Fearless Wren developing amidst search for winning D-Line combination

Jeff Griffith, Staff Writer
ASU Devils

Renell Wren is fearless, especially when it comes to who’s lining up across from him.

In a 6-foot-5, 295-pound muscular frame, the redshirt junior defensive lineman certainly has reason to stand confidently in his ground.

This weekend, though, as he’ll likely find himself in a larger role along the defensive front with the absence of Koron Crump, Wren will go head to head with one of the Pac-12’s elite offensive lines in No. 5 Washington.

No sweat.

“They have a pretty good offensive line, but that doesn’t affect me at all,” Wren said. I love playing against big offensive linemen, we bleed the same, we put on the shoulder pads the same and everything. It’s just about who’s going to attack who first, who has more heart in everything.”

Forget just the offensive line. A top-five opponent like the Huskies — an undefeated defending Pac-12 champion with an average margin of victory of about 33 points — doesn’t even phase the ever-stoic Wren.

He’s been in Tempe long enough to know what to expect.

“It’s definitely excitement, but it’s no pressure on me,” he said. “I’ve been here for the past four years now so I basically know everything I have to do. Like the coaches said, just being consistent and everything. We’re going to make mistakes, but as long as you go 1,000 miles per hour, you can make up for the mistakes because you go and make plays out there.”

As far as his current standing within the ASU defense, Wren has seen his role increase a decent amount during the two weeks since the Sun Devils’ last contest.

In practices leading up to this weekend’s game, he’s taken his fair share of first-team reps alongside the usual defensive-line suspects of JoJo Wicker and Tashon Smallwood, as defensive coordinator Phil Bennett works to find the right mix of players.

“We’ve got a couple different rotations, going to try to play some more guys,” Bennett said. “We’ve been in a semi-quandary since we lost Koron. Then you go and play Oregon who’s a pretty good run team also, and then you got a power team with Stanford, so we’re trying to find that right combination.”

“I’m trying to be on the field more in practice and just improve my technique and just show the coaches more to put me on the field,” added Wren. “I want to help the team out, win a national championship.”

From Smallwood, in particular, Wren said he’s picked up important tips on technique as a defensive lineman.

“Just technique. Definitely Tashon, taking his technique, being faster and everything because I’m more powerful and everything,” he said. ‘The coaches emphasize me on just taking the first two steps and then just being a football player after that.”

In his own eyes, the last several weeks have shown solid improvement — improvement he can’t take for granted as he looks to continue working his way into the main rotation.

“I’ve been performing well. I’ve been telling my parents I’ve just got to stay humble. I just have to work harder than the actual starters because me getting extra reps now I wasn’t used to that, but since now they’ve put me in a position to do that I just have to work really hard.”

Wren said the key for him, though — according to defensive line coach George Slater — comes down to consistency, both in terms of his effort and his execution.

“He just said basically being more consistent,” Wren said. “I have all the tools, God-given ability, and everything, I just have to put that on the field every day and just show them what I’m capable of doing.”

And despite his team’s toughest test looming Saturday night, Wren’s winning mentality never wavers.

“Just because they’re the number-five team in the country, that doesn’t affect me at all,” he said. “They’re just another team coming into our house, trying to take over what we have. I do not care, I want to win. Does not matter what team, I want to win.”


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