Injuries Will Give Spring Game Different Feel

ASU's head coach Dirk Koetter is realistic about the health of his team, and therefore won't conduct a full-blown game for the spring ending scrimmage on Saturday.

"Our scrimmage is going to be more of a situational work," he said. "Just like it has been for the last two weeks. Where we're at numbers wise…to try and make it a mock game just doesn't make sense from an injury prevention standpoint. We'll pick out ten different situations we want to work on. We will work on all phases of the game."

"That way everybody gets to go home a winner," Koetter continued. "We made a lot of progress in the spring, and there's no use trying to ruin that by putting on a show just to say we played a spring game." The Sun Devil skipper added that he would mix in the kicking game in between scrimmage periods.

The ASU head coach thinks that the biggest accomplishment his team has achieved during the spring, is the fact that he has more players recognizing that it takes greater effort on a consistent daily basis, in order for the team to be successful. He was pleased with the fact that his squad has learned how to practice harder for longer durations.

"We've made strides," he commented. "The great thing about spring ball is that those practices are spread out, which lets the coaches make the teaching tapes how they really want them. Players bodies have time to heal, and we're able to come out hard every other day and have better tempo than if we were practicing back-to-back."

The ASU coach mentioned that a battle is still brewing at right guard between Zach Krula, Mike Pollak, and Stephen Berg. At left tackle Chaz White and Brandon Rodd are the two players vying for that position. "I feel good about our depth at offensive line," Koetter remarked, "and we needed it. Julius Orieukwu had his shoulder surgery today. I feel that we have more guys that can play on the offensive line than any other point that we've been here." Koetter mentioned that tight end Lee Burghgraef is one of the five most improved players in the spring.

The depth at tailback through out the spring has been almost non-existent. Then again, Koetter says that the quality is overcoming the quantity. "At the start of the spring we had six bodies," he said. "But we still have three great tailbacks here. We have a fourth guy in Cornell Canidate that when healthy he can still get in there and compete too. You're not gonna get more quality tailbacks than what we have." Koetter added that Loren Wade's availability for Saturday is still unknown. Randy Hill was out sick but should be available for the scrimmage. The ASU coach was pleased with Hakim Hill's performance on Thursday who was literally the only tailback practicing that day.

Players pick up bad habits when practicing on their own in the off-season. This has been a point that Koetter has brought up earlier in the spring when asked about Andrew Walter's progress. Nevertheless, the Sun Devil coach said that his signal caller shook off those negative routines fairly quickly, and is doing everything he's being asked to do. "After the first three practices you could see it right there," stated Koetter. "Andrew had made progress. We asked him to show more burst coming out of the pocket when things broke down, and be more of a runner. In these 14 practices he has done more of that than in the last two years combined. We asked him to take on more of a leadership role with the guys that aren't on his level, the guys that are making mistakes. He has done a good job of that too." In regards to Walter's backups, Sam Keller and Michael Affleck, Koetter said that he likes what he sees, but the inexperience with both of them is still evident, which results in inconsistency.

The ASU Defense is another group hampered by low numbers. "Having Jimmy Verdon basically out for spring ball has made us razor thin (at defensive end)," said Koetter. "Three of our top players, Jimmy, Riccardo Stewart, and Josh Barrett were out. Other guys are getting reps and a chance to do something."

"Jordan Hill's move to defensive tackle and Emmanuel Franklin to safety were positive moves," Koetter continued. "The structure of the 4-3 is simpler like we knew it would be. It allows more players to get in the mix. The first unit that we're putting out there has a chance to be pretty good. We're thin in several spots, and we'll be counting on newcomers and guys developing over the summer to fill in." He added that redshirt freshman cornerback Chad Green, who has been hobbled by a stress fracture, has shown some flashes of brilliance.

Former tight end and current defensive end Aaron Austin has elected for now to keep on donning the white jersey in practice. "I gave him the option this week to go back to tight end or stay at defensive end," stated Koetter. "He chose to stay. His progress has been slow, but he shown some flashes. I think the jury is still out on whether he can help us in the fall at that position. Since he's going into his senior year, whatever he feels like makes him the happiest and gives him the best chance – that's where he'll be playing in the fall." Another new face at tight end is Mike Talbot "Mike is doing ok. He's one of those guys that doesn't always look pretty doing it, but in the scrimmage he made two nice plays."

Injuries at safety have forced the coaches to move Mike Davis from cornerback, albeit on a temporary basis. "We're down to one healthy safety with Maurice London…it's a two-day experiment. If this is a game week, that what we would have to do. He has the closest thing to a safety body."

At linebacker, Koetter mentioned De'Andre Johnson as a player that "will be able to help us in the fall." J.W. Lucas was making some strides, but missed a week of practice with a concussion, and the evaluation on him is incomplete as a result of his absence. Two other newcomers to linebacker, Lamar Baker and Robert James, are in "the right position for them." According to the ASU head coach.

Toughness and competitiveness have been the battle cry for this year's spring practice, and Koetter feels that these aspects have been achieved successfully. "We practiced hard," he said. "We went more live, had more tackling than any spring ball I have been in. It was by design. Some guys had to step up to the plate and show it. Guys had to show that they were tough enough to compete. I think Coach Carrier and Coach Myers were good additions for us in those areas as well."

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