ASU Hitting the Ground Running in the Spring

New Head Coach Dennis Erickson likened the first spring practice, which per NCCA rules was in helmets and no pads, as being out there in your underwear. Nonetheless, several players weren't caught with their pants down in the Sun Devils first spring practice, and the team skipper took notice. QB Rudy Carpenter said he enjoyed himself like he hasn't in a long time.

Being the offensive minded coach he is, one of the first questions asked by the media after practice was naturally about the play of starting quarterback Rudy Carpenter. "He didn't throw an interception," said Erickson, "he made good decisions which is the biggest that's what jumped out at me." He singled out wide receivers Kyle Williams and Brandon Smith as having a good practice as well. On defense, he liked how the players were active and "ran around" and mentioned safety Ryan McFoy and cornerback Justin Tryon as the standouts on this side of the ball.

Learning the basics of what the team needs to know offensively and defensively, was the first spring practice goal Erickson mentioned. "We won't have everything in," he said. "But we'll have a lot of it. Secondly for us is to identify who is gonna play and who isn't. Where are we gonna start fall camp as far as our depth chart is concerned. Thirdly, and maybe even more important is the mental aspect. How are we gonna practice. We have to become mentally tough, not that we're not, but we have to be mentally tough. We have to practice at the same speed everyday. I think what happens to teams, and I have had it, is when you have the ups and downs through out the season it's because you don't practice the same way all the time. We have to come out everyday and practice the same way, if not better. Maintaining it is what it's all about. That's what we're preaching right now."

"The thing about practicing hard all the time," Erickson continued," is that it makes you play hard, regardless of who you're playing, what the score is, what the weather is like, what stadium you're in…if you play hard all the time it doesn't make any difference. That's what we're trying to get across right now."

Erickson noted that the team will be in pads on Thursday, which means that it has two more days to be in shorts and helmets (with Tuesday's practice being one of those days). The team won't practice in the quasi-pads better known as ‘shells' as they did last season. Even though the squad will be in pads, it can only have scrimmage like conditions four times, which will likely be during all four practices taking place at Sun Devil stadium.

Despite the fact that helmets and shorts offer less contact than full-gear sessions, it was quite evident that the team, to some degree, wasn't shying away from contact. "We ran hard to the football," remarked Erickson. "The biggest thing that I wanted to see us is run to the football. You can get a lot done in shorts, if you do it the right way. A lot of people are afraid to have an inside run and some of those things. But if you stay on your feet, and you don't fall down, you can do a lot of things. You're not supposed to fall down anyway…so you can't tackle, but you can run to the football, make plays in the secondary, catch the ball, and I thought they did a pretty good job of that right now…when we get into fall camp, we're in shorts a lot, so we need to get stuff done when we're in shorts."

In terms of injuries, Erickson said that he will be cautious having Loren Howard return full speed to practice, and will only do so when he's healthy enough. He added that he looks forward to having Tranell Morant play defensive tackle and that at 280 pounds he's at the prefect weight. Yet, just like Howard, his chances of practicing and obviously playing depend on his health. Josh Barrett hurt his shoulder a couple of weeks ago, and is expected to miss the first two weeks of spring practice, which is roughly the timetable for Rudy Burgess. Dexter Davis wasn't in practice due to illness and Shawn DeWitty wasn't at practice due to a back injury, but both should be back at practice on Tuesday.

Erickson commended his players for "working their rear end off" in the two months of conditioning before spring practice, and quipped that despite being on spring break ("I don't know where they went, but all I know is that I was a college student at one time") they came back in pretty good shape. He applauded the work that ASU's strength and conditioning staff did with the team.

Just as Erickson enjoyed seeing the way Carpenter practiced on Monday, the junior signal caller enjoyed his first spring outing. "It felt good to get out there," said Carpenter. "I told everyone that for the first time this is the most fun I had in a long time. It just felt like it was no pressure, just playing football again. My arm felt good too."

"I thought I was real sharp compared to most years (practicing for the first time)," Carpenter continued. "I stayed here over spring break, and worked out a lot throwing the ball. I'm trying to change my release, and I'm happy with it. I'm trying to carry the ball higher. Last year I felt guys were trying to strip it a lot, knock it out of my hands…it will help me be a little more accurate carrying the ball higher. The timing of getting the ball out faster will help us a little bit…it's not a whole lot. It's kinda like a golfer always tweaking his swing a little bit."

The speed of practice is the first difference Carpenter pointed to when comparing practices under the old coaching regime. "We come out here, we get it going and we finish early," he commented. "It's a real benefit for us, because most days we have weight lifting…you guys were here last year. Sometimes you don't get out of here until nine o'clock and you have to be lifting the next morning at six. The turnaround is so fast, we don't get any rest. It's still light outside now, and it feels good to go home now, relax and go to sleep early."

Spending time with the staff during winter conditioning, helped Carpenter and his teammates get used to the new coaching staff. "We knew what they were expecting," he explained. "Real strict, firm, but also we're gonna have some fun. They really stress accountability to us. If one person messed up, we all messed up. Everybody talks about it, but no one really installs it and makes it a main part of the team. So that's what the coaches are trying to do here, and it's good."

Carpenter agreed that Kyle Williams looked the best out of all the wide receivers on Monday, but he feels that Brandon Smith, with his 4.3 speed, stands a chance to be a special player. "Brandon is too big, too physical and too fast not to be a good player. We're gonna try and take advantage of that." The quarterback added that Chris McGaha had the highest vertical jump on the team and expects him to make an impact as well.

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