s no area in football that it matters more than on the goal line, especially for linemen,” junior guard Sam Jones said. “That’s a good competition period. Coach Graham said we were going to start doing it at the end of practice a lot more. It’s just a sign of our team in general of how much tougher we are.”

RELATED: The continuing education of N’Keal Harry

It’s too early to know how this line will shape up. Even Sale, who joined Graham’s staff in February, is still in discovery, experimenting nearly every day. Example: Three players – McCollum, Jones and sophomore Cade Cote – lined up at first-team center Wednesday.

In addition, junior Quinn Bailey shifted from right tackle to right guard. Sophomore right tackle Zach Robertson moved from second team to first. And sophomore Steven Miller shifted from right guard to left tackle, although that was mostly because two linemen were out with minor injuries.

“A couple guys have been in different spots, and when you do that you get to see what other guys can do,” Sale said. “You also push the buttons of other guys and see how they respond.”

Sale is different than his predecessor. Last year Graham said previous offensive line coach Chris Thomsen (now working at Texas Christian, where he once played) reminded him of legendary coach Tom Landry, just in how he went about things.

Sale might be the opposite. On the field, he looks like he’s in a foul mood. He barks commands. While Thomsen preferred to do a lot of correcting in his office, Sale gets the process started on the field. 

“Complete 180 from Coach Thomsen,” sophomore left tackle Cohl Cabral said. “He’s loud and he lights a fire under your butt.”

Another difference is Jones. Last year, he was a strong voice in the position room, but this season he has taken leadership of the entire team. 

“We nicknamed him supreme leader,” Cabral said.

Nine days in, it’s a good start. At this point, Sale said a sixth, seventh and eighth lineman has started to emerge. The next step: settling on a first five.

And keeping that belt.

“I think I’m going to put it in my cabin, where nobody can find it,” Jones said.

RELATED: The continuing education of ASU receiver N’Keal Harry

MORE: Chandler’s Chase Lucas trying to lock down ASU starting job

Contact Doug Haller at 602-444-4949 or at [email protected] Follow him at Twitter.com/DougHaller. Download and subscribe to the ASU Pick Six Podcast, available on iTunes. Download the ASU XTRA app for iPhone and Android.

Camp Tontozona schedule

Thursday: 8:35 to 11:20 a.m.

Friday: Special teams walk-through, 9-11:30 a.m.

Saturday: 9:30 a.m.-noon, followed by autograph session. 

Directions: Camp Tontozona is located at 235 S Camp Tontozona Rd., in Payson. From Phoenix, take 87N to Payson. Turn right on 260E and got 17 miles.

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