New Faces Highlight First Spring Practice

Whether it's four new assistant coaches or players switching positions, the 15-practice session which started on Monday is marked with much change, which ties into the natural excitement that characterizes the inaugural spring practice.

"Spring practice is an awesome time," said head coach Dirk Koetter. "I don't know if the players would say it (smile), but for the coaches it's an awesome time. Its' all about teaching and it's fun to see the new coaches in action. We have plenty of work ahead of us to do, but this was a good first one."

The first two practices will be without pads, and Thursday will mark the first time this spring that the Sun Devils will be in full gear. Every Saturday, aside from March 25th, will feature live scrimmages at varying lengths of time, culminating with the spring game on April 15th. "On days that we can hit, we'll do little pieces of live work," explained Koetter. "What we found over the years, is that if you do little pieces of live work your chances of injury are much less than doing 200 live plays all at once."

Due to the aforementioned four new assistants, Koetter took his staff earlier in the day for what he termed "a walk-thru" on the practice field. He's been impressed with their teaching skills and is anxious to hear their feedback on the pace and structure of their first ever ASU practice. The Sun Devil skipper admitted that with new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke, he didn't "drift too far away from the QB's…I'm sure I'll get my comfort level (up) where I meander a little off a little more."

Speaking of new faces, no position change has been more talked about than the move of offensive threat Rudy Burgess to cornerback. Koetter stated that the shift is nothing more than to better the other side of the ball. "We have to make our defensive football team better," he said. "We have more proven players on offense than we do on defense. If Rudy makes us a better team at corner, that helps everybody."

"If it's an experiment that fails," Koetter continued, "and trust me we had plenty that have failed, I know Rudy won't miss a beat coming back and playing on offense – whether he's playing receiver or tailback. Keegan Herring, Shawn Dewitty, Preston Jones – all need reps at tailback. Rudy will still take some reps at wideout this spring. It's really a win-win situation. I never had a player that played both ways and I'm confident that Rudy is a guy that can possibly do it." Koetter added that while Burgess is truly a great athlete that can physically adapt to his new role, he will have to also adjust to the position mentally with the new terminology involved.

Two of the most recognized players on the team, Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter, are also engaged in the most talked about position battle. "We have two excellent quarterbacks – what team wouldn't want to have that problem?" asked Koetter. "We would love to have two excellent players in every position. Just because it's at quarterback, it's a controversy. If we had two excellent left tackles or left corners we would be all happy. Sam has one year left, Rudy has three. It's gonna be a nice competition between them and let's enjoy it while we can. Competition will only make both of them better."

His feat may be just as impressive as Burgess', as wide receiver Mike Jones is also trying his hand in playing baseball this year. "I told Mike that on our off days, if he wanted to do baseball, he was welcomed to," remarked Koetter. "But he will be a full-time football player. I have been really really impressed in how Mike Jones has handled two sports. He did an awesome job in a dual role in our off-season program. His confidence the last third of the season has carried over today. He has figured out that he can play football here, and he's turned into a tough guy that knows how to compete now. He's probably the only receiver we have right now that can play all three spots." Jones, a one time high school quarterback, has no longer aspirations to line up under center, according to Koetter.

Another two-sport athlete is Jason Perkins, a member of ASU's track team (Discus and Shot Put), who is one of the more interesting walk-ons on the football team. The sophomore was a member of the Air Force Academy football team for one season, and with the Sun Devils he has assumed the role of back-up snapper. "The kid can fire it," Koetter commented.

While the team has worked in earnest during its off-season conditioning session, Koetter indicated that were no significant weight gains on the team. Nevertheless, he did point out some players that the additional pounds on their bodies should be viewed as a positive. "A kid like Shawn Dewitty," said Koetter, "with the frame that he had, we knew that when he got a full year of a lifting program and training table…you recruit body types like that to grow. He's up to 216 pounds and I think he'll carry 225 at some point very easy."

In regards to Keller who's listed at 240 pounds, the Sun Devil skipper reminded everyone that the signal caller weighed just five pounds lighter at the beginning of fall camp. "Sam is probably in better shape and overall condition than he was last year," said Koetter who also pointed out that Keller's thumb injury was nothing than a "freak deal" that occurred when the quarterback trued to stiff arm defensive tackle Haloti Nagata from Oregon, and that the injury was in no shape or form a testament of his durability.

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