By now it's been well established that Arizona State's defense has typically pushed around its offense in practice over the last couple years. Even with a new offense in place this spring, that's continued to be the case. Wednesday the offense started pushing back.
Led by improved quarterback play and the best run blocking observed through the first week-and-a-half of practice, first downs still didn't come easily. But they came with much greater frequency than anything seen to this point.
"That was the best day we've had since we practiced," Sun Devil coach Dennis Erickson said. "It's because we're executing better. Football is football. Sometimes you don't come out defensively like you do which normally means that tomorrow or Saturday will be a different story. That's just the nature of the game. We're executing better, throwing the ball better, our assignments are better.
"But I think we're throwing it and catching it and protecting and getting the ball down the field vertically more than we have since I've been here which is part of the reason I hired (offensive coordinator Noel) Mazzone. I liked what I saw today and we've just got to continue to get better and better. There are times against our defense where you wonder what the hell you did would make any difference. It's not dissimilar from some of the times I was at Miami. There were times in Miami where we never even got first downs in the spring. I'm not comparing us to that but that's what happens."
Erickson said he's been energized by seeing the new offensive scheme put into action on the playing field.
"It's really exciting for me because that's what I like to do, spread them out and let her go," Erickson said. "We're able to do that because I've got a guy who can lead us on offense as a coach. Call plays and script and all those things and he knows what he wants, which is basically what I want, but I don't have to do it. It makes a big difference. I'm excited to see where we're at with some our skilled guys and getting them involved. Some of them are hurt, some of them aren't here yet."
Quarterback Brock Osweiler threw the ball accurately and completed a higher percentage of his passes downfield than any practice thus far.
"By far my best day of the spring," Osweiler said. "Not only myself, I felt like the entire offense. I think this was the first day where we really ran the ball and got some serious yardage. We caught the ball well, we did our assignments, our receivers did their blocking assignments. So today was definitely, I feel like, a very big stepping stone day for our offense as a group."
Osweiler has relished the opportunity to work with Mazzone in the offseason and seeing some of that start to pay dividends has encouraged him.
"It was awesome," Osweiler said. "It was unbelievable. We got a slight taste today, I think, of what this offense can be. How fun it can be, how much excitement it can bring. Just getting a slight taste of that is going to make us work that much harder until we get the whole thing."
Erickson said even though Osweiler played well, they aren't near making a decision about naming a starter at the position.
"It's pretty close," Erickson said. "You pick one, I don't know. Brock was sharp today. It was the best day Brock's had, no question about it. I thought today he played as well as he's played but I've also seen Steven (Threet) have some good days too so it remains to be seen. The thing about it, they're both doing pretty well so that's good to see."
In recent months, Osweiler has worked to quicken his release and shorten his motion. He said he watched NFL standout quarterback Phillip Rivers -- a player Mazzone coached for a year at N.C. State -- every day on film from Jan. 1 until the start of spring football.
"To get the ball out quicker I think the biggest thing is speeding up your drop, quickening up your feet," Osweiler said. "Everyday we work on feet drills as quarterbacks. Coach Mazzone has done a great job coaching us on how to get the ball out quicker and then it's just getting the ball to the wide receivers a little bit faster. We're seeing creases where the ball needs to be and we're just making plays off it.
"I really think today was kind of the first day we really had the defense, since I've been here, on their heels a little bit. Even with that good defensive line, they were breaking through once in a while, we would step over, make the throw, first down."