Q&A with Coach Gregg Smith

The Sun Devil offensive line is continuing to develop as younger players are asked to assume major roles. Recent injuries have created their challenges for this group, yet ASU's OL coach likes what he sees from his squad. We caught up with Coach Smith to get his assessment of the front five as the team is about to begin the 2009 season.

DevilsDigest: Coach, with fall camp in the books and the season opener fast approaching how would you rate the offensive line right now?

Gregg Smith: "I think we made a lot of progress during training camp. I was pleased with some of our younger players and how they progressed. We had some injuries that hurt us towards the end (of camp), but hopefully those guys will be back for the first game and we'll be ready to go."

DD: The biggest moves you made on in the off-season in this group was moving senior Shawn Lauvao from right to left tackle. How do you feel he has benefited the offensive line with his skills and leadership?

GS: "It has really worked out for us. The more he plays there, the more comfortable he gets. He's been elected one of the captains so he's definitely ready to fill his role of what he needs to do for this football team."

DD: The player that Lauvao replaced at left tackle, Jon Hargis, has slid into left guard and looks to be very comfortable there…

GS: "It's been a good move. He's really not suited to be tackle, but it was probably good experience for him playing there last year. Moving inside has really gave him a lot of confidence."

DD: As the offensive line coach you must feel very fortunate that you have two quality centers in Garth Gerhard and Thomas Altieri, especially in light of Gerhart's recent injury?

GS: "Exactly. Garth missed really all three of our fall scrimmages. He got hurt on the very first play of the first scrimmage. It was good for Thomas to step in there and be the no. 1 guy so he's continued to bring up his game to the level that he needs to bring it and I think with both of those guys we should be in very good shape at this position.

"We're hoping that Garth will be ready to play this weekend. I don't know that he'll be able to play 60 plays or not. We'll just have to wait and see how he goes this week and how he's progressing at practice." DD: I know at right guard it's been kind of a revolving door with Gerhart, Zach Schlink and Mike Marcisz who all got injured and with Andrew Sampson taking most of the reps the last few weeks. Can you talk about the camp all these players have had?

GS: "Schlink, we were really pleased with the way he was coming along. We had that first scrimmage where he played very well, and then we had that second one and that's where he's other knee ballooned up. So he had to go in and have a minor surgery. Hopefully that procedure helps him become healthier. He's obviously going to be a very strong payer for us down the road. We should get him back for Georgia for sure.

"Marcisz has had some shoulder issues, so he really has had to develop his game a little bit. If you can't use your arms and shoulders, offensive line can be a tough position to play. He's really had to adjust to and become a much better leverage player.

"Sampson being a redshirt freshman has taken a lot of snaps not only at guard, but also at center. So he has had a lot of workload on him for a young player. We'll see this week how things go. We're not ready to say yet if Marcisz or Sampson will be the starter. Both of those guys are going to battle."

DD: At right tackle Tom Njunge began camp as the starter, and he was another player who missed some time due to injury. Then, Matt Hustad steps in and has played very well at that position in the second half of camp…

GS: "Yes, he did. This is really the first time Matt has been able to go out there and show what he's capable of doing. Once he got penciled in as the starter, he has earned the position. He's really done a good job. He hasn't played for two years, so getting him back in the groove was good.

"Tom is going to play and he will help us at right tackle. He should be ready to practice this week."

DD: If you had to compare you group's pass protection versus run block abilities, where do you think the offensive line did a better job during camp?

GS: "Some of the stuff we're doing offensively now is helping our pass protection quite a bit. I felt that especially with our first group - they were really solid during camp. The running game is something that is work in progress. You just have to keep working on that. We are at a disadvantage because the defense knows what we are going to do and our defense is pretty good. But that has been very good for us – to play against a good defensive front. Doing that will make you play better."

DD: You touched on the new offensive scheme, being in shot gun formation, how much of an adjustment is that for the offensive line?

GS: "It's not much of an adjustment. It changes the schemes a little, but it does not really change what you need to do on the line of scrimmage. You still have to be aggressive, use your hands, move your feet and keep your pad level down. You're going to do that whether your quarterback is under center or in the shotgun. More than anything, it helps the defense play more lateral, instead of downhill."

DD: When you came here with Coach Erickson three years ago the cupboard was very bare in terms of quality linemen. Do you feel that at this point that this aspect has improved and that maybe the future is a little brighter than the present?

GS: "I certainly hope so, but I like our present right now. We have three good seniors and our young kids are really coming along and we're kind of forcing them to grow up in a hurry. We just have to continue and recruit good young quality offensive linemen so we can maintain our depth. We didn't have any depth last year on the line and that hurt us.

"Depth creates competition and competition is what you have to have."

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