Arizona State kicked off its month-long spring football practice session Tuesday hoping to rebound from a bowl-less 6-6 season, its third straight.
With 19 starters and 40 scholarship upperclassmen returning from last season, spring practice is nothing new to the majority of the team. Yet coaches spent the majority of the nearly two and a half hour session working with position players on fundamentals.
In a mellower environment than your typical in-season practice, the players were all smiles while running five-yard hitch routes, going over basic blocking formations and attempting garden variety handoffs to the running backs.
Enthusiasm from the players on the first day is nothing new to head coach Dennis Erickson, but he nonetheless was optimistic to say the least.
"What's exciting for me, finally, is after four years we're where we want to be," Erickson said of his program, after a 25-24 start to his Tempe tenure. "I felt last year we were really getting close, and now I feel like we're here and now we got to do it on the field."
Ranked in a number of far-too-early pre-spring national polls including No. 19 by Rivals.com, some prognosticators pegged ASU to win the inaugural Pac-12 South even before the conclusion of the previous bowl season.
Ending the season on a high note winning three of its last five games, the Sun Devils hope to carry the momentum over into the spring.
"It felt good. Obviously there were a few little mistakes throughout the day," sophomore quarterback Brock Osweiler said. For the most part, we're way up and beyond as far as the offense goes than we were last year at this time."
Lead by example
Despite the calm atmosphere, the veteran led group had quite a few players stepping up as leaders during drills. Some led by example, including senior T.J. Simpson.
"Especially with me and G-Rob (Gerell Robinson) being the two seniors being here the longest, both of us will step like that," Simpson said. "When the push comes to shove, coaches look at us because we've been here the longest to show the younger guys the way."
Others, like Osweiler, were more vocal, setting the tempo for the rest of the offense.
"I don't know where it came from", Osweiler said. "I've just always been a natural born leader. That's a role I'd really like to take on. It's a lot of fun for me."
Lewis unsure of his return
Dressed but not participating in team drills, true freshman Deantre Lewis conditioned on the sidelines for the majority of practice. Lewis, who is fully recovered from his bullet wounds during a random act of violence outside a family home in Riverside, Calif., does not have a set timetable for his return.
"I'm shooting for everyday to just get better", Lewis said. "Hopefully I can make it to the first spring game, but contact isn't really my big deal [worry] right now. It's just me being able to sprint again, just back out there cutting again, doing my same old moves."
Anderson on the move
With sophomore defensive end Junior Onyeali out of action this spring due to shoulder surgery and ASU light at the position in terms of scholarship depth, former middle linebacker senior Derrall Anderson moved to the position for the spring and possibly beyond.
"They just let me know they thought I could help out there a few days before the start of spring," Anderson said. "I want to do whatever I can to help the team and try to get on the field. It was pretty good for the first day. I've never played with my hand on the ground before so that was new but it felt alright."