Altieri looking to bounce back

Though their pass blocking was subpar in the 20-17 Georgia loss, the Sun Devil offense line opened some of the biggest holes for running back Dmitri Nance seen in a long time. The offensive line's leader, center Thomas Altieri, was at the forefront of those efforts. The senior has been playing well this season and now will have to overcome an injury to continue that performance.

The staple of an offensive ball club should always be the offensive line as everything starts and finishes with them, and until Saturday the Sun Devil offensive line has been less than impressive, though a lot of that has to do with the injuries that have plagued the group.

Injuries to Garth Gerhart, Zach Schlink, Mike Marcisz and others have decimated the group, even senior starting center Thomas Altieri has been banged up, but continues to push on.

"It's just a little (knee) strain," Altieri admitted. "We're just trying to take some precautionary steps to make sure everything is all right. The MRI came out great and I'm just trying to make sure I'm ready for anything that comes and that means being mentally prepared in the meetings, and acting like I'm still playing (next week) because that's probably the case."

Altieri started all 12 games last year for the Devils and had a tough task of filling the void left by All-Pac-10 selection and second-round NFL draft pick Mike Pollack.

"Last year was kind of like being in the dark at first in the beginning of the season. You don't really know what to expect," Altieri said. "Having that kind of experience and being in that kind of environment from last year has really given me a chance to mature and understand what defenses are trying to do to us.

"Last year was more, ‘I need to get off the ball' and not paying as much attention to what the defensive front it, just little things that we're able to key in on now and making the right calls and communication before the snap gets under way, it really helps our offense in the long run because defenses are always gonna give you one look then line up in another one if possible. It was an eye opener last year, including this year, just being more aware, it's just taught me that preparation starts on Sunday, not Tuesday. Just getting in there being a film junky."

Still despite the success of a year ago, Altieri has been in a constant position battle with sophomore Garth Gerhart, who took many first team reps before his injury. Now with Gerhart healthier than Altieri, he stands to start in Arizona State's Pac-10 opener this week. Overall, both lineman figure to factor into the team's equation for the remainder of the season.

"Like I said before, it's been a humbling experience for me being out here and having to go 100 percent and playing for something," Altieri stated. "I think it's one of the best things we have about this team is guys are going to work their tails off no matter what the situation and everyone has mutual respect and the understanding that the best five are going to play.

"I think with Garth and I, he's a great athlete and with my experience and being around these guys, it helps. There isn't much of a production drop off when you look at it, so we just want to make sure that everybody is ready at any given time and Garth coming off this injury, he has to be ready in case something happens to be plugged in anywhere. In one of the guard spots if it even comes to that. Just being hungry everyday has helped us really make strides in our run game and our pass game communication and offensive line production as a whole."

The setting at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia is a tough environment to play in for any player, regardless of position or experience. Even in a loss, playing in those surroundings and nearly coming out with a win should benefit the Sun Devils going forward with challenging Pac-10 road games looming.

"It's a great football environment, I'll give it to them," Altieri declared. "In the south down there they are big about their football, and it's great to see such enthusiastic and dedicated fans. We've got a little bit of that here in Tempe, and I think that really does make the difference in home field advantage when you have a crowd that can take a visiting team's snap count out of the equation.

"We're gonna have some tough road games as it is. We're going to UCLA, that's going to be a great environment, we'll go to Autzen Stadium, and it doesn't get much louder than Autzen Stadium. I've been there once before. That just allows everyone to know what we're capable of in that environment.

"Being prepared and even in preparation from an injury standpoint too, in that environment in Georgia we had guys step up like Brent (Good), and they did an awesome job. Being a guy that never even played right guard. It's awesome to see how much depth you have in a hostile environment. It's great for us because guys are comfortable being in the high pressure situations like Georgia."

The Sun Devils must shoulder on despite their injuries as they begin their Pac-10 schedule at home Saturday against Oregon State. As much as the loss last week hurts, it could be quickly forgotten if the Devils can pull of a victory this week.

"Everybody has to be ready at any given point, when your number is dialed you have to produce and answer that call," Altieri pointed out. "I think we've done a good job of that so far and we had three guys in the Georgia game who went down and we had three guys in there who I think have no game experience. It's great to see that they can get in there and guys are still aware of what's going on, and capable of competing."

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