August 6, 2008
8/5 Sights and Sounds
The Sun Devils' first practice of the season was described as spirited by many onlookers, but if those same visitors were in attendance Tuesday, they saw an even more intense workout. One of the things you often hear from ASU coaches all year long in practice, but especially during camp practices before the team goes to pads is "Stay up, stay up" which essentially means, don't tackle. The coaches want players to wrap but hold up the would-be tackled offensive player to avoid injuries. Well, a lot of these guys are either too excited or too inexperienced to keep that in their heads and there has been a lot of semi-tackling going on in the first-two days. Josh Jordan made about three tackles on Monday and was about to bring down Chris McGaha from behind before remembering about the 20 "stay up stay up" comments he'd heard to that point. Today, there were even more guys taken down than yesterday, the most alarming of which was freshman linebacker Brandon Magee straight up tackling quarterback Samson Szakacsy from behind 30 yards downfield along the sideline after the quarterback scampered out of the pocket. It didn't go over well with several offensive players, who sprinted to confront Magee, who was protected by a phalanx of defensive players, as others hollered "Good [stuff] Magee." Yes, there is an offensive/defensive competition going on, as there should be. On an earlier play, freshman, Otis Jones basically tackled Keegan Herring, and was met with a "What the [heck are] you doing?" from the senior running back. Whoops.
Getting solid run support at the line of scrimmage from the tight end position continues to be something we're watching carefully. As it stands now it appears Andrew Pettes is the top option for the coaching staff with run blocking. Coach Dan Cozzetto is no doubt extremely interested to see what he can get from Dan Knapp and Stanley Malamala. Knapp didn't practice much last season after needing arm surgery, but he has a nice frame, at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, while Malamala is largely an unknown to the coaches, at 6-foot-4, 254 pounds. Knapp has been excellent as a downfield receiver all summer and that continued in route work Tuesday, but when he came to OL/DL work, Cozzetto declared him "too mellow" and sent him to do skill work with Wes Evans brought in to get a look. Malamala, you can tell, is newer to the program because he doesn't have the muscle definition of the other tight ends. He has earned a good reputation in the weight room, however, and was working hard to pick up the blocking concepts. The book is out on both, however.
The battle for the left tackle position will come down to Jon Hargis and Tom Njunge, with Hargis having a clear lead at this juncture following a very impressive practice on Tuesday, particularly with his lateral mobility and zone blocking. But as impressive as Hargis was, an equally big story out of practice at the position was the play of Kyle Johnson, who is working with the third team. At the beginning of the practice, Johnson was getting help with his pass proection (he was picking up his slide foot and not moving it concurrently with his outside step foot) from coach Gregg Smith as well as Hargis and Njunge. It's going to take some time, but Johnson was already showing improvement later in the workout and on his run blocking, he was superb. Johnson was getting big love from Cozzetto on one particular zone play where he got to the second level and picked up a linebacker. With his huge, long frame and fluid athleticism, Johnson has definite pro upside down the road and he's not as far away physically as we thought he would be coming in.
Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Craig Bray isn't going to shy away from letting his players know about the mental mistakes they make. He'll quickly give them a very specific comment about what happened and do it in a stern manner. Veterans are especially at risk because they are expected to be beyond certain types of mental errors. Mike Nixon made a mistake with a defensive call pre-snap and said after the play, "I [screwed] up," which was met by Guy responding somewhat casually, "You can't [screw] up. We can't win if you make mistakes." Pretty succinct and reasonable. Bray is a really good football coach. He sees five things at once on the field and can let multiple players know with instant feedback where they made their mistakes on any given play. In that regard, he's as sharp as any coach on the staff.
Omar Bolden is consistently reminding his fellow cornerbacks about an even loftier goal than just being successful at the college level. "Get this money" is something you hear from Bolden again and again in his vocal support for teammates. Translation: It's not about just being good enough to get the job done in the Pac-10, it's about approaching every day in practice as though it's an opportunity to work on being a potential professional prospect. Bolden said the saying is running through his head on every play and he wants it to be in his teammates' thoughts at all times as well as evidenced by his constant use of the slogan around practice.
Freshman running back Ryan Bass no doubt has a tremendous amount to learn. After all, he'd been on the ASU campus for less than 72 hours when he took the field for practice Tuesday. But what is undeniable is that he has many of the attributes that simply can't be taught. One thing you rarely hear around a college football practice is audible gasps of surprise from players but that's exactly what happened when Bass seemingly stopped on a dime, made a lateral quick step and followed it up with an explosive vertical burst. It took about two seconds and left probably 20 teammates saying to themselves "So that's why he was so highly rated." Bass did something in practice on day two that nobody on the ASU roster can do, and that's saying something when that roster includes Keegan Herring, the league's top returning rusher. Following practice, Herring was overheard saying to Bass, "You're not taking anybody's spot." Probably not, but he at least has Herring thinking. That alone is a pretty big accomplishment.
The improvement made by freshman Gerell Robinson with his route running in just two practices under receivers coach Eric Yarber is nothing short of startling. Robinson's technical understanding of route running, such as how to get in and out of breaks quickly, was almost non-existent just a few days ago. Now, he's sinking his hips and dropping his weight heading into his breaks, and he's beginning to understand how to pump his arms coming out of his breaks. Yarber knows Robinson has special potential and he was grinning ear-to-ear with the quick improvement shown by the player. Robinson has great size and athleticism with hands that seemingly catch everything thrown his way. He's also a humble guy who attended more spring and summer workouts than just about anyone and has a terrific work ethic. It's almost impossible to imagine him not seeing the field this year.
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