Several reporters who follow the team closely sat with Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson in his office last Friday for a lengthy conversation about the state of the team heading into 2011.
Question: How does this spring feel different from years' past?
Erickson: "It's quite a bit different. As far as the team itself, I think we came in last year with the feeling that we weren't quite there, particularly offensively. Skill wise, there were question marks. I think offensively, this spring with guys that have played, guys that have started, guys that have made plays, this team offensively is not even close to what we've had in the past. So we come in offensively with a year under the system, even though Steven (Threet) isn't here, with Brock's (Osweiler) experience the last two games, and then the young guys, it's exciting offensively. The whole thing is but it's really exciting, offensively, compared to what it's been. Brock has got to really progress. I think he proved to everybody what kind of competitor he was in the last two games, in particular the Arizona game. To me, you could kind of tell when he was on and he was off, and yet he willed us to win, which to me is kind of what that position is all about. So in saying that, he'll get better and better as he gets turns in the spring. And I like where we're at with the two back-up guys here. I've always been a fan of Taylor Kelly ever since he's been here. Now he'll get a chance to do some things. And (Michael) Bercovici, we recruited because of what he does with this offense; because he gets rid of the football so fast and he can throw it. With (Michael) Eubank coming in the summer, it will be interesting. I think it's a good group, I think it fits perfectly right now. You hate to not have Steven, but without having him, I think it kind of identified who our leader is offensively without having to worry about this decision or that decision, all the things people seem to worry about."
Q: One-through-four, this group is pretty talented, quarterback-wise…
Erickson: "It's the best(talent)I've ever been around in college, any place I've been. I've never had it that deep. Three of them are unproven, of course. But just physical talent, from what you can see. And Taylor did a lot of good things for us in the fall with the scout team. When Brock was hurt we brought him up and let him come up and do some stuff. He gives you a little bit of a different dimension, maybe some things that Eubank would give you. But I think Brock is different than all of them. In mat drills, he runs with the receivers. But yes, it's as good a group as I've had."
Q: Are you comfortable saying Brock is the starter?
"Yes, without a question. He is the guy. So now it's 'who is the No. 2 guy.'"
Q: On Brock's 'it' factor…
Erickson: "Sometimes you don't see it until it's presented to the guy. Sometimes it's hard to see that in practice. You look back to when we made the evaluation a year ago and made the decision to go with Steven, because he was more consistent with what we were doing offensively with throwing and all of that stuff, when you go into that situation you never really have a chance to say, 'OK, you're going to start against Oregon,' and "you're going to start against USC,' and you don't really find out, because that's an intangible that you really just don't know. I think that showed up. The great ones, the really good ones that I've had, they've got that intangible thing of finding a way to win. Stats are stats but making plays when you have to in key situations is what he did. In the UCLA game we were down and he came in and was hot and they couldn't stop us. But in that (Arizona) game, he had to make plays in the end just to get it to overtime. But he's got -- and he knows it -- a lot of work to do. He's got some technical stuff that he's worked on this winter: getting the ball out quicker; being more accurate. But he's taken over the leadership of that offensive team."
Q: How much easier is it in the second year of an offense?
"It's just so much easier for everybody, quarterback particularly, but all those positions. For the receivers, there's a lot of things, running routes and knowing where to go, where to settle down and all those things. And then the back-up guys, I think we have some really good young receivers that three years ago would have started for us. Like A.J. Pickens for example. He played against Washington and Oregon State and made plays. They're all learning, so we have a lot of depth there when you look down the road. And the offensive front is a totally different world than it's been in the past. I was just talking to somebody about this yesterday. We used to wonder just who would play. Now you sit out there in the offensive front and you've got, 'Okay, who's going to play right tackle?' (Dan) Knapp? Aderious (Simmons)? (Evan) Finkenberg? Then (at guard) you've got (Andrew) Sampson, you've got (Adam) Tello who started three years ago against Georgia and is a different player now. We've got (Brice) Schwab, who's down to 310 pounds, he's lost like 30 pounds. (Kody) Koebensky is getting better all the time. Finkenberg's a sophomore. Sampson's a junior. It's just a different world now. And you've got the three young guys who we brought in last year as freshmen who are going to be good players. So, it's just different. Running back wise, we've got guys who we all know can take it to the house. There are three or four of them that can do that. It's the experience of the guys who've proven themselves on the field. We only won six games, but they know what they're doing. It's given us a chance here in the off-season to tinker with what we're doing a little bit. Those (offensive coaches) went to that (annual) one-back clinic down there in Houston and those guys get together and share ideas because a lot of us are doing the same thing and picked up a few things… So going into the spring it's a whole different world. Defensively, it's not a whole lot different. I mean, the issue that we have defensively is that we have some guys hurt and won't be ready for spring football. But it's okay because we can develop some other guys. With the defensive front, we're dealing with losing those two tackles, (Lawrence) Guy and Saia (Falahola), but with Will Sutton, we all know what he did the year before. I'm excited about Corey Adams (now). And then Bo Moos is steady, he's not flashy but he's steady. And Toa (Tuitea) played quite a bit last year. We're young at tackle, all underclassmen. And of course Junior (Onyeali) won't be in spring ball but Greg Smith has really had a really good off-season. He's up to 270 pounds and can really run. I'm excited about watching him in the spring. And the end is a situation with Jamaar (Jarrett) and (James) Brooks. Jordan (McDonald) is up to about 225 pounds, he's gained about 20 pounds this winter."
Q: On Corey Adams' potential considering he's been hurt a lot:
Erickson: "Well, he's been hurt all the time, there's no question about that. But right now, you watch him, and he's what we thought. When you see him in the off-season in the mat drills, he's more flexible, healthy, moving around. If he stays healthy, he'll have a tremendous career. I think he can be an impact player"
Q: On the interactions of the players and the new defensive line coach (Scott Brown):
Erickson: "When I interviewed the guys that I interviewed for the job, they all visited with some of the players. It's something I wanted to do. I don't do it a lot, but I did it. He's very enthusiastic, Scott is. He's been around the block. His experience is unprecedented as far as the places he's been. His interview was unbelievable. Now the impact that he'll have on our scheme of things, now you've got a guy who's been around and can help and look at it with a fresh set of eyes on what we're doing and what we can add and so forth. He's a very positive motivator. He's got a screamer or a yeller. I like that about him. He'd a football coach that's been around. He's got a good personality when dealing with the players."
Q: On where the offense will be more complex than last year or similar:
Erickson "I think we'll add a few things but it might even be simpler than it's been. I think one thing we can do right now is line up and run the football without having to trick people. I don't know if that's more complex or more simple. But we're not going to change a lot of things. I think what happens sometimes when you look at this offense is you have success and start putting too much in and 'we can do this now and do that now' and then don't become as good. That's something Noel (Mazzone) and I talk about all the time. We got a whole offense, let's just be good at what we do. Let's get the ball to our guys who can run fast and let them make plays. So you'll see a thing here or there, but not much."
Q: What's Deantre Lewis' status moving forward?
Erickson: "Well, for the first time yesterday he was out running, doing some stuff. Our trainers feel like he'll be ready for spring football. His health is fine. It's just a mentally scary thing for a guy, all of a sudden you get shot. He's fortunate, being shot is bad enough, but he knows that it could have been a lot worse."