Coming off a 5-7 record, it has been an off-season marked by change for the maroon and gold. "We have two new assistant coaches," said Koetter. "Two new graduate assistants. We are changing some of our nutrition stuff. We are changing the way we mentally approach stuff."
And then there's the scheme change on defense from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3-4. However, the Sun Devil head coach claimed that the new alignment itself isn't the answer to all the problems the defense may face, and generally downplayed the new look and emphasized the veteran make-up on this unit. "Whether you call yourself a 4-3 or a 4-2, offense formation dictates the look a lot of the time," he explained. "If we were playing a game today we would be starting eight seniors on defense. We never had that luxury before. We have twelve scholarship seniors, which is still a very small number. You hope the combination of experience, somewhat scheme adjustment, whatever value someone wants to put on it, the leadership factor, and the things that we learned… You can't put a value on the experience factor and when guys are healthy. We are not going to know that until we get into a game."
Within the defense they're have been some position changes which the ASU skipper believes will pay dividends this season. "We are thin at some positions," he remarked, "but that first eleven guys that were out there today on the first team defense - I like the looks of those guys. Jimmy Verdon moving down from end to tackle, that is a great move for us. It allows us to get our best eleven guys out there. I think you are going to see a nice leap in Kyle Caldwell's play. As a true freshman the game is faster and everything is a little bit new. The other guy I think you are going to see a big leap in is Justin Burks. Justin was a first year JC player last year and now he is in his second year. He has the whole thing figured out and he is in the best shape of his life. He is one of our leaders on the team right now."
The arrival of Mike Stoops at the U of A has seemed to reheat the rivalry among both state schools, and re-shape the in-state recruiting battle between both programs. Does Koetter share those sentiments? "I get that question a lot," he admitted. "Mike is a good football coach. Mike Stoops and I go a long way back when I was in Missouri and he was at Kansas State…I don't think any one guy makes this rivalry. A lot of people have come and gone, but when ASU and U of A play in any sport that rivalry is huge. For the game itself, I don't think it will be any different than it has been."
"Recruiting wise," Koetter continued, "we have proven that our main mission in recruiting is to take care of our business in the state of Arizona – our roster reflects that. Arizona hasn't made that as big an issue in the past, and I think you can say that it's noticeable that coach Stoops and his staff are making a bigger push in the state. But I still say for the in-state recruits that when we get down to official visits and guys decide between those two schools, we'll see how it all ends up in February."
One change off the field in the off-season was the leadership group formed by various players on the team to promote that virtue. "I can see the benefits of that," claimed Koetter. "But any work you put in that area is all good right now. But you'll never gonna know on that stuff until you face adversity, and we're not facing any adversity right now. All you can do is prepare for when it comes and then we'll see when we get there." The Sun Devil coach added that in general mental preparation gets as much emphasize as the physical preparation.
Following an underachieving season, eagerness is naturally a feeling that consumes the ASU football team. "It's a hungry group of guys, " he commented. "They have something to prove, and you have to wait until you can prove it. It's no fun taking about it, because talk it's just that – it's talk. When you end the season in November, and you don't play until September, you have a lot days and nights thinking how you would like to do it better."
"As a coach you know your strengths and weaknesses better than anybody else," Koetter continued. "We're thin at some positions; we need guys to step up at some positions. With 104 guys practicing out there we'll have some pleasant surprises, and we'll have some letdowns. You're just hoping that the right guys step up at the right time, and we're not gonna know that immediately."
When asked what message he had for ASU fans as the team embarks on a new season, Koetter replied: "What I would say to them is that you need to come out and support us. We know that everybody wants to support a winner and there's no reason why we can't be that. It sure helps to have the home crowd behind you. I understand that they would be confused, and sometimes frustrated because we all were in how we played at times last year. But this isn't last year - this is this year. I guess I would ask the fans to give the players the benefit of the doubt. I still think we play an exciting brand of football. As I look around the league I think we got as a good as chance as anybody. If we play like we are capable of playing I think we can beat anybody on our schedule. We know we have to do it. That's what's hard about it, we have to talk about for a month before you get there."
While quarterback Andrew Walter had a solid season last year, 2003 was a year that was marred with adversity. Koetter believes that Walter's prospects this season look very bright. "Andrew, if you think back to last year, we had a lot of balls dropped during the first part of the season," said Koetter. "From the UCLA game on Andrew was playing on one leg – it never really healed. How does that affect your mechanics? It affects it a lot . Your whole weight transfer and balance is off. Andrew is back heavier and stronger than he has ever been at 235 pounds. He's taken much more charge of the receivers and tight ends. The thing that should be pointed out is that Andrew turned down a million plus dollars. The last pick in the second round had a $1.3 million signing bonus. Andrew could probably be a millionaire now, but he got his degree in May. He could have taken the easy road, but he chose not to. I have no doubt that he will play very well in his last year."
Walter (pictured) himself is also very optimistic of his chances of success. "I feel good about where we're at, where I'm at personally and everything in between," he exclaimed. "I feel great about my where I'm physically at. It's only gonna be a grind from here, but I'm feeling great about where I'm starting."
Suffice to say the general expectations of the team and Walter this time last year were much higher than they are these days. Is this something that the signal caller pays much attention to or gives credence to? "The only expectations that matter are the ones that we have within our program," he explained. "Any outside influences or expectations really don't manner, because after the first kickoff all that matters is how you play. Anything you've done, any expectations that have been put on you, go out of the window."
When it comes to areas of improvement, Walter names two main areas he believes that will be different than last year. "I could be more vocal, and I'm definitely not holding back on any of that stuff. More than that, I'm gonna be able to be consistent on fundamentals, because I hopefully won't be hurt. Last season I was hurt for such a long time, that the consistency just went out of the window. It will be nice to be healthy and just play ball."
Walter, like the rest of his teammates on offense, is getting used to the new two tight end formation. How has he acclimated to that transition? "I'm adjusted," he claimed. "The only thing that changed was verbiage in the offense. The position is the same but with a different body, and we do more with them. We had to pick up on that, but it didn't take very long. Everything that happened in the spring will carry over to the fall."
The increased involvement of this position in the passing game can go a long way in making that maroon and gold that much more explosive on offense. The senior is anxious for that transformation to take place. "We have to find some tight ends that will be able to run the routes, and pick up the offense. If we can find those guys and they'll be consistent we'll be in good shape." Having another threat at wide receiver, aside from Derek Hagan, is another offensive aspect that will need to be settled in the off-season. Walter does not disagree with that opinion, but at the same time is confident that it will come to a successful resolution. "It's a still a question mark, and that will solve itself," he said. "But it's an issue until the first game. Hopefully we'll see all that work pay off in the first game."
Walter naturally has no regrets bypassing last year's NFL draft. Among the many variables the lead him to that decision, was the successful track record of former Pac-10 senior quarterbacks. "That was a big reason I came back," he confessed. "Senior quarterbacks are better off in the long haul. That definitely came into my thought process, and I'm looking forward for that being the case. Hopefully I'll prove myself right (smile)."
Koetter and Walter Media Day Quotes
Sun Devil Source Top Stories
Personnel limitations hampering ASU defenseArizona State head coach Todd Graham runs a pressure-oriented scheme that relies on defensive backs who excel in man coverage. In 2016, though, the Sun Devils have struggled to…
Sun Devil SourceYesterday at 1:24 PM
Shuffled line committed to aiding run gameArizona State will likely play without sophomore left guard Sam Jones Saturday, and an offensive line that has already struggled to run the ball in recent weeks will be challenged…
Sun Devil SourceYesterday at 9:00 AM
Ask the Expert Q&A: Washington StateFor this week's Ask the Expert feature, we caught up with Barry Bolton of Cougfan.com for his perspective on the Washington State Cougars.
Sun Devil SourceThursday at 4:09 PM
Premium Podcast: ASU-WSU previewThis week's edition of the 'Sun Devil Source Premium Report' highlights some of Arizona State's recent decision-making and includes a preview of the team's matchup with Washington…
Sun Devil SourceThursday at 2:08 PM
Wilkins limited in practices ahead of WSUArizona State head coach Todd Graham said quarterback Manny Wilkins was limited in practices leading up to the team's matchup with Washington State.
Sun Devil SourceThursday at 11:46 AM