Dirk Koetter quickly recapped the first practice saying: "We had 105 players out there. No surprises – everything was as it should have been. They were 31 newcomers, and in those newcomers we have two junior college players and 12 invited walk-ons." Experience will be abundant on both sides of the ball, and Koetter made it a point to emphasize that: "We have 17 starters coming back, but by my count we have 14 players on offense that have started at least one game in their career – seven on the offensive line. The key position on the offense is how the tight end situation shakes out."
"Defensively we have 12 guys that have started a game in their career. Nine guys have started one game in the secondary. That secondary group, you can just see right off the bat in the first practice – a very talented group. We have great speed in the secondary. The guy you need to look out for is Brett Hudson. If he can stay healthy he'll have a great year. They key position on defense is linebacker. We lose three seniors, but I like our athleticism at linebacker."
Overall, the ASU skipper said that it's hard not to feel the team's excitement. "The expectation level is high. When you combine the fact that we have an experienced team, and a confident team…we're stronger and faster than we ever have been – that's due the work they did in the off-season. We do have the talented to back it up."
The goals of the team were broken down by the coaches into five segments:
"Start Fast will be our motto through our first three games - NAU, Utah St. and at Iowa."
"Then we go into Gold Time. This is where we have to have our game face on, and be at our best. That coincides with the start of Pac-10 schedule – at Oregon State, USC, Oregon. Those will be three terrific games that will go a long way in deciding which team wins the Pac-10 championship."
"The third phase of our schedule is one of our mottos CPC – Compete with Passion and Character. Two of those three games are payback games – at North Carolina and California for homecoming. Two teams that beat us last year, and we didn't think we played our best football, and we want another chance at these teams. We also have a game in the middle at UCLA."
"The fourth phase is Finish Strong. We have two Pac-10 games on the road at Stanford and at Washington State. Two games that if we want to go where we want to go we have to finish strong."
"Lastly, out fifth phase is Beat U of A. Always one of our biggest goals in any season."
"After we get through these five phases we go into the post season phase. We have very high hopes for the post season, but we have to take care of these first five phases if we're gonna get there." Koetter mentioned that the next three and half weeks are the fundamental and assignment phase. "We have to get our fundamentals polished up, and our assignments down. When NAU comes into town we go into our competitive and execution phase of our season."
The inventible question was asked as to the team's ability to compliment the prolific passing game with a consistent ground attack. Koetter believes that the team is more capable now of achieving that balance. "We want to run the football. One of the biggest things to help that is how we re-juggled our offensive line. I think you're gonna see Regis Crawford have a tremendous year going back to guard. He's stronger and faster than he ever has been. We're gonna be stronger inside. The question is how fast our young tackles will come along will determine a lot how we run. Mike Williams has had a tremendous summer and is ready to go. Our tailback position is deep…it depends how it all sorts out – if we go with one guy or by committee. It's up to them. I'm confident we're gonna run the ball better. We need to run the ball better to make all our dreams come true."
When asked if he had a definite number of players he doesn't plan to redshirt, Koetter said that it's hard to come up with pre-determined figure. "Not a definite number at all. I think you have to go back to look how many returning players we had last year. We played at one time or another nine true freshmen. It will be very tough for that number of freshmen to break in to the lineup because we have so many guys back. If they can, they must be pretty good or possibly a position where we're not very deep. There were a couple of guys last year that I didn't think would play, and until we get the pads on and actually see how fast they can learn it when the hitting starts…if one of those guys can get in there and help us win so be it."
With all the accolades that Andrew Walter has been receiving in the pre-season, it is fair to assume that he has significantly improved on last year. Coach Koetter specified a few areas that fans would see a difference. "He got a lot better looking. His grooming got better (smile)...Andrew improved his mechanics the most. When a ball is off the mark, he can usually correct it for himself. He knows what he has to do. Knowing what to look at, where his hots (i.e. hot receivers) are, what the front line calls are, what plays he needs to check in and check out of…we're not a big check team, and we probably checked more this last year than we ever did in the four years in our system because Andrew was able to handle that. Another thing he will take a huge jump in is how he interacts with other players. You're gonna see a big improvement in Andrew when things aren't going the way they should. He's really learned that we don't have to go for the big play every time, and we can drop the ball down to secondary receivers."
The value of having an experienced signal caller is hardly overrated according to the ASU coach. "When your quarterback knows what's going on, it's like having another coach on the field. The fact that the installation goes much faster…He didn't get much reps today, but when he did it was very smooth. It's very reassuring for the coaches that your starting quarterback has it down already."
With the media hype surrounding Walter, there has been talk about being a Heisman hopeful. Koetter admitted that he doesn't occupy himself with those thoughts, and that Andrew doesn't either due to him being a team player. "If he wins it, I'll be clapping. I really don't think about it in those terms. Andrew said it best – we're in this to win games for ASU. That's the number one goal. Just like last year with Terrell – the individual awards are great for our program, but I'm sure Terrell would give it al back if we could make it to the Rose Bowl, and I know that's Andrew's number one goal."
The junior quarterback was eager to start the 2003 campaign, and said that his excitement is shared through out the squad. "Summer beats you down, and the relief is the season. It's not just me. Everybody is ready to go…I feel real good. The summer was real good to me. One of my goals was to gain weight. I also wanted to throw a lot and both of those goals were accomplished. Whether I look bigger or not, I don't know. I feel better, I feel stronger, and I think that will help out." Walter mentioned that his playing weight last year was around 215, and is now currently 224. His customized weight program that he and the other quarterbacks went through included a lot more flexibility with a band and band resistance, twisting movements, medicine ball, and step-ups. Weight training was also involved, but to a lesser extent compared to the rest of the team.
The rave reviews he has been receiving undeniably carry extreme pressure with them. How does Walter think he's handing this new phenomena. "Terrell would be the guy sitting here last year (next to Coach Koetter on media day), and now it's me. The only pressure you really have is what you put on yourself. To try and keep everything in perspective and take it with a grain of salt, that's how I attack it." When a member of the media asked Koetter how Walter is handling all the media attention he said: "Outstanding. He's gonna do all my interviews. After today, I'm boycotting the press (smile), and Andrew Walter will be the face of ASU football."
Whether he will win the Heisman or not, Walter's name is already mentioned with the upper echelon of college quarterbacks nationwide. The ever so humble junior does agree with that assessment to some extent. "I feel that I paid my dues, and I'm up there with the best quarterbacks in college. That's where I let the media talk about, and I let my play speak. That's not really a focus there. I think I'm up there, but that's my personal opinion. My goal is wining games. If guys are better than me that's fine, but I just want to win more games."
Walter says that mentally he has improved quite a bit from last year. "I went through three different offenses in a span of less of a year. I think I have the fundamentals (of Koetter's offense) down. That's huge and that's something I'll always work on. This last half of a year the mental side is something that I figured out, and gave it much more credence than I ever have before." Walter also spent considerable time breaking down film with his receivers "So I can talk to them, and see what they think and what they're seeing."
Leadership is another aspect of his game that the signal caller has worked on perfecting. "Myself and Riccardo Stewart were voted team captains by our peers. Yes, I do consider myself as a leader. But it comes down to everybody else playing. It comes down to much more than me just completing a ball. The team is only as strong as the weakest link. It's on me, but it does come down to other players. My goal is to become more vocal. I'm always gonna let me play speak for itself. But I need to become more vocal and pick guys up, and not necessarily being negative all the time."
Koetter strongly agrees with Walter's statement on this topic. "He helps guys see the same thing he does, and that comes with chemistry and experience…Andrew already told me that he had this intangible side. I didn't always believe him, but he said to me that it's hard to demonstrate when you're not the #1 quarterback. Since he has become the #1 quarterback he has demonstrated that more and more each week."
Media Day Quotes – Coach Koetter and Andrew Walter
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