Q&A with Coach Gregg Smith

Offensive tackle Brice Schwab is arguably the crown jewel of the 2010 class, but isn't the only newcomer who helps ASU's offensive line. ASU's Offensive Line Coach Gregg Smith talks about the newcomers in his unit, the performance of the front five in 2009 and his expectations for the Hell Hogs in spring practice.

DevilsDigest: Coach, let's review the offensive linemen of the 2010 class. No doubt we have to start with Brice Schwab. He obviously comes with a lot of accolades, but as someone who will coach him here at Arizona State what is your perspective concerning his skills and what makes him such a quality prospect at left tackle?

Gregg Smith: "Obviously his size is a great attribute and for his size he moves extremely well and appears to be light on his feet. We're obviously going to get a better look at him in practice, but all in all he looks like he will be a solid player for us."

DD: It seems like the weight of this whole offensive line rests on Schwab, but it's probably unrealistic that he will be solely responsible for the unit's improvement…

GS: "One player doesn't make an offensive line and it all depends how they all gel together. He has to work as part of a unit. The biggest thing for us is to get him comfortable with our terminology and the things we want to do. He has great potential but he won't be the guy that alone will turn it all around."

DD: Let's take a look at the other offensive linemen who signed in this class, starting with Sil Ajawara

GS: "He's a very athletic player, who can play either center or guard. He's an extremely intelligent guy. He'll be someone that we are probably going to redshirt so he can gain weight, get stronger and just take it one step at a time."

DD: Chris De Armas, like Schwab, he's already enrolled in school. With the revolving door you had at right guard last year do you expect him to fill in at that role and stabilize that position?

GS: "I think he's obviously going to be a guy that will come in and fight for that position. There won't be anything given and players will have to earn everything they get. But he's an extremely mobile guy coming in with some experience, at least at the junior college level. Even though he played some tackle, we expect him to play inside. I think he has a great chance to show us if he can be a starter or not."

DD: Jamil Douglas is another young player with a lot of potential. What can you tell us about him?

GS: "Here is a guy that has an extremely good upside. He's 6-5 and has really long arms. He had to play two ways in high school, and just now is getting his weight back on and really coming into his own. He'll be a guy that no matter when he can contribute, has extremely good potential ."

DD: Aderious Simmons is not only the most intriguing offensive lineman who recently signed with ASU, but perhaps the most intriguing player of the 2010 class. What can you tell us about him?

GS: "He's a guy that played basketball in high school, and played football only two years in a junior college. You look at his size, his growth, and at his athletic ability and he's a very unique player. His biggest thing is getting used to the speed of the game in the Pac-10, and coming in June he will be on a fast learning curve. We have to get him going fast. Down the road he really has a chance to be a good player."

DD: Tyler Sulka was lightly recruited, how do you assess his potential?

GS: "He's a kid that we had in our camp last summer and we saw a lot of potential with him. I visited with him after camp and told him that we are just going to have and watch him as a senior and if he lived up to the billing we would probably offer him a scholarship. He did exactly that and actually exceeded some of the things I thought he was capable of doing. I was very pleased with him. He's athletic and can play either inside or outside."

DD: It was widely known that that the offensive line had to be adequately addressed in the 2010 class. The fact that six linemen signed, with a good mix of inside/outside players, junior college and high school players, you must be very pleased in how your unit was overall addressed in this latest recruiting class?

GS: "I think the biggest thing you always look for as a coach is competition at the position you coach. Anytime you can create depth, which we finally have, then it makes players work hard to strive and be starters and make sure they hang onto their position. So from that standpoint, I can see the competition getting much better this year because we never had this kind of depth. This is a real change that will help us not only this year but also down the road."

DD: When you evaluate the offensive line's performance in 2009, I'm sure that injuries are one of the first things that comes to mind. Having said that, I have to feel that that even with an overall disappointing season you must be somewhat pleased in how well your group performed in light of all the challenges they faced?

GS: "I think the kids played extremely hard and we obviously we didn't play consistently as well as we wanted to. I was pleased with the effort they showed all year long. They competed very hard and I guess with that aspect I'm also pleased. We know we have to have better players and more depth to make us even stronger at this position."

DD: When you assess the line's performance in both run and pass blocking, which aspect do you think your group executed better in 2009?

GS: "We actually ran the football pretty well last year. You have to look at that part of it and feel that it was really good. I think a lot of the pass protection stuff we got into…when you're playing three different quarterbacks sometimes everything is a little bit different and harder to judge. I would say pass protection was just OK and we are looking to get better at that as we get more talented."

DD: The center position is naturally the heart and soul of this group. There was a lot of back and forth, usually injury dictated, alternating between Garth Gerhart and Thomas Altieri, and now that Altieri graduated it's probably a big positive to have a clear cut starter in Gerhart.

GS: "Garth has done nothing but improved since he got here. Now we can we lock him into that position and not have him bounce around to guard like he did last year. That will help his confidence level and his development."

DD: Jon Hargis is the lone senior coming back on the line and I'm sure you have high expectations for him in 2010…

GS: "His leadership and the other things he brings to the table are good not only for our new guys but also our returning guys. They can watch Jon work in practice or see him play on Saturdays and see what kind of work ethic he has and that should spill over to the rest of the line."

DD: We mentioned injuries being so prevalent on the offensive line last season. Can you give us an update on how the various players who were hurt last year are doing now and whether they will be ready for spring practice next month?

GS: "Starting with Zach Schlink, I think he'll continue to be a day to day guy. He'll be healthy enough for spring football and we'll have to see how hard we can push him and how much his knees can withstand. We're hoping he can hold up because he can be an extremely good player for us."

"Mike Marcisz has had two shoulder surgeries and will probably not be able to do anything in spring football. So that will set him back but hopefully we'll get him in the fall.

"Matt Hustad will hopefully be ready to go in the spring. He was obviously a starter for us last year until he got hurt and has a good chance to come around. Adam Tello is totally healthy now and can hopefully be a guy that can really anchor up our inside and be a starting guard or a true solid backup for us."

DD: Evan Finkenberg is a tackle that redshirted last year as a true freshman last year, and is said to have the potential to really make his mark on this unit.

GS: "He's going to have a great challenge in front of him and we are still trying to get him bigger. He's working extremely hard at that. But he is an extremely talented guy and he'll continue to work hard and try to be a starter or a very solid backup. "

DD: With the hiring of new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, how do expect his scheme to change, if at all, what you are currently doing on the offensive line?

GS: "I don't think his scheme will change anything at all. The terminology that we are going in with is exactly the same. We'll be in some different personnel groups, and play at a quicker tempo with a no huddle. But in the end football is still football, and we won't see a wholesale change where we are going into the I-formation and be a power football team. We are not that type of team."

DD: Going into spring practice, what are your goals for the offensive line?

GS: "Number one goal is coming up with a solid two-deep. We want to have better competition across the line and have our young guys continue and improve. Molding all the players into a unit, making them play together is another big goal of the spring."

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