Smith talks OL changes

With the injury bug biting the ASU offensive line yet again, a re-evaluation concerning some of the roles of this group was in order. Specifically, the re-assignment of tight end Dan Knapp to offensive tackle and sliding Matt Hustad from tackle to offensive guard. Devils Digest talked to offensive line coach Gregg Smith about those changes and his overall impression of his group.

Dan Knapp has suffered a couple of knee injuries in his Arizona State tenure, but during spring practice he was able to mostly participate with no limitations. Nonetheless, with his mobility and route running being affected by his physical condition and not being able to become a consistent sure handed receiver, the junior found himself sliding down the depth chart and giving way to players such as Trevor Kohl and Christopher Coyle.

Thus, the decision was made to have him open fall practice at offensive tackle.

"He is an excellent blocker," Smith said of Knapp. "He's too good of a player to keep on the sidelines. So we talked with him about mentally being able to make this change. It's really more that than anything because he has to get out of the tight end mode and move into the offensive tackle mode.

"I told him towards the end of spring ball that this will be a great opportunity for him and again it's about getting our best players on the field."

Smith stated that in his experience having tight ends switch to offensive tackle is fairly common position move that coaching staffs ultimately make.

"Sometimes we have recruited tight ends who we wanted to play at offensive line," Smith commented. "It's an adjustment and the biggest thing for Dan is to put on the weight and be able to hold up. He's one guy that we will have to up to the 290, 295 lbs. range."

Knapp has been given a nutrition plan he will have to follow in order to add the 10, 15 lbs. needed. "He's one of those guys that loves to eat and loves working in the weight room," Smith remarked. "He just can't burn all those calories that fast."

In terms of adjustment to the new role, Smith noted that from a run blocking perspective Knap shouldn't see any changes in that aspect. "The pass protection will be the biggest part," Smith explained. "Using your hands, how to play better on your feet, how to position yourself, body posture…these are some of the things that he will really have to work on in the summer."

The ACL tear Injury to Jon Hargis has necessitated another move, as junior Matt Hustad will now line up at guard. In some aspect, this shift is less dramatic in nature compared to Knapp's.

"Moving Matt inside should definitely help us have more stability depth at our guard position," Smith acknowledged. "We have to put our best five guys on the field and hopefully he'll be ready to go and everything will fall in place.

"There really shouldn't be any adjustments for Matt because he has played at guard before. So it won't be anything new for him. He told us that he was going to talk to us anyway about moving to guard after we lost Hargis. So he was ready for the change."

Another change that will take place across the offensive line was already in the making in last month's spring practice. Junior college transfer Brice Schwab, who was brought in to play at left tackle will now be moved to right tackle allowing redshirt freshman Evan Finkenberg to assume the left tackle role.

"Brice feels more comfortable on the right side," Smith said. "That's the position he has always played. We started him out at left tackle so he can get used to the position and the speed of the game at the Pac-10 level. Moving him later in the spring to the right side has really boosted his confidence and I believe that is the position he will stay at.

"Another reason why we moved Brice is that we feel comfortable having Evan playing well at left tackle. He has made great strides for being such a young player. He jumped into that spot after we moved Brice and he really excelled. He has a tremendous upside and we are very excited about him."

Excitement is also the proper adjective to describe Smith's overall feeling concerning his group as the team concluded spring practice.

"I think we saw some pretty good improvement in our young players," Smith commented. "Andrew Sampson really made some improvement. Adam Tello coming off the back surgery played well this spring, even though he was injured the last week and half.

"I thought overall that our progress was good. The thing that did hurt is towards the end were the injuries which affected our depth. Going into the spring game I had only eight linemen and that made it tough."

Smith applauded Garth Gerhart's play in the spring and has high expectations for the junior center.

"The biggest thing that I talked to Garth about," Smith said, "especially with Hargis out, is that he now became the veteran of the offensive line. So now he has to become more of a leader and that's the thing I'm putting in front of him and I know he will respond and do the things he needs to do."

Aside from Hargis, all the offensive linemen who were sidelined for all or part of spring will be available for the team's summer strength and conditioning program which start the first week of June. Smith believes that this gives his group a good starting point going into fall camp.

"In the spring I saw our kids grow and mature," Smith stated, "understanding what it takes to play on the offensive line. They know how hard they have to work to be able to maintain the effort and performance we are looking for them to have on every play.

"I was pleased with our progress and we have to build on that as we go into fall camp."

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