Q&A with Coach Dennis Erickson

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – During the Pac-10 football's media day, Devils Digest sat down with the Sun Devils' head coach to discuss the upcoming season.

Devils Digest: Coach, how different will the approach be this year after a losing season compared to the approach that was there after the team was 10-3 in 2007?

Dennis Erickson: "I think the approach will be different because seasons like that wake everybody up. It particularly wakes up the players. If you learn from why that happened you can benefit from it.

"Our intensity level, both players and coaches when you come off that (losing season), is a little more intense. There's no question about it. Our spring ball was more intense. I've been through three or four of those and normally you come back from it pretty good."

DD: You mentioned the players been woken up after a losing season, and as a result they worked harder in the off-season. How is a coaching staff's intensity manifested after a losing season?

DE: "Anytime you lose, you look and try to figure out what went wrong. You investigate yourself a lot more, and the first guy you investigate when you have a season like that is me. You investigate ways to become better. It's stuff that we do anyway. We've been out investigating things and there's nothing out there that is being done that we haven't done ourselves. It's just a matter of what you want to do and what your philosophy will be."

DD: What are the main improvements that you have already seen in this team to be confident that ASU will return to the postseason in 2009?

DE: "I think our players truly dedicated themselves in the off-season. I see so many body changes because of the weight room work, much more than before maybe because the bodies of our younger players are changing.

"I think some of the things we've done offensively as far as some of the little changes that we are making will make a big difference and help us become better pass protectors. I feel pretty confident going to my roots throwing the ball, spreading people out. When we first came here we had to do based on what we had personnel wise."

DD: How significant do you believe the three main moves among the OL – Shawn Lauvao to LT, Jon Hargis to OG, starting Garth Gerhart at C -- will be in terms of improving the line's overall quality of play?

DE: "Our tackles are better. Shawn Lauvao is the best athlete we got (on the offensive line). He can protect the edge and that makes a huge difference. Tom Njunje is a lot better than what he was and we'll have Matt Hustad back at right tackle. Gerhart is a very physical player. Hargis is better inside than he is outside. Then you get back guys that were injured like Zach Schlink and Adam Tello and it makes a big difference. Our offensive line will be a lot better.

"We had a meeting on Monday and I looked up at the depth chart and it was the first time since I've been here that we had a two-deep on the offensive line. We weren't even close to it before. Kyle Johnson right now would have started for us last year, but he doesn't have to."

DD: Since you came to ASU you've always preached about wanting to make this team faster and more athletic, to fit the schemes that you want to run on both sides of the ball. Do you feel that this year you are closer than ever to achieving that?

DE: "We're getting there athletically but we are young. You look at our corners and when I first came here, we were lucky to have two corners. Now we got four that can play. Same thing at linebacker. We have a lot more depth, our down guys are getting better and you're always concerned about depth at the defensive front."

DD: Who has caught your attention as a leader among the offensive and defensive players?

DE: "Mike Nixon, Omar Bolden, Dexter Davis in his own way – some guys are boisterous and some are not. Some lead by just doing. Travis Goethel and some of our seniors stepped up too.

"On offense Shawn Lauvao has done a nice job. Danny Sullivan stepped up even though he hasn't been the guy. He's done what he has been asked to do. We have a lot more leaders overall as a team as opposed to one or two guys."

DD: What differences will we see in the offense now that you have taken control of offensive play calling responsibilities and Rich Olson will be in the booth?

DE: "There won't be schematic changes. I always had a pretty good feel for it (calling plays) throughout the years and the last four, five years I didn't do it, and that's something I was really good at. So I'm going back to something I want to do and that's throw it first, spread it out and do some different things.

"Rich Olson is as smart as they are in the game and he really will be able to help from upstairs. So the combination of the two of us will be good and it will be different."

DD: You mentioned the defense being the strength of this team and you obviously don't want to get to a point where that side of the ball has to carry the offense. But if it did come to that, can the defense pull that off?

DE: "I think it's hard for anyone to do it all themselves. I think being good on defense, gives you the opportunity to maybe gamble a little more on offense, because you have confidence that the defense will come back out and stop them.

"When you're not playing very well on defense, you have to find a way to eat the clock up. So the theory of what you do kind of depends on the team that you have. I think we have a better offense than a lot of people think we do, because we are experienced in some areas. Our receivers are experienced. Chris McGaha, when healthy, makes a big difference and he was hurt all of last year."

DD: Who are some players, whether newcomers or seldom used returners, that you expect to open people's eyes and make a name for themselves in 2009?

DE: "I think you'll see Dean DeLeone contribute at defensive end. You'll see Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee play a lot more. Aaron Oliver, Keelan Johnson will play more. Ryan McFoy will be a good player at safety. Those are the guys that jump out to me right now."

DD: With a QB that hasn't enjoyed a lot of confidence from the fans like Sullivan, do you want him to play with a chip on his shoulder trying to prove himself or do you just want him to stay as even keel as possible?

DE: "I think it's a great thing (to have a chip on your shoulder). I like to think that our whole team as a chip on their shoulder because of what happened last year. His job is to win and he has to play within himself. That's the most important thing. He's better than people think. I've seen a lot of quarterbacks and he's a lot better passer than people give him credit for.

"There's a possibility that I'll play two quarterbacks because him and Samson are totally different. We'll do whatever it takes to move the ball."

DD: When you talked about the success of the 2007 season you mentioned the favorable schedule. This year you once again have seven home games, and a lot of winnable ones in the beginning of the season. Obviously you still have to play hard to win each and every game, but do you feel that overall the schedule stacks up favorably in 2009 like it did two years ago?

DE: "It's a little different because we play at Georgia and right after that we have to come back and play Oregon State. Every other year you'll play five Pac-10 home games and that's better. I don't know if this schedule sets up as good as it did two years ago.

"The key for me has always been winning your league games early. We're playing a heck of a football team in our first league game in Oregon State. In 2007, you remember the game against Oregon State – we were lucky to win that. They kicked our butts and we were able to make some plays in the end and that kind of got us going.

"A lot of it is momentum. If you can get that going then you can take advantage of a schedule."

DD: What were some of the most significant lessons that the 2008 season taught you, the staff and your players?

DE: "Don't lose to people you are supposed to beat. I think that was a huge lesson to everybody involved and also don't assume anything. And if you do get beat you have to find a way to fight back and get things going.

"We learned last year that nothing is given. That's why it's college football."

A special thanks to Eric Menkhus and Joe Healey who assisted in questions for this interview.

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