Erickson comfortable with high expectations

The Sun Devils have completed their first week of fall camp, and during today's media day, Head Coach Dennis Erickson addressed the media about what he expects the 2011 season to hold, which he inline with some of the college football pundits anticipate of the Sun Devils.

There will be a new starting quarterback leading the maroon and gold offense this season, junior Brock Osweiler. Although Osweiler is no stranger to the Sun Devil offense, this will be the first year being named the starter at the beginning of the season.

"Even from the start when he first came here, we knew he had the talent to get there," Erickson said of Osweiler. "Obviously as you grow in your position, you get better all of the time. It started against UCLA, and continued against UA, but it really took over in the winter and the spring. He's really taken charge of our football team in the summer time.

"He's a different guy out there, not only as a quarterback but also as a leader, which to me is a key. The qualities at that position are so important. If you look at the outstanding players that have played that position over the years and the guys in our league, not only are they good players, but they're leaders of their team and competitive. I really believe in him and have a lot of trust in him, and I know that our team does, and that's probably the most important thing."

In 2010 with the arrival of new offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone also came an entirely new offense. The maroon and gold show some trials and tribulations last year as they became acquainted with their new offense but now in the second season, the improvement is already showing.

"All of our players offensively are much more comfortable," Erickson said. "Having been in this offense for a second year, particularly at quarterback. Even Taylor Kelly, who was in it last year - you can see him grow in the offense because he's been around it a little more as a possible back up. The other good thing is having Steven Threet around out there on the field as a new coach. Steven can relate to some of those things that we probably can't. He understands all of that stuff. That really makes a difference."

Defensive tackle, Will Sutton was forced to sit out last season due to academic problems, but the sophomore is now back and looking better than ever.

"We expect what we expected a year ago," Erickson admitted. "He's a penetration player with great quickness. I don't know that we had that at defensive tackle. Lawrence [Guy] is the guy that played along the line of scrimmage, but what Will brings is penetration, and he frees other people up. He would have started last year if it weren't for the academic issues that he had. So far he's looking extremely good. He's the type of guy that you need at that particular position."

Sophomore, Deantre Lewis, had to forgo spring practice after falling victim to a random shooting outside his home in California. Lewis, still suffering from a hamstring injury will return to the team next week but it's still unclear when the running back will return to the field.

"Deantre will be here next week, from what I understand. He's getting better all of the time. There's a chance that he'll play, but I'll be able to tell more next week once the doctors see him and get him his tests. But I'm a lot more optimistic than I was three weeks ago."

Another standout running back, Cameron Marshall with 150 carries for 787-yards in 2011 with his speed and size is an asset the Sun Devils intend to continue to utilize this season.

"I believe Cameron might be the most underrated running back in our league. He's gotten bigger, stronger, and faster, and he catches the football. For us to win, he's going to have to have a good year. He has to run the football a little bit more. But he's a combination of a guy that's very strong and big, but also has great speed. He's a guy that kind of gets lost on the radar for whatever reason, but he's a good football player."

Possibly one of the most talked about Sun Devil, linebacker Vontaze Burfict has already been named to several pre-season watch lists. In previous years the junior has struggled to control his passion on the field, leading to many unnecessary penalties for the maroon and gold but with time and experience comes maturity and coach Erickson has seen Burfict progress throughout the offseason.

"He's been a leader all winter and spring and summer," Erickson stated. "He did a really good job of leading out there so far in the five practices we've had. He understands the situation. It's hard not to read a newspaper or magazine without reading about it. But that's something he has to face, and we have to face it together.

"He's matured a lot, he really has. I think you have to go out and watch him at practice and see how hard he works and where he is. Does he still have a lot of fire? Oh yeah. Will he get a penalty or two during the season? Probably, I can't guarantee that. But if he gets them, it's because he's playing hard. He's a leader on defense just because of how he plays and the level that he plays at, and it carries over with everybody else."

T.J Simpson and Omar Bolden are two of the most disappointing losses for the Sun Devils this season, both sidelined by injury but with the loss of key players, it creates a sense of urgency for others to step up and fill in where needed.

"At receiver, they're both out there coaching right now. Hopefully they'll get back and play before the year is out. But TJ and Omar are out there doing a great job on the field. At receiver, we have depth. We have a lot of receivers who can step up and have stepped up at the corner situations. You don't replace guys like Omar or TJ. You bring guys in and they have to step up. That's what football is all about."

Since 2007, the Sun Devils have fallen short of expectations and of their own goals but now with a very seasoned and talented group the entire group aggress that it's time to utilize their talent and win games.

"We've got talent. We've got speed, which we've been hoping for a long time. I felt like we had it last year, but we didn't take advantage of it like we probably should have. I like the attitude. Anytime you have as many seniors or guys that have played a bit as we have, and that experience, it really makes a difference.

"You can tell that in how they practice, and how they take care of each other and really come together as a team. I like this football team a lot. We've managed to be seen. We were 6-6 last year. I really like what they've done, and I feel like we can win a lot of games. But we have to go out and do it as a team. We just have to go out and play."

Expectations are high for this season, already projected to rank 2nd in the Pac-12 South but the Sun Devils are looking to make it much further than that.

"Our bar is set. We talked about three goals. One is to win our division. If we can win the division, then we can get an opportunity to win the Pac-12. If we win the Pac-12, we have the chance to go to the Rose Bowl. But you have to take those things one at a time. That's what our goal is, and we feel like we have a chance to do that. This team doesn't talk a lot.

"They're very cautious of what they say, but they also understand that they work hard and have been through a lot of different things. They believe in each other and feel they can accomplish the goals I've talked about. If you try to look down that schedule, which is very difficult, you just kind of trudge along one game at a time and get better. But I feel like we have the talent, if we stay healthy, to compete for the goals we were talking about."


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