Gerhart believes experience will pay off

Sun Devil fans have learned the hard way that a team, despite having a plethora of talented skill players, is only as good as its offensive line. Having long been a cause for concern, this year's offensive line now has the experience and talent to be one of the strengths of this squad in large part to its anchor, senior center Garth Gerhart.

As spring practice launches into its third week, the team has begun to show signs of being one that can contend for a conference title while also striving to overcome some old and new injuries that have shortened the active roster.

"I'm feeling pretty good," said Gerhart. "There's just some stuff that needs to be worked on. I could tell today we were a little bit slow, the whole offensive line, at picking up blitzes. It's the second day where the defense has been doing that to us and they added a couple new things today.

"But personally, I think I'm doing pretty good but there's a lot of stuff I still need to work on. Luckily we still have three more weeks of practice."

Unlike years past, this season the Sun Devils return the entire starting offensive line. That game experience and familiarity with each other's style of play should be beneficial for this squad as they hope to set the tone for the offense this year.

"We know how each other play now, and that's a huge thing," remarked Gerhart. "I need to know what my guards are going to do on certain plays and where guys are lined up and how they handle certain techniques. That's a huge factor. Same thing with guards and tackles, and knowing how they're going to help each other on certain plays."

The offensive line has had their share of growing pains over the years, and have had to mix and match the pieces together along the way to find the right group of guys to man the line of scrimmage. The Sun Devils are now blessed with having depth that they lacked in the past too, which hopefully allow this group to go deeper and remain fresher as both games and the season wear on.

"We got Aderious (Simmons)," commented the senior. "We got Dan (Knapp) and he's a scrapper out there. Evan (Finkenberg), Andrew (Sampson), Mike (Marcisz)...they're all good players. Now we go two-deep on the offensive line, so if anyone goes down, I don't think you'll see too much of a drop-off on the offensive line.

"I think we're going to do a great job. I've been here a long time and a lot of guys on the offensive line are seniors, so this is the year to do it."

Implementing a new offense, especially one as complex as the new Sun Devil high-octane one, can be require a lengthy learning process. Last spring the team spent valuable time learning the subtleties of their new system while also integrating a new signal-caller to the mix. This spring, despite having a third different starting quarterback in as many years, the team is leaps & bounds ahead of where they were last spring.

"Last year's spring it was a brand new offense and everyone was confused," said Gerhart. "It's so fast-paced. Coach Mazzone has a lot of energy and he was sort of freaking us all a bit out. And with the high-tempo offense, everyone has to make their calls quicker.

"But now with a year under our belt, and watching film for the past year, and having played a whole season in this offense, I think we're gelling a lot better as an offense. And Brock is doing a real good job out there as quarterback."

One of the more invaluable player relationships on any football team is that of the quarterback and his center. For Gerhart, he spent most of last season synchronizing his game with then-starter Steven Threet. Now, the senior leader is faced with the task of learning the nuances of junior Brock Osweiler's game. And despite their limited time together on the field, the center feels confident about his new signal caller's approach.

"I've known Brock since he got here and I'm pretty comfortable with him now," commented Gerhart. "So just hanging around him and knowing him as a person, that stuff relates to how we play on the field.

"He's doing great back there with handling the snap. I know how he makes his calls and he knows how I make my calls, so we really work together to point out pass protections to the offensive line. And I think we're doing a great job with all of that so far."

One of the biggest surprises last season was the play of the team's running backs. Having a stable of talented backs obviously helps the cause, but it's the offensive line who helped create the opportunities for those backs. Gerhart credits Coach Mazzone's new system for much of the team's success running the ball both last year and so far this spring.

"It benefitted us a lot. It opened up some running lanes for the running backs," said Gerhart. "The running backs did great last year. Hopefully this year they do even better with Cameron (Marshall), D-Lew (Deantre Lewis), (James) Morrison and even (Kyle) Middlebrooks has been tearing it up.

"Coach Mazzone sets goals for us, like 175 yards rushing yards per game. We just have different goals for like every game. Last year, like I said it was 175. Hopefully this year we can bump it up to 200 or 225 per game.

" It's a big thing because as offensive linemen, if we can pass block then the quarterback can get the job done. And if you're running the ball well, that means the linemen are creating holes. And we have good running backs, so we've got to open up some holes. It's a big thing for us to look up at the board and see how many rushing yards we have."

With the 2011 season still months away, Gerhart knows there's still plenty of work to be done. Each practice is a new chance for his squad to improve upon itself and reach new heights. For him though, it's important to remain upbeat and enjoy the moment while he still can though.

"I just try to play every game like it's my last game," remarked Gerhart. "You see what happened with Omar Bolden, all it takes is one play in practice and you can be done for your senior year. So I just come in and have fun because this year could be my last year ever playing football. I'm just having a good time and not taking it for granted."

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