Q&A with coach Noel Mazzone

The ASU offense had its fair share of injuries in the spring and started off the 15-practice period in somewhat sluggish fashion and being generally dominated by the defense. Yet, the tide did turn in the last couple of weeks and culminated in a seven-touchdown display in the spring game. We caught up with offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to get his assessment of this group going into fall camp.

DevilsDigest: By all accounts the offense finished the spring on a much stronger note than it started. How would you evaluate this group over the 15-practice period?

Noel Mazzone: "It's not how you start the race but how you finish it…I was very happy with how things finished up. I think all the receivers progressed through the spring. I thought Brock (Osweiler) did the same thing and everyday he came out there he got better. We accomplished some of things we wanted to do on offense and a lot of young players got their opportunities to step up and show that they are in a position to help us. So we developed a lot of depth in a lot of positions this spring.

"I have always felt good about our running backs. Deantre (Lewis) not being out there just gave a chance for Kyle Middlebrooks to come on and he probably had the best outing of all the kids (on offense). Cameron (Marshall) was pretty solid.

"We have good competition at second team quarterback with Taylor Kelly and Michael Bercovici and that was important for the team."

DD: What are some of the goals you put forth for the offense when spring started?

NM: "Our goals in the spring are no different than the fall. We want to be an offense that practices the way we want to play the football game. The tempo we have in practice is going to be same one we have in a game. We're always concerned about our four major areas: turnovers, penalties, dropped balls and sacks. Everyday as we take the field as an offense we have those goals."

DD: We talked about how Brock Osweiler and the offense had a stronger performance the last part of the spring than the beginning. Looking back what do you attribute that to?

NM: "I thought we had a good couple of practices to start spring. I think at times we didn't catch the ball like we wanted to or we turned it over. But the kinds didn't' start slow and still practiced at the speed we wanted them to practice at. I think they improved from the start of spring until the end of spring in those areas we were looking at.

"One of the main things Brock was trying to do in the spring was trying to be a more consistent practice player. I think he took big strides in accomplishing that. I thought his mechanics in the pocket, his pocket presence and his footwork became much better from the start of spring until the end. His understanding of the offense took a big leap. He wasn't just running the play but also realizing what the purpose of it was."

DD: You touched on the two backup quarterbacks and the battle between them for the number two spot. What did you see from each of them in the spring that has impressed you?

NM: "Every position, especially quarterback, there is a learning curve process. Their performance when they are younger goes up and down and that's just part of the position. I think both of them did as I expected in the spring. They come out thinking that they have it all figured out and know what is going on and then they hit a wall and look like they never played the position in their life, and then they work their way back up.

"When you rise and fall enough times you really start to understand things and that's when you make progress. I'm very happy with of them and they are very capable of being a quarterback for us and it's just a matter of time and effort with those guys."

DD: Do you have a certain due date, if you will, in fall camp where you would want to name a second string quarterback?

NM: "No, because we are just going to go out there and work hard everyday to get better and getting ready for UC Davis. That's all I know."

DD: Cohesiveness is so important for an offensive line and with the experience this group has in the starting lineup I have to feel that you are very happy with what you saw from them in the spring in both pass protect and run blocking?

NM: "An offensive line coach told me once that you don't want this group to play like five pennies but to play like a nickel. These guys are all on the same page, now that they have been playing together for a year, they communicate better and know what to expect from each other. I have been happy with the progress of the offensive line.

"Just like with our quarterbacks, I was very happy with some of the young backups who really got their first opportunity to jump in there and be part of the offense. They too were inconsistent, but again it's a process. Would you like the offense to have 15 perfect practices? Sure, but that isn't happening. But how the offensive line and the whole offense progressed from day 1 to day 15 was very encouraging."

DD: As you mentioned regarding the running backs, Marshall showed you what you expected to see from him. Yet, when you look at Middlebrooks' spring performance, even though he showed some flashes last year, you probably came away impressed with how he stepped up his game to an entire different level…

NM: "Absolutely. He is one the bright spots of the spring. One thing I really like about Kyle is the way he practices. That's one thing you have to coach besides schemes and technique and that is to coach players on how to practice. How do you start, how do you finish, what kind of tempo you use…and that is where Kyle was outstanding. I am really excited about Kyle.

"Cam is Cam and he will be one of the best running backs in the league and he is solid as they get back there."

DD: Does all this depth at running back entice you to do more with the running game than you did last year?

NM: "We're going to run the wishbone offense as much as we can so we can keep as many of our running backs in the game…the good thing about all these running backs is that they do a good job catching the football for us on the perimeter and guys like Kyle can even line up in the slot. What is great about this group of kids in this offense is that we have so much versatility. Jamal Miles, Kyle, Deantre…all these kids are just so versatile."

DD: When you stated that a lot of young players stepped up and showed that they can contribute to the team I would assume that the wide receivers exhibited that trend just as much, if not more than any group out there…

NM: "The wide receivers really came into their own in the spring. They started at point A and as a coach you wanted them to get to point B and they started that journey and they all progressed. Kevin Anderson, Jarrid Bryant…the distances those guys went from day 1 until day 15 were unbelievable. I'm very happy with the spring Gerell (Robinson) had and he is one of the main cogs in the wheel. Chris Coyle had a great spring. A.J. Pickens was one of those guys you barely knew who he was because he hardly played and he really had a good spring.

"You know what excites me about these guys? I don't how good we are compared to other teams but I love this group of guys because they are hard workers and they all want to get better. That's all you can ask of them."

DD: Is there one aspect of the offense that you have concerns with going into fall camp?

NM: " We want to get better at everything and we will work hard everyday to improve. One big thing about this offense is that everyone has to know their role, understanding the role and understanding what you bring to the table. Understanding what your strengths and weaknesses are and how you can help this offense. Once the players understand that the group takes ownership of the offense. That's what I'm starting to get from these guys.

"It's their second year in this offense, they know what I want and they're starting to take ownership of it. It's not coach Erickson's or coach Mazzone's offense, it's their offense."


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