Q&A with Dennis Erickson

With spring practice just a couple of weeks away, ASU's head coach sat down with the team's beat writers to discuss the state of the team at this juncture of the off-season, the progress of some of its players, recruiting and other various topics.

Q: How does this spring feel any different from the last?

"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 isn't anywhere 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's) experience, and then the young guys, it's exciting. It's really exciting, offensively, compared to what it's been.

"Brock has got to really progress. I think he showed 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 when he was off, and yet he willed us to win, which to me is kind of what that position is all about.

"And I like where we're at with the two back-up guys. 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 Bercovici we recruited because of what he does with this offense; because he gets rid of the football so fast. With Eubank coming in the summer, I think it's a good group. I'd love to have Steven, but without having him, I think it kind of identified who our leader is."

Q: This group is pretty talented, quarterback-wise…

"It's the best I've ever been around in college. I've never had it that deep. Three of them are unproven, of course. But Taylor did a lot of good things for us in the fall with the scout team. When Brock was hurt we let him come up and do some stuff. He gives you a little bit of a different dimension, maybe something that Eubank would give you. But I think Brock is different than all of them. But yes, it's as good a group as I've had."

Q: You said before Steven announced he was leaving that the quarterback position was wide-open, how would you characterize it now? Are you comfortable saying Brock is the starter?

"Yes, without a question. He is the guy."

Q: On Brock's "it" factor, willingness to win:

"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 the decision to go with Steven, because he was more consistent with what we were trying to do offensively, when you go into that situation you never really have a chance to say "you're going to start against Oregon" and "you're going to start against USC," and really find out, because that's an intangible that you really just don't know.

"I think that showed up. The really good ones that I've had, they've got that intangible; being able to find 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 (UA) game, he had to make plays in the end just to get it to overtime. But he's got a lot of work to do, and he knows it. 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, the quarterback particularly. But all those positions; the receivers running routes and knowing where to go. 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.

"And the offensive front is a totally different world than it's been in the past. 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?' You've got Aderious (Simmons), (Evan) Finkenberg, (Andrew) Sampson. You've got Tello who started three years ago against Georgia who's a different player now. We've got Schwab who's down to 310 lbs; he's lost like 30 lbs. 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' 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 guys went to that one-back clinic down there in Houston and shared ides because a lot of us are doing the same thing and picked up a few things. But, it's just 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 because now he's a guy. We're young at tackle. And of course Junior (Onyeali) won't be in spring ball. Greg Smith has had a really good off-season. He's up to 270 lbs and can really run. I'm excited about watching him in the spring."

Q: On Corey Adams' potential:

"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."

Q: On the interactions of the players and the new defensive line coach Scott Brown:

"When I interviewed the guys that I did 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. He's been around the block. His experience is unprecedented at 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 look at it with a fresh set of eyes on what we're doing and what we can add. He's a very positive motivator. He's got a screamer or a yeller. He'd a football coach that's been around. He's got a good personality when dealing with the players."

Q: On any changes to the offensive schemes:

"I think we'll add a few things. 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 that happens sometimes when you look at this offense is you have success and start putting too much in and they 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?

"Well, this 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. He's fortunate, being shot is bad enough, but he knows that it could have been a lot worse."

Q: On the leadership make-up of the senior class:

"It's huge. I don't know if it's just all seniors, there are juniors too. The quarterback will be a junior. That position is obviously a leader. But Gerell Robinson, for example, has stepped up as a senior. Garth Gerhart has stepped up as a senior even though he's a quiet guy. Defensively, you have the linebackers. Vontaze (Burfict) has stepped up. It's amazing his change in the last three months. Now, he doesn't miss workouts, ever. He's a leader out there doing all sorts of stuff. He's in the best shape I've ever seen him in. He's a big time leader out there. But at the same time we have Jamaar Jarrett and Omar Bolden out there as leaders.

"The thing that's happened is our whole team has changed because they've been here for a while. Obviously we didn't accomplish what he wanted to last year. But I think there were some real pluses in what happened last year, if you can look at it that way. I can because our guys have a lot more confidence. Truthfully, if you take last season and what it has done for the future of this program, it's pretty darn good. And beating Arizona is pretty good, however we did it."

Q: What do you think prompted Vontaze's change?

"Maturity. Teammates challenging him to be what he is. Don't be something you're not. Be what you are; a great football player. The light just came on. I think the light came on at the end of last year. I think from the Stanford game on. I think having some success and winning, and saying maybe that gray-haired (coach) knows a little bit about what's going on."

Q: Is Vontaze deserving of the preseason praise he's been garnering so far?

"I think if he does what he's doing right now, he has the capabilities to be as good as anybody in the country."

Q: Does he realize that?

"I don't know. I think he just plays football. He's having fun. He's smiling, having fun. I don't know why he had that chip on his shoulder. Maybe it was immaturity. But it's totally different now."

Q: Thoughts on the secondary moving forward:

"I think our secondary is going to better than we've ever had. Our corner situation, depth-wise, is going to be better. Deveron Carr, he won't be out there in the spring, but he's out there running. With Deveron, Osahon (Irabor), and Omar (Bolden), we've got three or four guys, and Devan Spann. So we've got more depth than we've ever had. I can remember two years ago we were just trying to find a corner. But now we do have some depth there, and they're a relatively young group, except Omar.

"At safety, Eddie Elder I think really got better as the year went on. I think Clint Floyd's getting better all the time. Keelan (Johnson) is very athletic and will continue to get better as he learns. Shane McCullen, Matt Tucker...we've got some depth there. It'll be fun to watch those guys play. Alden Darby has moved to safety and he'll make us better there. It'll an interesting spring competition-wise. The great thing about Darby is he can go outside too. He can play nickel and has the ability to play man-to-man coverage."

Q: On James Brooks playing up to his potential on the field:

"We think he can be better than he has been. He knows that. Hopefully he'll have that opportunity. He's been here a long time and gotten better and better."

Q: What are your main spring priorities?

"Just to continue to improve upon what we're doing on both sides of the ball. We do have experience but need to develop the younger guys. Spring football is about the development of the younger players. Get better at what we're doing on offensive. Consistency at wideouts, and then development at quarterback. But just kind of evaluate what's going on and who's going to play. I think we'll be fairly simple in the spring on both sides of the ball and just kind of evaluate where we're at and what we want to do.

"I think defensively we'll sit down and decide how much more we want to blitz. We've got some awfully good blitzers. We talked about this last year, the 30 (3-4 alignment) stuff is one thing, but can you do it in your four-down package? Strategically those are things we'll look at.

"We're a 4-3 team. Well spend some more time, give them more looks. As you look at it, then you're on the offensive side of the football, and people are good at playing some three-down stuff in a four-down scheme, it changes up your blocking schemes. We'd like to be able to get that. Whether or not we can though, we'll see. We played our best last year when we just sat there and played and let our guys run around. And when you have a middle linebacker like we have, and some outside guys who can run to the football, you want to be able to blitz. But do you want to have to go to a three down scheme to do it? I don't know. I'd be happy to do some things, but if you're a 4-3 team, you're a 4-3 team."

Q: How's the team's energy heading into spring practice?

"It's exciting and it's got to happen. What's exciting to me, finally, is after four years we're worthy. I thought last year we were really close, now I feel like we're here. Now we've got to do it on the field. Numbers wise, even though we've got a lot of seniors, we do have a lot of young guys playing. We're finally at a place, where if we have the success we think we're going to have next year, that we can plug guys in the year after that and the year after that and the year after that. And we know what we need and what we can plug in to be really really good.

"Once you start winning and get that thing going, you can sit back as a coaching staff and say this is what we need to be really good, recruiting-wise. And our players know that. They're excited. It's a confidence factor that they can be good. I never doubted that we were going to get to this point, but sometimes it's just hard. Now we've got to do it on the field, and our schedule isn't exactly easy. Two years ago I would have said ‘give me a break.' Now I say ‘bring it on.'

Q: On how the new recruiting territories have been for the staff?

"I think we're going to put Scott in Texas. He's been recruiting Texas for a long time. It's not just one area for him; he's recruited the whole state. He knows the coaches all around Texas, so we'll evaluate the film and call and get interest and cover it. Hopefully that'll open up some things for us. But the majority of our recruiting will be done in this state and California. So we've got a lot of guys in California. We'll leave no stone unturned. You've got to find out who can play. It's all about evaluation. You've got to focus yourself on your staff's ability to evaluate. You've got evaluate what's going to win at Arizona State."

Q: On the late signings:

"The four or five guys that we signed after the letter of intent day are every bit as good as the guys we didn't get. Because I'm not going to take a guy just to take a guy. Why would you do that? You can take one in the winter or even the next recruiting season. The guys we've taken late aren't guys we took just to take. They're guys that can play football that we found out about late and studied very hard. And you'll see when they get here that we were right."

Q: Did last year's QB battle affect Brock's performance negatively?

"Yes. I expect a huge difference. And that happens in most quarterback battles I've been in. We can talk about how it's good and gives you depth and you like the competition, but eventually you've got to make a decision. Whoever, the quarterback that doesn't win that thing, it hurts them. I think it affected Brock, no question about it."

Q: On how Osweiler's accuracy is improving:

"He's fairly accurate. He just doesn't get the ball out of his hands when he needs to. He's been working on that a lot. He can run, he runs a 4.7. He can keep that football. It doesn't look like he's going, but he runs pretty well. I think we can do things with him running the football in different situations that we didn't do with Steven."

Thanks to Byron Kline who assisted with this article.

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