Healthy and content, Knapp set to start

During his time in Tempe, Dan Knapp has had to overcome a lot of odds, such as position changes and injuries. Now finally healthy, the senior has been named one of the starters on the ASU offensive line and is looking to have a breakout year in his last campaign with the Sun Devils.

It was announced Sunday afternoon that Dan Knapp will start the season at left tackle this Thursday when the Sun Devils host UC-Davis. While the announcement may come as a surprise to some, especially considering that sophomore lineman Evan Finkenberg has spent a considerable amount of time during fall camp with the starting unit, it's a challenge that Knapp is ready to take on.

"Well that's just a little adjustment we made," commented Knapp after practice Monday evening. "I think Evan is coming back the second half and I'm going to start at right tackle. But yeah, I'm just excited.

"It's been a rough camp but I've made it through it. I was hurt for Spring ball so I couldn't play. I'm looking forward to being back; I'm healthy and ready to go."

Since joining the Sun Devils in 2008, Knapp has seen a myriad of position changes, including playing and starting as a tight end his freshman year before being rotated along the offensive line. While some may grow disgruntled at the constant position shuffling, Knapp welcomes the opportunity and is prepared for his new role.

"He has played a lot of places and he's one of our leaders," said Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson. "He just wants to win; he'll do anything to win. You can ask him to play wherever. He's fought through injuries and I look for him to have a good year."

"Well, at this point in time I'm pretty confident playing tackle," remarked Knapp. "It's been a journey - playing tight end, left tackle, right tackle and guard - but the way I look at it is if I'm on the field, I could care less what position I'm playing.

"I'm starting to get into the groove of things and I think the whole offensive line is ready and confident."

As it stands now, Knapp will be the man largely responsible for protecting starting quarterback Brock Osweiler's blind side, a role that without a doubt is one of the more important roles on any football team. Given the relationship Knapp has with Osweiler, it's one he personally looks forward to.

"Me and Brock go way back," said Knapp. "I was his host when he came in as a freshman and since that day we've been super close. We've been best buddies down here and we live together, so I see him everyday. We go on trips together; I bring him back to my hometown, he brings me to his hometown."

"We've got a really close bond and I like being back there, protecting his blindside. Regardless of where we are or what we're doing, I've always got his back."

Heading into the 2011 season, the Sun Devils will be featuring one of the more experienced offensive lines in the Pac-12 conference. It's a group of players that's taken its share of criticism over the past couple years, as the team overall underperformed. Knapp though vows that the team has grown and learned from their youthfulness, something Sun Devil fans can take delight in.

"We're starting to finally meet our expectations," he said. "I've been here for the past four years and I've seen the offensive line in their prime in 2008-09 and then slowly decline over the past couple years.

"But after my move to tackle, we started to get all these veteran guys back and these guys have been starting for a couple of years now, we've just solidified as a group. I don't think I've seen such a tight group since I've been here. In years past there's been a bunch of individuals, but now you can use the closed fist analogy; instead of five spread out fingers we've got one fist."

One thing that has certainly helped the Sun Devil offensive line is playing against their own defense. Arguably the most physical group in the conference, the defense has served as an everyday challenging test for the offensive line, and one that has helped change the mentality of the line overall.

"In the past couple of years we'd come to practice and just go through the one on one's with the defense and you'd see our guys get pushed around and not fight back," reflected Knapp. "But now, that's not the case. You never see that happen.

"Last year, in the first camp I got into two fights in two days and I think that set off a little attitude with the entire offensive line. I like to see that, and see us get better and better as the season goes on."

Also aiding the learning curve for the Sun Devil offensive line is their familiarity with second year offensive coordinator's fast paced offense, along with a more rigorous conditioning routine. It has been a busy offseason for many of the Sun Devil players, including the offensive line, and one that should pay dividends this fall.

"The preparation this year is similar to last year, but our record last year told us that we need to work harder," stated Knapp. "This whole offseason we've been doing more and more; just more conditioning and our workouts in the weight room have been more intense.

"And then we come out here in practice and do 60 plus plays, which is almost an entire game. I just think the whole pace of the offense has gotten a lot quicker."

If there's been one disappointment for the Sun Devils this offseason, it's been their unfortunate luck with injuries. The depth chart has taken a beating over the spring and fall camps, but appears to be regaining its form as the season is set to begin three days from now. As someone who has experienced a variety of different injuries during his collegiate career, Knapp knows the effects the injuries may cause, but remains steadfast in his team's ability to perform.

"Well of course injuries are going to affect our team this year, but we've just got to think about the positives and play with the personnel that we have available," Knapp stated. "As for me personally, I've been through a lot of injuries in my time; an ACL, two MCL's, a couple concussions, etc. I've been around the block in regards to injuries.

"I had a tough time coming back from this ACL injury, in camp I started off slow. But as practice progressed I started to progress and my knee began to feel better, and I became more mentally sound and confident in my knee and everything kind of took place after that. I've just kept it rolling and things are going good now."

With the conclusion of Fall camp approaching, Knapp says he's thankful that he's as healthy as he's been in a long while, and pledges to help the Sun Devils reach their full potential on the field.

"I guess my number one goal, with my past, is just to stay healthy," he said. "If I can stay healthy, then I just want to get better each game.

"And as for the team's expectations, I'm just trying to take it all the way to the top; Rose Bowl, National Championship. I'd love to take this team somewhere it's never been before."

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