Q&A with Coach Gregg Smith

Very few positions on the Sun Devils have as many veterans as the offensive line does. Yet is there enough depth on this unit? Coach Smith reviews his position and talks about the current players, as well as the 2007 recruiting class linemen that will join the team in the summer.

DevilsDigest: Coach Smith, with nearly three weeks of spring practice in the books, how has the offensive line looked thus far in the spring?

Gregg Smith: "We've made a lot of strides. Obviously putting in a new offense, new terminology…learning different techniques, getting the kids comfortable with what we're doing. Over the last three weeks I see us making a lot of improvement, which is good. We have to finish up this week and next week, go through and evaluate and gauge it from there."

DD: Is the group meeting the expectations you would have for them after three weeks of practice ?

GS: "Yes they are. I think we've learned a lot and I think the biggest thing with our kids is that the majority of them are seniors and they've been around football a lot. It makes it a little easier for them to pick up things, because they kind of relate it to some of the things that they've done before and put it in that frame of mind, which has helped them improve."

DD: Does it really help your transition as a new coach, having so many seniors in your position group?

GS:" It really does. It makes putting in the different plays and the terminology much easier. They kind of heard the same things before, and they're just hearing it in different terms. For a younger kid it's a little bit different, because they're kinda locked in and sometimes set in their ways a little bit, and sometimes a senior can be like that too. The kids that we have – they're pretty hungry about learning new stuff."

DD: You talk about new schemes and some of them will be a two tight end set, an alignment that this team ran a lot last season. But there's obviously spread offense formations, shotgun, etc. How much adjustment do you think the offensive line has to make from last year to this year?

GS:" I think a lot of it probably is technique wise more than anything. We're teaching a lot of different techniques than what they've been used to. Obviously the play calling is a lot of different. Me watching film on them from last year, I can tell them that we will run the same play but we just called it something else. That helps them identify with it a little bit and makes it easier for them to learn."

DD: How do you feel the line is doing in the run block and pass block areas?

GS:"Our running game…because what we're seeing on defense, we're seeing a lot of really up front stuff. They've got the safeties down in the run game really good, and that can make running the football a little bit tough. But that's where our play action comes into play. If we can get our play action game going, get these safeties off and out of the box, then the run game will start to pick up. I think a lot of it is getting our running backs used to what they're seeing, and I see the running backs' vision really come around this last week, and that goes hand-in-hand with what the offensive line, their scheme and what the running backs are seeing. So run blocking is starting to get better."

"Our pass blocking, like I said before, is just a lot of different techniques I teach. The older kids, it's a little easier for them to make the adjustment. It's the younger kids that are struggling a little bit."

DD: One of those older kids is senior center Mike Pollak. His position is one that needs to lead the offensive line. What have your impressions been of him in spring practice?

GS:"I think Mike has a chance to be a real good football player. I've been really impressed with what he does. He's a real smart guy, so he has picked up things extremely well. He's just trying to get comfortable with the way I approach and teach things. But he's extremely intelligent. He's really a warrior and really sets up the things you wanna do. The biggest thing is making sure that he stays healthy."

DD: Speaking of health, you had Zach Krula out for a year and half with an injury. Now he's playing on the first team. Could you even tell he was out of football that long?

GS:"Oh yeah, you can tell. Him moving out to tackle, something he has never done before…you could really tell the first week he was out there. He was fumbling around and his expectations of himself were really high and I think he was frustrated. But you can really see big improvement from him, from the first week to the second. He's really doing a nice job."

DD: Do you feel that the first team is really set right now with (starting from right tackle) Krula, Robert Gustavis, Pollak, Paul Fanaika and Brandon Rodd?

GS:"I think so. Julius Orieukwu is still battling Zach for that tackle position. They're both are gonna play a lot. Julius really has to be our swing guy, because he would swing to left tackle too. We're just trying to get him comfortable working on both sides, which he has done in the past. Zach will be regulated to the right side, and Julius will be the swing guy."

DD: Let's shift gears and talk about the offensive linemen signed in the 2007 class. What can you tell us about the following players?

GS: Garth Gerhart – "He's an extremely smart player. He's very aggressive. His forte is the way he can come off and run block. He's coming from a high school that's predominately a run offense, so his biggest adjustment coming to college football will be pass protecting and learning all the different things he needs to learn."

Matt Hustad – "He's a kid from Montana that played both ways. He's a typical Montana kid – tougher than nails. But he's very athletic. He's a guy that we're actually looking very hard at offense, but we may look at him on defense when he first gets here, just to see what it looks like on that side of the ball. We're really excited about him."

Mike Marcisz – "Mike was a guy that committed before we got here. He was one of the first kids I looked at on film just to see what he looks like. I was very impressed with him. I think he's a natural left tackle and very athletic. I think he'll be a great asset for us."

Po'u Palelei – "He's another snarly guy that's gonna be real tough inside. He's probably a natural guard, even though he played tackle in high school. I think he'll be an extremely tough football player. Hopefully he'll be the guy that comes in here and may have a chance to play a little early."

Adam Tello – "He's from the same school as Garth, so he's also been in a predominately run offense too. We're projecting him at tackle because he's extremely athletic. His biggest transition is also going to be pass protection."

DD: Are you satisfied with the depth you have right now on the offensive line or will it only be satisfactory after these five new guys come in?

GS:"It's gonna help us once we get those five new kids in, see how they progress and adapt to the college game. We're faced with a situation where we took Saia (Falahola) and moved him to defense. That kind of hurt our depth a little bit, so Shaun Lauvao really has to be our swing guy inside. Thomas Altieri is doing a nice job backing up Mike Pollak at center. So we're not as deep as I would like to be, but I think we'll be OK. A lot of it depends on how healthy we stay."

DD: In practices your group and the tight ends group with Coach Dan Cozzetto work a lot together, almost looking like the same unit. Can you speak a little of that philosophy?

GS:"The tight ends are really an extension of the offensive line. They really have to be on the same page. Danny and I have worked together for years and we know, especially in the running game, that tight ends really have to know what we're doing inside and vice versa. It's critical that they spend time working together all the time. It's like the quarterback and wide receivers working together."

DD: It seems like most offensive line coaches are very vocal and animated, and sure enough that's your style too. It almost seems that the two go hand in hand…

GS:"I don't know. I'll be vocal at times and sometimes I won't be so vocal. I can probably be more vocal when I'm in my meeting room, than maybe sometimes out on the field. Every now and then you have to holler at them and get their attention. It's just the nature of the position and how you coach it. Everybody has their own style and that's my style. That's what I've always done."

DD: How's the transition to Arizona State been for you not only on the field but off of it?

GS:"It's awesome. I think this is a great place to be. It has big time potential, and the recruiting classes we'll have in the future are gonna be the ones that really pay off. We'll just continue to recruit good athletes here…this is a great place to live. I don't that you can beat this anywhere else."

DD: What are the specific goals for the offensive line that you're trying to accomplish between now and the end of spring?

GS:"I think the biggest thing is assignments and really improving on the mental aspect of the game. That's where I would really like us to settle in. I looked at our scrimmage last Saturday, and I felt in our pass protection scheme we still had too many mental mistakes. So those are the things we're really trying to work on this week and hopefully we'll improve this for this Saturday, and even more for the spring game."

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