Q&A with Coach Dennis Erickson

PASADENA, Calif. – the ASU offense is undoubtedly why the Pac-10 media picked ASU to finish 9th in the 2010 season. According to its head coach, it is also the reason why the Sun Devils should improve on last year's losing record. The ASU coach talked about that topic and more in the league's media day held at the Rose Bowl on Thursday.

Q: Does it go without saying that this season will go as well as the offense will go because of the established defense and special teams units?

A: "That's how I would evaluate it. We still have to play well on defense. Just because we have guys coming back doesn't mean anything to me. We have to play with the hunger that we played in the spring. If we will be good on offense as I think we will be or improve as much as I think we will, we have a chance to surprise a lot of people. Our special teams will be very good too.

"I think at times people underestimate (talent). They go by starters coming back, but you have to realize that Vontaze (Burfict), (Shelly) Lyons, (Brandon) Magee, James Brooks, Keelan (Johnson), Omar (Bolden) is healthy…we really have a lot of guys that are coming back that have played. I think if people looked at that…but it really doesn't make much difference."

Q: What is your reaction to the media poll picking your team 9th?

A: "To be very honest with you, I really don't pay much attention to it because we start (practicing) here in about three days. And the proof is on the field when you play. I personally think that this will be as good a team as I've had (at Arizona State). I know offensively we will be better. Our quarterback situation is better than it has been. We have more skilled players, more speed than we have had offensively that will be able to create some big plays which we haven't been able to (last year).

"With Thomas (Weber) back we will be better. That's why I brought him (to media day). People don't realize until you don't have those (kickers) how important they suddenly are. He never did get back to 100 percent (in 2009) and missed a chip shot against Arizona that he would normally not miss. It just goes to show you how important those guys are."

Q: When you address the team next week before fall camp begins will you mention this 9th place prediction as motivation or not bring it up?

A: "It's about respect and you have to earn it. Because of the way we played the last two years…that's why they picked us (ninth). One way you can earn (respect) is on the field and we start that next week. They (the players) read stuff and I don't think you have to remind them too much."

Q: Do you want to stretch the QB competition into the fall just to have them keep on working hard though camp?

A: "If somebody totally jumped out I would have made a decision, but they (Brock Osweiler and Steven Threet) are very close. To me it's going to boil down to accuracy and not forcing the ball. Whoever does that between the two will be the guy. They understand that. They both had a good spring and I look at it as a good problem because they are both really good players.

"The difference is that Brock is really athletic. He's down to 240 lbs. and lost a lot of body fat. People don't realize how good of an athlete he is. Because when he runs he looks like he's hardly moving at all, but no one ever catches him. I haven't seen him this summer but they say he has done very well. Steven has the experience of playing at Michigan and you just have to wait and see what happens."

Q: Has Osweiler surprised you with his progression from last year?

A: "He did. When he came on in spring football – he really stepped up to the competition and got better and better all the time. Noel (Mazzone) has done a nice job working on his release and getting the ball out quicker and he has a gun. The key to the whole thing is accuracy. If you going to throw the bubble screen out there you have to complete that 100 percent of the time. They both are getting better at that."

Q: You've said that you're excited about the offensive line because it's the deepest it has been since you've been here. Do you feel that this new offensive scheme can make it easier on this group because they won't have to hold their blocks that long?

A: "It will help because the ball does come out quicker. It's hard sometimes to find good tackles. Moving Dan Knapp to tackle…he's 280 lbs. he's tough and he's athletic and he will really make a big difference for us. It's a pretty easy move for him. He's probably one of the strongest guys on our team and he pass set at tight end because we kept him in a lot. He'll be learning but he's a tough guy. Him and (Brice) Schwab…our attitude is more on the tough side on the offensive front. And then you have (Matt) Hustad…it will be interesting to see."

Q: Can you talk about the impact Noel Mazzone has had on the offense since he has been at ASU? Can this be a rejuvenated unit under him?

A: "Without a question. He's a leader. He believes in what we are doing. Our guys are having fun…you were out there in the spring and saw it. The players have a lot of confidence in him and that is half the battle. When you're not moving (the ball) you don't have confidence in what you are doing. The defense doesn't have confidence that you can move it on offense and you win four games. You could have won a lot more.

"He (Mazzone) makes it fun for them. They're excited about what he does. They'll be growing pains because you just don't put (a new offensive scheme) in. They are things that you learn as time goes on and I think you'll see us improve as the year goes on."

Q: This offense runs the same plays from different formations and has a strong element of deception. Do you feel it's a system that's hard to prepare for just by watching game film on it?

A: "It's hard for a defense because you can't practice all the stuff. We will be running people in motion but doing the same (play). It's fun and they (the offense) enjoy the no huddle. You play at 100 degrees with a no huddle and (a defense) will really wear out. The problem is our first home game is against Oregon and nobody will huddle. That game might last for three days."

Q: With the strength of the defense being the front seven, how hard will it be to realistically judge how well the running game is doing?

A: "It's hard to judge anything against those guys. There were some times in the scrimmages, and I know the spring game wasn't one of the them, where the offense moved the football and scored some points. Our run game will be based on how they play the pass. I think you will see that our run game will be really good. Cameron Marshall is a talent. Jamal Miles will be used there. Deantre Lewis has speed that can help us.

"Like I said earlier we finally have guys that can break things and make big plays and not have beat your head against a wall for seven yards each (series)."

Q: Everybody talks about the spread being pass friendly but it's also conducive to the running game because you're stretching the defense and creating wider running lanes…

A: "Without a question. It makes it a little easier on the front too. The blocking schemes are pretty easy to run. You run motion and all of a sudden you hand that ball off…but you won't know until you play somebody too. It is a little frustrating for us to play against our defense all the time."

Q: You have a lot of new faces at the offensive skill positions. Is that a concern going into the season?

A: "Not at all. You have Pflugrad who is a proven player. You have two JC wide receivers who will make all the difference. We have seven, eight receivers who can flat out play. So we finally have some depth there. I feel better about those skill positions on offense now than I ever did (at ASU). They will have growing pains as we go on but we just have to stay with it and go."

Q: Gerell Robinson may have put too much pressure on himself being the local guy. He said that he never felt comfortable for a while. Has he shed that a little bit?

A: "Yes, but I think it's not necessarily because he's a home guy but because he has never played that position before (arriving at college). If you look at him now physically, he lost a lot of weight. Body fat is down and he can run a lot faster. I blame myself too for playing him as a freshman. If I had to do it over again I would have redshirted him."

Q: Can you talk about Lawrence Guy and how far he has come not only on the field but also off of it…

A: "He's a great story. What he has accomplished as a player but more than that academically from where he started (Guy made the Dean's List last semester). It's unbelievable. Because he has become accountable. He has become a better player. He has become a real leader on the football team. Guys follow him because he works his (behind) off. I think he is as good as any down guy in the league."

Q: When he first came in did you see a guy that could lead by his work ethic. When he first came in it would be hard to think that he could develop as a leader…

A: "He was very quiet. Didn't say anything. Kind of in a shell because the whole thing was overwhelming to him. But you could see athletically that he could be a good player. His work ethic in all aspects after that first year…he learned from mistakes he did and he's an example to all of those guys."

Q: Was it a situation where he realized how good he could be and that got everything else in line?

A: "I think so. He has all this god given talent and he knew that if he works hard and plays well he might be able to make a living at this game and believe me he will."

Q: Aside from the play of the defense, what other positives did you take away from 2009?

A: "There wasn't a lot. Physically we beat a lot of teams and just didn't know how to finish them. So in saying that, what I saw are players that are playing now at a higher level than they were a year ago or two years ago. So that was a positive. Against USC, Cal…all the games we showed that we can beat anybody if we get things going (in the right direction). That's how I felt as a coach.

"We just have to get the pieces together offensively and a lot of good things can happen."

Q: What areas of concern do you have going into fall camp next week?

A: "How we progress offensively. Developing depth on the offensive line. How are we going to use our personnel. We have to make sure that Knapp continues to improve. Schwab continues to get better. We need to develop some depth on defense too. We're pretty two deep at our front and at linebacker. We have to make some decisions at safety, but it's a pretty good problem to have because we finally have some depth there."

Q: This is such a results oriented business. Do you feel like you're on the right track to where you want to go?

A: "Without a question. I knew the plan. I didn't think we would have two bad years in a row, but I knew we would struggle a little bit in year two and year three because of how we were doing it playing a lot of freshmen. But now as I see us in the spring and where we are at, we are making progress the right way with all the sophomores and juniors who have been playing for us. We played more freshmen than anyone else in the country. Now they're older and more mature and that's the plan that we had.

"I was asked to build a program that would be solid for a long period of time and that's what we are trying to do."

Q: You've been around for so long so probably nothing really bothers you, but does it bother you when people are assuming that you are on the hot seat?

A: "The only people I worry about are the (ASU) President and Athletic Director. When they tell me I'm on the hot seat…I've been on the hot seat before and I'm sure I'll be on the hot seat again.

"Besides that, my goal when I got here is to get this thing going in five years, be where we want to be and that is compete for the championship every year. We're going towards that. I never came in here saying that it was going to be a three year miracle."

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