August is the busiest of months for college football players across the country.
Quarterbacks throw hundreds of passes, wide receivers run countless routes and linemen spend hours crouched in the trenches. With two-a-day practices in the blazing heat -- yes, it even gets hot inside the Dickey Dome -- these monotonous repetitions can, understandably, become tedious, leading to periods of lackadaisical performances.
But such lulls have been few and far between during coach Dennis Erickson's fourth fall camp in Tempe, the coach remarking that he has been pleased with the amount of energy the team has practiced with each day.
"We've had the energy level out here pretty good the whole camp," Erickson said. "Very seldom in the however-many days we've been out here have we had a bad energy level on either side of the football."
The factors for improved intensity and the elevated performances that have followed aren't too difficult to discern.
With heated competition at virtually every position on the field, players realize they aren't afforded the opportunity to take plays off. If it isn't the three quarterbacks vying for the starting position cranking up the energy barometer, it's a deep pool of receivers scratching and clawing to impress coaches and earn more reps.
On defense, a secondary thought to be perhaps the lone concern on defense heading into fall camp has been instead one of its biggest surprises, with ever-growing depth at both the cornerback and safety positions. Competition at those spots has subsequently ratcheted up daily duels with the offense.
It also doesn't hurt that offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's new offensive scheme is fast-paced and organized, which can turn one momentary lapse into failed play.
"You've got to be ready all the time," Erickson said. "You've got to be lined up and you don't have time to complain. … The thing about that is, if you make a mistake you forget about it. Sometimes that's hard, but when you're on the line of scrimmage and the play is called, you better forget about it."
During last season's fall camp, rare were practices in which the defense didn't win nearly every battle. With increased depth, athleticism and talent, coupled with an innovative scheme, the offense this fall has held its own.
"This team is a little different, and it does have a lot more energy," Erickson said. "There's a lot more energy on offense. I don't know that you can gauge it other than they just keep doing what they're [supposed to be] doing."
On Thursday, a day removed from their final two-a-day session of camp, players attended their first day of classes. Erickson said Day 1 of the school year is traditionally a slow day on the football field, but the coach said that wasn't the case this time around.
"They've got a lot of things to focus on right now, and usually this isn't a very good day," Erickson said. "It was good. We'll see how it is Friday and Saturday. In this kind of schedule you have a lot of time, but when [the scrimmage] is over Saturday, you probably only have seven or eight practices until we play."
After resting a tired arm two of the past three practices, junior quarterback Samson Szakacsy participated in team drills Thursday and appeared to throw the ball without limitations. On one play, he delivered a pass about 40 yards down the sideline that would have hit junior wide receiver T.J. Simpson in stride if junior cornerback Omar Bolden hadn't deflected it away at the last second.
"He threw the ball OK … I think he's fine," Erickson said.