Q&A with Coach Mark Helfrich

In this exclusive DevilsDigest interview, ASU's quarterbacks' coach reviews Andrew Walter's 2003 performance, talks about the senior's decision to stay in school, and discusses the battle for backup position.

DevilsDigest: Coach, let's start by reviewing the two quarterback signees in the 2004 recruiting class?

Mark Helfrich: Max Hall "Just a great kid. Obviously he has the connection with the tradition at Arizona State. I'm very happy and proud for him to be a part of it. The first thing that comes to mind when you think about him is - a winner. He comes from a tremendous program (Mountain View HS). He's a very accurate passer. We saw him several times just put on a clinic. It remains to be seen what he does, and if he enrolls or goes on his mission."

Rudy Carpenter "Comes from an undefeated team that wins the Div IV championship in California. Very similar to Max. Maybe a little more athletic in terms of things they asked him to do. Not that Max can't do those things…but he does some things in the running game. When things break down he runs little bit more. With Max everyone is in his backfield so he doesn't have to run (smile). It was his first year in a really sophisticated passing offense, and he played very well."

DD: Last year, Coach Koetter said several times that although Andrew Walter wasn't putting up the same numbers, that he still was performing at a higher level than the 2002 season. Do you share that notion?

MH: "Yes and no. I think so many expectations were put on our team, that from an insider's perspective were a bit unrealistic. As a team, when you get those expectations, that will mainly fall on your premier player, and that was Andrew. So, he had very high expectations both internally and externally."

"We had a lot of things break down, and a lot of those start at the quarterback position. We need to get better, and that's what we're doing right now. We go through our entire season, and you see that 10,000 things add up to a 5-7 season. We're so close is so many departments, but a little thing here, a little thing there makes a huge difference."

"Did Andrew play his best? Absolutely not. Did he play as poorly as people said he did? No. But it's somewhere in between. Right at the beginning of the season he was really sharp and was ready to go. We started out with a bit of a struggle in a few games, and he started having confidence issues with various things. But then he came back, he was ready to roll, and then he got hurt. At that point, his injury bothered him a lot more than I think was (known) out there. He played through it, and was almost in survival mode."

"That then led to a lot of mechanical issues, in terms of being able to balance, follow through…that he just couldn't do it. I would say that last season was comparable (to 2002). He wants, needs to, and will get better. I told him that we have to be on a mission together to make this thing end on a good note, and it's going to."

DD: Did you do a lot of praying while Walter was deciding to come back for his senior or leave for the NFL?

MH: "I really didn't. I told his dad the night of the press conference ‘I was worried for a while, but I'm not now…'Andrew Walter is a really good person, and a smart guy who was raised well. I knew he knew the right decision, and he ended up making it. So, I can honestly say that I didn't fret too much or have sleepless nights (smile)."

DD: Let's talk about Sam Keller. Is it fair to say that he's entrenched as the #2 quarterback?

MH: "Yes, but not a very deep trench. We need to get into spring ball, and give all those guys a shot. We're excited to see what Mike Affleck can do as well. Both of those guys have some very impressive physical skills. It's just a matter of doing it when there's something on the line. They'll both get a good shot."

"Sam picked it so well last fall, and hopefully that will continue in the spring. When he had a couple of shots, he was a very typical true freshman quarterback – late, unsure, off balance. But he's tough; he has some natural leadership skills that he needs to keep continue developing. He first needs to take care of his business, and he's starting to do that a little better. He's just 18 years old. He needs to be in the system more, get beat up, have some success, and build his confidence. I think he has a great chance."

DD: Not many will find the battle position for the # 3 quarterback all that intriguing, but we're sure you're looking forward to see how Chad Christensen and Mike Affleck fair fighting for this spot. How do you foresee this competition?

MH: "I don't know. Chad has had a lot more chances to showcase himself than the others have. What's interesting about spring ball is that you can give others a chance that didn't have that opportunity before. Mike really hasn't been in our offense. It will be interesting."

DD: You mention to us last season that you made a point to tell Mike Affleck that what happened to Sam Keller (quickly ascending to backup quarterback) isn't typical for a true freshman. Do you sense that coming into spring ball that Mike's spirits are high and he's mentally ready to go?

MH: "I think so. That's one thing we're working on a lot and that's Mike's confidence. To play quarterback, you have to be confident. I think the whole thing hit him and he was saying ‘Am I suppose to do this? Am I suppose to do that?' That's natural. But I think he has to overcome that mentally, and now it's more like ‘OK, now I have my shot.' He's doing a pretty good job preparing himself to spring. We're gonna get him between the lines and sees what happens."

DD: As far as the reps allocation in spring practice is concerned, do you plan to follow the same formula that existed in some of fall camp where Andrew got fewer repetitions than his backups?

MH: "We actually become more equal in the spring, so we can try and give, especially Sam and Mike, a good opportunity. In the beginning of fall camp we do somewhat of the same thing, to make sure that old roles are re-established or that new ones are established, like they did last year. You have to determine that fairly quickly too, because just the number of practices opportunities you have for the first game…you have to start developing the timing between Andrew and his top 5-6 receivers. That's something you can't wait too long to do."

DD: From a quarterbacks' coach and the passing game coordinator perspective, can you talk about the impact of the team's new two tight end set?

MH: "That's what we're doing right now. We're trying to hone down the whole thing before spring ball. You can do a lot of things (with this set); you just have to find the right combination. Last year we basically had a blocking tight end and a receiving tight end. When you get into more formations or motions, you try to appear much more complicated than you are. But for the route runners and the quarterback, it comes down to the same general concepts. If you do six things five different ways that allows you to be consistent with those concepts but still look like ‘these guys are doing a lot.' That's one thing we're trying to figure out now, what those six things will be."

DD: In this scheme, is it more of a challenge to the quarterback to operate in what will seem at times as a somewhat empty backfield?

MH: "No it won't. With motion you can move guys around to basically where (former fullback) Mike Karney would have been. You'll see guys with what we call ‘bunch sets', and from those sets you're really getting back to a traditional backfield set, by motioning a guy. To the naked eye it won't seem a whole lot different. The guy may wear an 80 number instead of a 40 number. Where they start may look different, but where they end up and what we're able to do from it, that's where the multiplicity has to be able to come in to look like you're doing more than you're really are."

DD: Can you touch on the areas that Andrew Walter needs to improve in?

MH: "The biggest thing that happened last year to him was his ankle, and what it did to his balance. That's one of the biggest things in throwing the ball accurately - balance and timing. If you're dropping back, and you're half a step late just because you can't move as quickly, you're already behind. So, you have to make that up by being perfectly in- balance or perfectly on time. He needs to get back to where he was in the begining of last year physically with his feet."

"Mechanically with his motion, he needs to carry the ball higher. He had a tendency to drop the ball a little bit, which puts stress on your elbow, and cause you not to be very accurate…when springtime rolls around I think his ankle physically will be fine. We're excited to see what happens."

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