"I thought the first 60% of practice was excellent," Koetter said of Tuesday's morning practice. "Then we hit a little mid-point where the humidity really got us, and I stopped practice. I thought we went through twenty minutes that were horrible, everyone was feeling sorry for themselves. So we stopped, we took that little break, and the last twenty minutes was pretty good, especially on the defensive side."
"I love the intensity that our defense is playing right now," Koetter continued. "Sometimes it's a little too much, because you don't want it to turn into a full scrimmage. You can't have guys on the ground - that's how you get guys hurt. On the same token, there's a fine line to walk because you don't want to curb that enthusiasm and that intensity that the defense is bringing. That of course is being led by Dale Robinson, Jamar Williams, and Jordan Hill."
What perhaps makes the defense's performance that much more remarkable, is the learning curve they are currently on. "Even though some of the players have been here a long time, it's a new system," Koetter stated. "The defense is pretty much starting from scratch, but not quite because we're keeping some of the terminology."
Prior to the team's trip up the hill, the Sun Devil skipper mentioned some of the objectives he's looking to accomplish up at Camp Tontozona. "The biggest one is the adjustment to our new defensive coordinator Bill Miller," he remarked. "He's making a lot changes and we need to get everybody on the same page. Second, on both sides of the ball – takeaways on defense and cutting down on turnovers for our offense. That's something we're really emphasizing. Third, we want to be a great tackling team. We've been working a lot on our tackling."
Overall, Koetter is pleased with where his team is at this point of the pre-season. He credits a couple of attributes that have helped the squad thus far. "I just think because we have such a veteran team, we're way ahead of where a normal team is after five practices," Koetter explained. "Normally you just work on installing stuff, and we're just so far ahead from years past…having your guys here in the summer, working out together, certainly helped. Football has just changed so much the last few years with the year-round conditioning. These first five days used to be all about conditioning, and you guys (the media) can see – even though there's conditioning, there's a lot of teaching and a lot of football being played."
Speaking of teaching, the five walk-thru practices that will take place at camp can be equated to a classroom on the field that accommodates players who thrive under a different method of teaching. "What is so different these days is that we studied learning styles and some guys are just not good classroom learners," said Koetter. "You can put it on the board, they have a playbook, the coaches go over things on the board, they watch video of it…some guys can't get it until they're on the field walking through it. It's just amazing how many kids are like that. When you're tired and been doing stuff all day it's easy sit in those theatre seats and fall asleep. When you're standing there at Sun Devil stadium and it's a little cooler in the evening, it's a little easier to concentrate." Koetter added that Coach Bill Miller is a big supporter of the walk-thru sessions.
Tuesday represented the first of many two-a-days practice sessions. "We wanted to set the tempo of Camp T with a two-a-day," said Koetter, "and tonight (Tuesday) after our team meeting, the captains will have a players-only meeting and they will discuss the captains' expectations for Camp T. Starting off with the two-a-day will be a nice change for us."
The cooler weather in Tempe did bring with it more humidity. It may prepare the Sun Devils for one of their games, but is an element that won't be missed. "It's good work as far as our trip to LSU goes," Koetter remarked. "This is a lot different for our guys…battling humidity. It will be good to get up to Camp T and get in to some cool weather."
Even some of the challenges that camp offers, like having one practice field, are virtually nullified by mother nature and the conditions she brings up to camp. "There's give and take in everything," Koetter commented. "After you're here (in Tempe) and used to this – a tremendous practice facility, just from a spacing standpoint…the limitations at Camp T you have the pound, the fence, the creek, the hill…they're physical limitations. But there's no question you can get a lot more work done because of the heat. That's just one of the trade-offs."
Camp Tontozona is naturally rich with tradition that helped build camaraderie in several ASU teams. One of the rites of passage for the younger players, was the infamous freshman trailer. However things have changed since and not to everyone's delight. "This is our second group that hasn't had to go through those trailers," said Koetter. "You'd be amazed that with the re-configuration of the cabins two years ago, what was considered the nicest cabin in camp where the seniors stayed, is now where the freshmen are staying. The guys that have been through the trailers - they're disappointed that they (the freshmen) don't have to go through it. Probably the only thing in Camp T that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy are those freshman trailers – there's no other word for it besides nasty, rites of passage or not."
Another tradition/rites of passage is the newcomers' requirement to master the school's fight song. "They're gonna start learning it today when we get on the bus," said Koetter. "We have a whole bus of newcomers, Jean Boyd (who's in charge of football player development) is up front and he'll teach them the rhythm, and it's a good thing that he's teaching it not me, on the rhythm part. They all have to successfully complete it, and that includes the coaches – so I'm looking forward to hearing Coach Miller sing." The newcomers will be called upon individually by the seniors during any meal or team meeting to sing the song.
This year's camp will obviously mark the first time that Sam Keller is entering camp as the starting quarterback. Does his coach believe that the team's has Keller's stamp on it? "I would say it's somewhat of an ongoing process," Koetter replied. "This is Sam's team on offense. Sam's very fortunate that he has a lot of very nice players around him. Not only the Derek Hagans and Rudy Burgesses of the world, but also the Andrew Carnahans, Grayling Loves, and Terry Richardsons…there are just so many good players on that offensive group. Even though he's the one that has to make everything click, he has a lot of help."
Koetter admitted that he underestimated the importance of a Saturday's scrimmage. However, the plethora of letters and emails he has received has prompted him to make an effort and fit a scrimmage played on day. Thus, this Saturday, August 13th, a scrimmage will played at 8:30 AM. "Let's pack that place," Koetter urged fans thinking about making the trek to camp.
Wide receiver Brandon Smith is arguably the biggest surprise among the team's newcomers. His sure hands and lighting speed have already caused headaches to the maroon and gold defensive backs these last few days.
"I'm feeling real good," said Smith. "It's way different than high school, but I'm learning a lot and having fun. I learned a lot from (wide receivers ) Coach Jackson, and hopefully I can go out thee this year and do well." He added that covering all his bases with the minor details is one aspect he needs to improve on.
While he's gaining confidence on the field, he must go through the after-mentioned rites of passage that every freshman goes through. "The biggest adjustment is taking crap from the older guys," he remarked. "I'm not used to it but it's part of being a freshman, so I just have to go with it."
In light of those thoughts, is he apprehensive about the impending hazing that's about to hit him and the rest of the newcomers. "I'm not afraid at all," he explained. "I do know it's coming, so I have to get down with it."
Smith has been getting many accolades thus far, which begs the question of the young player if he's surprised over his instant success. "I came with confidence, but I feel better now with Coach Jackson helping me. I'm running routes better, catching better, just doing everything better."
Redshirting nay not be in the cards for him right now, but the position's depth chart may prevent Smith from playing right away, Would it be disappointed? "I would be disappointed," he admitted. "I just need to keep my head up and hope I do better. I just need to leave it all up to god to help me."
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