Koetter Previews 2003 Season

In an event titled "Dirk Details", the third year ASU coach addressed the media and discussed his team's prospects for the upcoming season.

Koetter mentioned how this year the NCAA has instituted the five-day acclimation period. In this period both newcomers and veterans can report to the team, and practice at the same time. Koetter laid out the structure of events as it relates to this new bylaw: "On Sunday Aug. 10th, we will have a welcome dinner for the newcomers, hosted by the Scottsdale quarterback club. This year everyone will report on Aug. 10th. The First two practices are helmets only, the next two are in shells, and the fifth one is in pads…we decided to go the first four days here in Tempe, and on the fifth day, first one in pads, we'll go up to Tontozona."

The structure of the practices will be much different than years past, and Koetter mentioned that not only is ASU's approach unique among its conference foes, but also that a lot of Pac-10 teams will differ from each other in their practice structure.

The team practices will be from 7:30-10:30. From 7:30-8:45 newcomers and selected returning players only will practice. Koetter explains: "We'll have a few guys (veterans) we want to give special attention out there. We were nervous giving up on that individual time that the coaches have with the newcomers. With the veteran team we have, our veterans can just go out there and go off the bat. If we tried to incorporate our freshman in that, we were afraid that we would lose them fast." Another reason for having selected veterans practice in this time block is to insure that a full squad, by positions, is out there. The varsity will come out the last 1:45 minutes. They'll stretch and then practice with the newcomers.

All practices during those four days are open to the public (as well as the Tontozona ones). Practices following Tontozona are closed to the public, and just like last year require permission to attend from the football office.

Even though the team is allowed 29 practices before its first game, Koetter stated that the team would only conduct 26 sessions. The first Tontozona scrimmage is on the morning of Tuesday Aug. the 19th, and the main one is on Saturday the 23rd. Some afternoons the team will have a walk through practice only. On the afternoon of the 19th the team will go into Payson for some recreation, which includes a visit to the local swimming pool and a movie.

"All newcomers will be here." Said the ASU coach, "Everyone took care of their qualifications. We had ten guys in the bridge program this year." Koetter was especially proud of that achievement, and compared it to having less than a handful of newcomers in the bridge program in each of his first two years in Tempe.

As far as changes to the roster, Koetter reiterated that Ricky Parker was dismissed, and Jared Wolfgram has left the team. Due to those departures, Ishmael Thrower, who was thought to constantly rotate between LB and DE, will now see the vast majority of his time on the defensive line. This move is also aided by the fact that the coaches believe that De'Andre Johnson and Mark Washington can provide needed depth in the linebacker core.

As far as newcomers and their redshirt prospects, Koetter commented: "Last year I didn't think that Nick Johnson or Chaz White would play and they did. Right now, Jesse Ainsworth will play – he is our kicker. Kyle Caldwell, and Chris McKenzie all have the best chance to play right away…We tell all of our guys to compete like they are gonna play and not worry about redshirting. Those days are gone where you say that you will automatically redshirt all your freshmen."

Koetter went over the two-deep roster. Here are some of the highlights:

Nick Johnson is right now listed as the starting defensive end. His legal situation will dictate as to whether he will be suspended this season or not.

Koetter is excited about Kyle Caldwell saying that: "Coming out of high school he is further advanced than Terrell Suggs was. Kyle has been trained as D-lineman all his life. You see what his high school teammate Loren Howard did at Northwestern (first team freshman all-American), and it's debatable by others who's the better player to come out of high school."

"Linebackers are by far the biggest question mark on the team. We don't have a lot of players that played Pac-10 football." Among others, Koetter pointed out De'Andre Johnson who is improving after sitting out of football due to academics, and Mark Washington who at 240 pounds "passes the eye test."

The team will have nine players in the secondary that started a Pac-10 game last year. "I'm real excited. Hopefully we'll get to put our best players on the field at the same time." Koetter said that pro scouts went "ballistic" when Brett Hudson, who weighs 226 pounds, ran a 4.4. "He may have to play corner and safety again this year. We would like him to play safety." Koetter anticipates a "Strong three way battle" at one corner spot between Josh Golden, Emmanuel Franklin, and Chris McKenzie.

Overall, the ASU coach believes that the defense is a lot better than people give credit to. "People that don't watch us every week don't understand how many times the offense puts the defense in a bad spot. When you play the style of offense we play, we are gonna put them in bad spots. That's the way we play. Our defensive numbers wouldn't look like they do if we played more conservative. But if we played more conservative our offense numbers wouldn't be what they are." In a response to a question he mentioned that no other Pac-10 team runs the 4-2-5 scheme per say like ASU, but Oregon and Cal do play a hybrid of this defensive alignment.

On offense, Koetter believes that the toughest battle on the offensive line is at left tackle. Coming out of spring practice, Andrew Carhnahan is ahead of Chaz White, and this jockeying for position is far from being won by the redshirt freshman. Grayling Love did win the right tackle job in the spring. Which was a surprise since he came to the team as a center/guard. Koetter announced that Chad Rosson recently underwent back surgery and will be out 12 weeks.

At tight end Lee Burghgraef is the starter, and is "more of a run blocking tight end." according to Koetter. Jamaal Lewis and Aaron Austin are both intriguing possibilities at this position. Fullback Mike Karney will not only be the starting fullback, but will also play in obvious 3rd down passing situations. Koetter values the play of backup fullback Mike Talbot who would "Start on a lot of Pac-10 teams this year, just not at ASU."

A five-headed monster does exist at running back, but senior Mike Williams, the most versatile back according to Koetter, is still listed as the starter. "Hakim Hill is back in every capacity." Said Koetter, who did agree that it would be initially hard for him as a fifth stringer to get many reps. When asked about Hill's past vows, he said: "There's no way to know if his struggles are behind him. He worked hard and is in the best shape of his life (weighing 220 pounds)." Koetter mentioned how wide receiver Daryl Lightfoot displayed a great deal of consistency in the spring, and also sang the praises of Matt Miller.

Koetter fully expects to see a jump in play from Andrew Walter. "He's more patient. He's more in control on the field. There's no reason not to expect big things from him…I never had a quarterback this far along in his junior year." While Koetter didn't doubt that Walter could surpass 4,000 yards passing, he did say that it could be a recipe for a bad year, and that Walter's success will be judged by the number of team wins.

A "Huge question" exists at backup quarterback, and Chad Christensen is the backup for now over Kellen Bradley. The ASU coach stressed the importance of having a solid player at this position going into the season. Koetter also mentioned that it would be hard for newcomers Mike Affleck and Sam Keller to get into the mix, but he would like to "break it up" and redshirt only one of them. Koetter does believe that one of them has separated himself from the other, but did not name names.

Punter Tim Parker did a better job than expected at field goal kicking. However, Ainsworth is fully expected to be the starting kicker. As someone who played on defense in high school and was a fierce tackler, Koetter believes that Ainsworth "Isn't your typical kicker. He won't freak out after missing an extra point."

Since five Pac-10 teams run the same offense as ASU does, Koetter believes that his offensive playbook will always expand in hopes of separating oneself from the opposition.

Koetter thanked the nine first place votes given to ASU by the local Phoenix media, and he jokingly snickered at the other media members who picked ASU second. "I expected to be picked third or fourth. This is a very balanced league. We're one of seven teams who can win it." He mentioned the team's attitude is one of excitement, and it has displayed very hard work, as well as commitment in the off-season. "Being picked that high (2nd) is a great challenge." And it has been a while since such lofty expectations have been put on this football team. This year, they'll be no sneaking up on opponents…

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