Q&A with Coach Gregg Smith

In 2007 ASU's offensive line was certainly a mixture of success and struggle. A top three conference offense was naturally a source of pride, while surrendering 55 sacks, albeit not all linked to the front five, provided much frustration. ASU's OL coach talked to Devils Digest about his group's past performance, the methods that will be used for improvement and the new faces on the line.

DevilsDigest: Coach, let's start talking about the offensive linemen that will be joining the team from the 2008 recruiting class. What can you tell us about each of these players?

Gregg Smith: Patrick Jamison - "He's a very athletic guy and plays the game real hard. He can be a college tackle and that's probably what we'll look at him as. He's a very gifted and intelligent player and plays with a whole lot of intensity which is what we were really looking for."

Kyle Johnson – "He will be a tackle and he's a big tall guy. He'll come in, put on some weight and get stronger. His high school program is suited to be a very strong running offense, so the biggest transition he will have is pass protecting and blocking guys on the edge."

Tom Njunge – "He's a junior college recruit that's already in the school and is expected to contribute this year. He has played both right and left tackle, and played on the left this last year. Another guy that's extremely athletic and like any junior college transfer needs to get developed and stronger and really needs to be full time in the weight program. So this spring and summer will be very important for him."

Andrew Sampson – "He's an extremely versatile guy. He played a lot of tackle in high school, but is probably more suited to be a guard. He's another guy that plays the game with a lot of intensity. He's a very strong player and could play guard or center for us."

Zach Schlink – "Like Patrick another Arizona kid that plays with a lot of intensity. He can play tackle or guard. We'll probably start him at guard. We're really excited about him and the rest of the players coming in."

DD: The offensive line was obviously a glaring need since you and the new staff arrived just over a year ago. Are you pleased with both the quality and quantity that you were able to achieve in the recruiting class with this position?

GS: "I think so. With our recruits that we brought in a year ago and the ones that will be coming in the fall, we're getting our depth back to what it really needs to be. The caliber of guys that we're bringing in will be huge upside for us down the road."

DD: This offensive line may not be totally revamped over last year, but it will have a lot of young faces and less experience compared to last season. Does that change your mind set as far as how you will approach the offensive line this season?

GS: "It really does. We're gonna start pretty slow, pretty simple and make sure that we develop confidence and are real sound mentally. We don't want to overload them with too much stuff too quick. They'll be a point in time where we'll start expanding a little bit, but we'll start out spring ball being real simple."

DD: Would it be fair to say that there's more concern on who will occupy the tackle positions compared to the interior positions on the line?

GS: "Probably. We moved Jon Hargis back to the offensive line – he moved to the defensive line last spring because we were thin over there. He's gonna be a tackle and he gives us some veteran leadership there. It hasn't been determined if he'll play left or right tackle, we have to see what's the best fit for him and everybody else."

"Richard Tuitu'u will start out at right tackle and be backed up by Adam Tello. At left tackle we'll have Jon Hargis, Tom Njunge and Mike Marcisz. We're gonna be in pretty good shape in the interior. We have Paul Fanaika returning at right guard and backing him up will be Matt Hustad. At center we have Thomas Altieri and backing him up will be Garth Gerhart. At left guard we have Shaun Lauvao returning and backing him up is a transfer we had from Wake Forrest last year – Brent Good."

DD: We've been hearing that the battle at center will be very fierce. Even though Altieri is the more veteran of the two, Gerhart has been coming on very strong in his first year…

GS: "Those guys will split time with both the first and the second group. Altieri probably knows the system better than Garth does, but Garth has a very big upside because he's an extremely strong guy and he's a very smart player. So it will be a very good battle between both those guys and it will be a neat thing to see how it all pans out throughout spring ball."

DD: Much has been said about the sacks problem and the offensive line in 2007. Granted, not all the sacks can be attributed back to this group. Yet when you look at the pass protection last season how would you assess that aspect and what do you do to improve it from here on forward?

GS: "Obviously we were dealing with a lot of blitzes last year and it's just a matter of us being sound in our assignments and techniques. We've been going through all the cut-ups and sometimes it was very frustrating to watch some of the things we did last year. Those are the things that we have to correct and that's why this spring we're gonna start out trying to be a little simpler so we can get ourselves more mentally sound."

DD: Do you also feel that the unit wasn't as athletic last season, and that now with the redshirt freshmen and newcomers that the offensive line will significantly improve in that aspect?

GS: "That's what we're hoping for. It all looks good right now on paper, and now we have to do it on the field."

DD: Aside from taking a simpler approach to improve the soundness of the offensive line, what other goals do you have for the group as you enter spring practice next month?

GS: "We need to get the players to play more as a unit, so that everybody is on the same page all the time. We had some times last year where Mike Pollak being in the middle and he is an extremely good football player guiding the front, but we just didn't have everybody on the same page all the time. So it's a very big thing for us to really get these guys to pull together and think as one."

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