2004 Spring Practice Has Different Feel

Just another opening day of spring practice at ASU. Or is it? From scheme changes on both offense and defense to variations in practice structure, the Sun Devil practices should look significantly different than years past. Coach Koetter talked about those topics and others, while Andrew Walter shared his thoughts on this first day of spring practice.

Coach Koetter revealed that teaching, competition, and toughness will be the three focal points of this 15-practice session. Consequently, new elements will be introduced in upcoming practices. "To help the competition part, in every practice they'll be three distinct competition phases of practice," said Koetter. "They'll be a group competition somewhere at the front of practice, as a tempo setter. They'll be some team 11-on-11 situational competitions, where there's a true winner and a true loser in the middle of practice. Somewhere towards the end of practice, they'll be some one-on-one match-ups that we want to focus on, let's say R.J. Oliver against Derek Hagan, in front of the whole team with something on the line."

The ASU skipper downplayed the debut of the double tight end offense set, and labeled it as being less drastic than changing the defense this year from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3-4. What may have been a little bit more noticeable are the additions of offensive line coach Brent Meyers, and especially cornerbacks coach Mark Carrier. "You could tell, couldn't you (smile)? Mark was the most excited guy out here." Quipped the Sun Devil head coach. "Mark showed me today exactly the things that we hoped we would. He has the knowledge of a ten-year veteran in the NFL, but still has the enthusiasm of a college player. That enthusiasm is contagious, and that will be great for our defense."

Noticeable in his absence was sophomore defensive tackle Ali Likio. For several months now, Likio's pre-mature son has been under the supervision of a hospital's intensive care. His medical condition hasn't improved dramatically, which has naturally been a substantial distraction for the defensive tackle. Koetter commented on the situation: "He was at the welcome back meeting last night, he was here this morning lifting weights, and he wasn't here this afternoon in practice…. I expected him here, and he's not here. I would imagine I have a message for me waiting on my voice mail. Ali's situation is touchy to say the least because of his child."

A few days ago, the Arizona Republic reported that ASU's Athletic Director Gene Smith was going to sit on a 17-member task force that will present recruiting changes to the NCAA Division I Management Council. Among those rumored changes was eliminating, in light of the University of Colorado incidents, female player hosts.

When asked about this topic, Koetter did reveal that the Sun Devil recruiters, at least in their current all female member format, would seize to exist. "We made that decision at the end of February," stated ASU's head coach. "Annually we do a huge review of everything we do in recruiting. We decided (to eliminate) in light of several factors, none of which was the performance of our recruiting group. I want to stress that our recruiting group did fine."

"With the change in landscape in college athletics right now, there's a decent chance that it will get legislated," continued Koetter. "As a coaching staff, we already have responsibility for 110 players. So whether your group (of recruiters) is 20 like it was this year or 35 like it was last year, that's just extra responsibility that's just tough to govern. I have no reason to think there was anything going on that we wouldn't be proud about, but at the same time it's just one of those things that served its purpose. I think we do enough other things on our recruiting visits…we feel like we can pick up the slack without having the reasonability of that group. It just eliminates one more possibility of things that can go wrong."

While there were never allegations of wrong doings at ASU, the school newspaper, State Press, published a defamatory column suggesting otherwise. Koetter points out that such publicity, albeit mostly fabricated, carries a negative perception. "If one person says something that isn't true, it gets so blown out of proportion. 90% of that (article) wasn't factual. It was one person on a witch hunt, and once something is said the damage is done."

Quarterback Andrew Walter's ankle injury was detrimental to the Sun Devils' chances at success in 2003. The byproducts of that ailment have now become part of the goals Coach Koetter has for his signal caller. "Andrew picked up some bad habits because of that foot (injury), that still isn't completely healed. Poor footwork, usually leads to poor upper body mechanics. I'd like to see Andrew come back and be a little more over the top…he has a tendency to drop down."

Leadership skills and chemistry with his arial targets are other issues Koetter would like Walter to correct. Aside from Derek Hagan and Skyler Fulton, Walter seem to never have a productive relationship with his wide receivers and tight ends. "Andrew has to push the envelop with that," Koetter claimed. "There's no reason why we shouldn't get Terry Richardson, Matt Miller, Rudy Burgess, and Moey Mutz to join Derek Hagan. We haven't thrown much to our tight ends the last couple of years. Now we have some pass catching tight ends. We have to get the chemistry going."

Following the first day of practice, Walter admitted that there's only so much you can do without pads. "There was a lot of installation today," he said. "Coaches going over fundamentals, and teaching a lot. Thursday when we go in pads they'll be a lot more contact, and go full speed. It will more like Football." Speaking of contact, the senior is now 15 pounds heavier (235 lbs), which he hopes aids him for the bumps and bruises of the upcoming season. "I'm never gonna be (mobile like) Michael Vick, but this will help me stand in (the pocket) and take a hit if I have to…everything fits a little tighter (smile), but it's a good thing. In however many more months we have until the season, I would like to gain a little more weight."

Lighter or heavier, the senior is elated to be on the football field again with his teammates. "You can only work out for so long," he said "And it can get boring. So to get out here with the guys, talking trash back and forth is a lot more fun. We didn't come here to lift – we came to play football. This is why we're out here today."

The Sun Devil quarterback admitted that starting today the journey to help get rid of the bitter taste of last season has began "Coach addressed it in yesterday's team meeting. This is a new season, and we can't dwell on last season. We're gonna come out here and get it out of our systems. Especially now that I'm a senior, I don't want to go out like that (with a losing season)."

Walter said that his relative good health as of late has helped him gain the after mentioned weight. Nevertheless, there are other physical and football feats he would like to accomplish. "Gain lean weight, maintain foot speed and quickness…in football, get on the same page with everybody, last year it was evident we weren't. That's the biggest challenge for me and the wide receivers."

The ASU signal caller does embrace the offense's new double tight end set. "It's interesting and new," said Walter. "I like it. It's a good change. We have the personnel to fit it, and smart enough guys to figure it out. It will make us more versatile, and maybe the tight end can get down field a little bit better. It will make us wide open"

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