Q&A with coach Gregg Smith

With all five starters returning the Sun Devils' offensive line is now considered one of the team's strengths going into the 2011 season. Offensive line coach Gregg Smith talks to Devils Digest about the fall camp performance of his group and their prospects going into the season.

Devils Digest: Coach, with the season opener coming up in less than a week how would you assess the offensive line's performance?

Gregg Smith: "I think we have made pretty good progress until now. At this point of time, we need to play a game because everybody is tired beating up on each other. You want to beat up on somebody else for a change.

"At this point of the year the offensive line is where I want it to be, but there is still a lot of work to do and a lot of room to grow. You can never be satisfied at where you are at."

DD: What are the some of the aspects of your unit that you have been very pleased with since fall camp started and what are some aspects that still need to be improved?

GS: "Our run blocking has been going pretty well. I'm a little disappointed in some of the pass protection stuff, especially in 3rd and long. We have to get ourselves clued in a little better to down and distance. But we have also put ourselves in some tough situations a little bit with that. In last Saturday's scrimmage, we actually converted a 3rd and 16 in our first drive and a 3rd and 14. So that was a positive part of it."

DD: Naturally there are a lot of high expectations placed on the offensive line this year because of all the experience it has. Have you seen this offensive line play at a level that you would expect a veteran offensive line to perform at?

GS: "Probably not yet. I think we have to continue to go through the season, week by week, and continue to get better. If we were perfect right now then what else do you have to work to? There is always room for improvement and that is our goal – to continue and get better every week because each week is going to present a new challenge for us."

DD: Center Garth Gerhart has already proven to be the anchor of this line and perhaps its best player. Have you seen him develop even more since last season?

GS: "Most definitely. He's a guy that has worked to continue and improve himself. He got stronger in the weight room, has a good handle on our protection schemes, making our calls. He's been a real key to our offensive line."

DD: It seems as if ever since last season it has been a never-ending battle for playing time at right tackle between Dan Knapp and Aderious Simmons. Has that position battle settled yet or will both players continue to see time playing on the first team?

GS: "It's not settled yet. We are waiting for someone to jump out and take it. If they both continue to play well, then they both will play. It's nice to have that situation with two guys that can play that spot. Obviously, Dan is our swing tackle so if something happened on the left side that's where he would swing to."

DD: Simmons' physical attributes speak for themselves, but as someone who played just two years of football before arriving at ASU he obviously had a lot to learn about the technique and nuances of this position. In that regard, have you seen the development you expected to see from him at this point of his career?

GS: "Yes, for the most part. I think he is doing a good job. He's continuing to learn and get better. Just like every other guy across the front there is always room to get better and improve. That's what we keep on working with him everyday."

DD: You're established at left tackle with sophomore Evan Finkenberg, but I have to think that it's virtually unheard of to have someone in such an important position start 11 games as a redshirt freshman. Are you surprised about how early in his career he has been able to establish himself on the offensive line?

GS: "He's an awful good football player and he is very athletic so it doesn't surprise me. It's very nice to have a guy like that who that's young but continues to grow and improve. He keeps on working, and he isn't satisfied as to where he's at."

DD: Mike Marcisz has been battling injuries and really hasn't played much prior to his junior season. Coming into his senior year do you feel that he's 100 percent healthy and playing at the level that you expected him to?

GS: "It was hard having surgeries on both shoulders at the same time and that would set anyone back. It not only sets you back on the field, but also in the weight room. But he is totally healthy now and has been doing a pretty good job."

DD: There are some many young players on the second team that are going to be the nucleus of this offensive line in 2012. Can you talk about them and their progress?

GS: "The reason we recruited all those kids are because they are good players. They all have really good upsides. As redshirt freshmen they have a lot of room to grow, a lot of room to work but I am pleased with all these kids. Being in the mix early right now they get a lot of reps and the more you're on the field the better that you get. They will be a valuable asset for us a year from now."

DD: Have you made a decision yet on whether to redshirt Brice Schwab or not. ?

GS: "We have not. He has done a good job learning a new position as a guard and it takes a little while to grow into that position. But he's making positive strides, he's excited about the move and now we just have to keep working with him and make sure he continues to get better."

DD: The offense being now in the second year under coordinator Noel Mazzone will be more creative than it was in 2010. In that sense, how much of an adjustment will it be for the offensive line?

GS: "There isn't really anything new we (the offensive line) are doing. We put in a three-backfield set so that maybe is really the newest thing we added, and that's more of a short yardage, goal line look. But I think the offensive line has adjusted to it very well. Anytime you can get in and start double teams and have two, three backs in the backfield and those guys become blockers too, it gives your offense a much more physical look."

DD: You mentioned a more physical look, and in various interviews the offensive line members talked about wanting to be more physical this season. Have you personally witnessed that shift in attitude?

GS: "I think so. The older guys get, the more mature they become and the more physical they become. I think being more physical is a goal of theirs and I think they are all on the same page. They know that in order to be a successful offense and a successful offensive line you have to play physical."

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