Camp Tontozona Recap – Coach Mark Helfrich

Between the Andrew Walter Media Hype and Sam Keller's astonishing rise To stardom, the ASU signal callers are one of the more intriguing units to follow on this team. DevilsDigest discussed this issue and others with the man in charge of this group - Coach Mark Helfrich.

DevilsDigest: With Camp Tontozona in the books, how would you evaluate the quarterbacks as a group?

Mark Helfrich: "We had one of our worst practices yesterday (Tuesday), so I'm jaded by that (smile). We're in decent shape. Everybody has gotten better, which is obviously the right direction. In terms of depth, we're in the one of the best situations we have been in, so you can challenge guys to do different things and do them better. If someone's shoelace breaks (smile), you're not in panic mode. We still have to get better, but I'm encouraged."

DD: A lot has been said about how Andrew Walter has improved over last year. As his position coach, could you put your finger on two or three areas that he has improved in?

MH: "There are many things you can put your finger on. His knowledge of the offense, where to be and when to be there is by far the biggest improvement. Knowing where to go, understanding what we're trying to get done, he's done well with that but he could still get better. He's not a natural feel guy, and I don't mean that in a negative way, but we have some inexperienced receivers and that's something that shows up – he needs to make those guys better. Last year for him was focusing on ‘what do I need to do'. Now he has to understand that receivers won't always be in the right spot, and that means more throw aways, tuck and run, or go down the progression. Stuff like that is where he really has to take the next step. When a guy screws up the route, that where he has to, what we call, ‘make us right' and not make mistake."

DD: Aside from all the on-the field accolades Walter is receiving, there's also the off-the field media hype, as in the Heisman Trophy candidacy and things of that nature. Do you think you will find yourself, if you haven't already, more in a role of a psychologist consulting Walter more on how the deal with all the non-football issues?

MH: "That stuff comes up in the quarterback position almost every year in different forms. Someone is getting the short end of the stick…somebody is getting this…this probably happens in most positions. Yes, we did talk about those kind of things. I think he has a good grasp on life and where he's focusing to be. So I don't foresee that (media hype) to be a problem. I hope it continues to be an issue, because that means he's doing the right thing and we're being successful (smile)."

DD: The running joke these days seems to be that if Walter came back for his senior season he will have to really battle Sam Keller for the starting position. Even with all the accolades Keller came with, how surprised are you at his ascend in his first year?

MH: "The biggest thing in his ascend, which is a good word, is mentally what he has been able to do. For him to hang on as long as he has, and pick up the things that he has… he's very impressive. With all the football background his dad has, you can tell that Sam was in a lot of locker rooms picking up stuff. Andrew is actually joking saying that because of Keller ‘the coaches will pull me with no hesitation.' I'm glad Andrew is thinking that (way)."

DD: Sam Keller's rise to backup quarterback is coming at the expense of two returning players – Chad Christensen and Kellen Bradley. In all honesty, how have these two handled the whole situation so far?

MH: "They have been awesome, and they have improved as well from last year. They know that he is performing at a really darn good level, and they're just working on what they need to do themselves. Those guys are studs. They are good guys, and they have been helping Sam out."

DD: Mike Affleck came in together with Keller. How is his frame of mind seeing his fellow freshman surprising rise to success?

MH: "Mike Affleck is very talented and he will have a great shot someday, but for him it's just not this year. I try to hammer into him that Sam Keller is the exception and not the rule. I tell Mike that he is where every other quarterback in America is right now saying ‘what in the hec are you're talking about?' (smile). There are so many things those guys are responsible for, and calling the play in the huddle is an effort for most freshman quarterbacks. And it should be, because there's a lot for them to think about. But he's been good and we expect good things from him. He is who we thought he was when we recruited him."

DD: Coach Koetter and Walter went on record saying that passing for 3,800 yards like last season may not result in a successful 2003 campaign. Can you expand on that perspective?

MH: "The biggest thing is balance. We can't be forced to do just one thing. At times last year that happened… you can throw the ball a bunch and win, and you can run the ball a bunch and win. You just can't be forced to do one thing over the other and still win. That's been documented with winners through out the history of football. It was nice to get school record numbers last year (in passing) but that's not the end game. We want to win a national championship. If that means Andrew has to pass for 1,500 or 5,000, we'll have to put ourselves in the best position to do that."

DD: Lastly, is this collectively the strongest group of quarterbacks you had since you came to ASU?

MH: "I think the potential is there. In terms of the guys that will be playing in games – yes this is the best group. We'll keep recruiting guys, and you're never good enough because guys always transfer, come out early, whatever the case may be. So we're always gonna fight to bring in the best each year. A lot of guys that have been trasnfering between schools lately are big time players, and not the fifth player on the depth chart. You just never know what will happen. And that comes back to being in that psychologist role of being realistic, keeping people happy, and everything that goes into it. You have to have someone down the line because eventually you will get to them and they will have to play."

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