Gerhart Anchors Seasoned Offensive Line

Over the past few seasons, the play of the offensive line has been a question mark for the Sun Devil football team. The unit as a whole made great strides last year though. Now, senior Garth Gerhart is confident they can finally have a breakout year.

When Gerhart arrived in Tempe, the Sun Devil offensive line was a depleted bunch, forced to mix and match along the way, trying everything to find a solution. Under the tutelage of offensive line coach Gregg Smith, Gerhart and his fellow linemen have made tremendous progress towards becoming one of the stronger units on the team. Though if you ask him, the 6-2, 300 pound Gerhart will tell you he isn't the least bit surprised.

"Before we were all just really young and it's hard to come in and be a great offensive lineman at the college level," he said after practice Friday. "You're undersized coming out of high school; everyone else is bigger and faster. But now we're all grown up."

"It's not weird to me now though because I knew back then we were going to be a great offensive line come my junior and senior years."

The resurgence of the offensive line has been influenced by a number of factors, but most importantly has been experience. For his career, Garth Gerhart has played in 26 games, starting in 22, including all 12 from the 2010 campaign. Heading into his final season for Arizona State, he believes all that experience he's drawn from playing with the same group of guys is about to pay off.

"I probably know this offense now like I know the back of my own hand," he commented. "And just having that sort of leadership allows me to help out the young guys.

"And Mike (Marcisz) is a great leader too, at our left guard spot. He knows everything that I know. Just having a bunch of veterans along the line makes my job a lot easier. And the camaraderie between us has been really great this year."

Head coach Dennis Erickson couldn't agree more, expressing the same sentiments.

"Your center is always the anchor and the fact that he has played for three years makes a difference and has been playing with the other guys and they know each other pretty well," Erickson said. "There is nothing like experience, regardless of what anybody says."

Last season the Sun Devils revamped their playbook, installing new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's high-octane offense. The schematic changes took some time to get used to, but overall have appeared to help the linemen up front as well.

"With this offense, it's high-tempo, so we've got to get down on the ball quick," stated Gerhart. "The coaches are always telling us to hustle up the line. It gives us some breaks on some of the pass plays, but like all of the protections is something that we've been doing for the last 5 years that I've been here.

"Since it's real high tempo we aren't just standing around, we're actually getting the football out to our athletes and letting them make plays."

Also contributing to development of the offensive line has been it's constant exposure to the always attacking Sun Devil defense. For two years now, the team's defense has held the upper hand in practices, but all that abuse has toughened this front line and has them prepared for anything this season.

"Our linebacking core is the best I've ever played against," commented Gerhart. "Going against Vontaze (Burfict) and Shelley (Lyons) everyday is a positive for us, as an offensive line. We get to see the best of the best every day.

"As for our defensive line, Will (Sutton) is one of the fastest defensive linemen I've ever gone up against and Bo (Moos) is just a big guy down there," he added. "On the end, Junior (Onyeali) and Jamar (Jarrett) are great football players. The competition between us is making us all better players."

With a renewed interest in recruiting offensive linemen to Tempe by the coaching staff, hopefully gone are the days where the Sun Devils struggled to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Gerhart will tell you that he's seen this group of players develop first-hand and has confidence in some of the younger guys to continue this upward trend.

"They're all coming along," Gerhart said of his teammates. "When you're a JUCO guy (Aderious Simmons and Brice Schwab) they expect big things from you right off the bat. I know it was kind of a shock to Brice and Aderious, but they're picking up their game. And Bryce has made a huge improvement going down to guard."

"And then we have Kyle Johnson who's getting a lot better," he added. "And Jamil Douglas, he's a real good football player. In a few years you guys are going to see some really great things out of him. And Sil Ajawara has really come along too."

A delight to Sun Devil fans will be to hear that Gerhart's backup, sophomore Kody Kobensky has shown signs of improvement this offseason and may very well be a suitable replacement for the senior after he departs. Gerhart credits Kody's effort and competitive drive for his recent improvement.

"He's gotten stronger in the weight room," he said. "And he's actually put his mind to it that he wants to be a great football player. He's been coming in and learning from me. I've been teaching him some stuff and he'll show me some stuff that I've messed up on.

"We're just working together and having a little competition between us has helped make him a better football player."

One of the new challenges this season for Gerhart will be developing that always important center-quarterback chemistry with his starting QB, Brock Osweiler. Osweiler saw significant minutes in just two games last season, leading some people to question how well the offense would run under him in 2011. Gerhart insists that he and Osweiler will be fine though, given their rapport both on & off the field. "I've known Brock since he got here," he said. "Me and Dan (Knapp) hosted him on his recruiting trip and I just hit it off with him. We're good friends outside of football and it's just something that builds over time. We've worked together a lot over the last two years in Spring and Fall and it's all just been real good."

For now, the Sun Devils are just a few weeks away from the start of their season. On Friday, school officials announced that the September 9th home game against Missouri will indeed be a "blackout," ending the speculation around the nationally televised showdown. The ever pragmatic Gerhart doesn't allow himself to get caught up in the hype.

"We're not even looking at that game (Missouri) yet," said Gerhart defiantly. "We're focused on UC-Davis. We're excited to get to that first game.

"I know I'm ready. every time I go to sleep I'm like 'I'm ready for some football; I wish it was our first week.' I'm super excited and I know we're all looking forward to showing everyone how good we are this year."

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