The ASU head coach commented that the tempo of practice is good not only for the starters, but also for the reserves. "Our 9 on 7, our inside run and blitz (drills) was at a very high rate of speed, which we got to have to have all the time." Erickson remarked. "For some reason we lost it here for the last month or so. It's good to see it back."
Erickson noted that Thursday's practice will be at a slower pace, and players will be in shoulder pads and shorts.
With the team in the midst of a bye week, yesterday's and tonight's sessions have been in a spring practice format where no scout teams or specific game strategy are involved, and as a result the practices take on a more physical nature. Erickson explained that this strategy will be also implemented in the team's next bye week in three weeks, but any open dates beyond that will require a different approach.
"This early, that's what you gotta do," said Erickson is regards to the format that he's currently employing. "You just do that to get better because we have a long ways left. A bye week at the end of the year, you just take your young players and go."
Morris Wooten was shaken up during practice; he left the field, attempted to come back, and ended up leaving for good with some sort of a leg injury.
Erickson was impressed with the senior's performance against Georgia, the first game Wooten has played since November of last year, due to suspension. "His intensity level is very high," Erickson noted. "We need that and that's what he brings to the table. He's very physical and enjoys playing the game and he has others playing like that. His leadership out there is really important and that's what he brought us last week and he'll continue to bring it to us all year."
Matt Hustad's 2008 debut, and for that matter the redshirt freshman's Sun Devil debut, is about to take place in the Cal game. The offensive lineman has been one player that Erickson has been raving about since last year, and now that the Helena, Mont. product is healthy ASU's Head Coach is looking forward to his contributions.
"Him and (Tom) Njunge are competing at that position (right tackle) and will continue to compete every week," Erickson remarked. "We don't know who will play; we'll just see how it goes. He can play inside, he can play outside. (Adam) Tello can go inside too. He can play center. Right now we're just trying to concentrate (having him playing) at right tackle."
Lawrence Guy practiced again at first team defensive tackle, and the ASU Head Coach declared that the Las Vegas Western High School standout has been a pleasant surprise among the freshmen players. "He got so much better in the last game against Georgia from the game against (UNLV) where he played quite a bit," said Erickson. "So he's getting better all the time and has a lot of god-given talent. He has a chance to be really good down the road and he's playing well for us right now."
Terell Carr was sidelined tonight with an illness, while Dan Knapp was being held out due to a concussion he suffered yesterday. Brandon Magee continued to be dressed in pads and doing conditioning work on the sidelines. Due to an undisclosed injury Jarrell Woods also didn't practice.
When Wooten left the field Mike Nixon took his place at first team MIKE. Nixon was flanked by Shelly Lyons at SAM and Colin Parker at WILL. Clint Floyd was still running at first team strong safety instead of Rodney Cox. Pierre Singfield was at first team corner and had a pass breakup, as did Wooten and Travis Smith. On offense, Nance and Bass ran very hard, while T.J. Simpson made one spectacular catch after another. Tight ends Jovon Williams and Stanly Malamala also had some nice catches.
Keegan Herring did more contact work today and consequently stepped up his renowned vocal leadership skills motivating the units on both sides of the ball. Erickson understood why the senior's enthusiasm level, which normally runs very high, was lower than usual during the games he was sidelined with his hamstring injury.
"It's hard. He's an ‘up' guy all the time and sometimes whenever you're not playing you get down a little bit," noted Erickson. "Obviously when you're not practicing you lose a little bit of enthusiasm. Obviously today and yesterday he hasn't lost it. It's good to see that back. That helps."
Wednesday was a very good session for Herring, and after playing in just one of the team's first four games he is naturally anxious to get back on the field for game day. Like everyone else on the team, as well as the Sun Devil nation, the running back knows very well the importance of the road contest at Cal next week and its implications on the season.
"This is a big week getting ready for Cal and I'm just trying to practice the best I can," said Herring.
The senior claimed that in his opinion the communication in the huddle was lacking during the team's two-game losing streak and he felt that this is an area where he could improve just with his presence.
"When I'm there I just talk to my offensive line…build their confidence up," Herring explained. "Watching my football team playing when I'm not playing – that's a hard deal to swallow."
Rushing for a total of four net yards, as the team did against Georgia, must have been also unpleasant to the digestive system and Herring thought that having increased focus could remedy the problem with the ground attack.
"As running backs we have to help our offensive line a little more," Herring commented. "That's why we're out here talking to our offensive line. We tell them what we need them to do and they tell us what we (as running backs) need to do. We're gonna make sure we never have a four-yard running game again."
Herring is hopeful that when he plays he can be that proverbial home-run hitter that he has been known for throughout his ASU tenure. "I haven't been on the field for so long, I don't know if I still got that (laughs)," he said. "I guess we're gonna have to see when I get out there for Cal. When I do have a big run, I guess I'll come to you (pointing to the reporter who asked the question) and say ‘I guess I still got it.' (Laughs)."
Granted, the 2008 season is still young, but Herring cannot help think that his performance (or lack of due to injury) is for good or for bad greatly affecting his chances of playing at the next level. "That all that they (the NFL) look is you participating on the field and make sure your progress elevates every single year," he explained.
Yet, even during his toughest times this season Herring admitted he's lucky for being a local player who will always have his family and friends there in person to encourage him. "You get it from left and right ‘Keegan – you'll be OK…take your time.' That definitely helps a lot having your hometown behind you," he noted.
Herring doesn't believe that he came back too early, and stated that he returned at the right time he thought he was healthy. "When the coaches decided to put me in, I decided to play – it's all on me," he said. "I don't regret going out there for the Stanford game."
The running back has no concern over re-aggravating the hamstring injury, which by nature is slow to heal and susceptible for a reoccurrence. "I'm never concerned about that," Herring claimed. "If you love the sport so much you'll never worry about what's gonna happen before it happens."
"If I worry about that I can't be the best running back I can be."