August 11, 2008

Grueling practice weekend comes to an end

To put it mildly, cramming four practices into a 40 hour period -- three of which were in pads and came in near 100 degree heat -- is definitely the type of thing that will serve as an early training camp test. The Sun Devils handled it with decidedly mixed results, but there were some real positives to take from the first week.

Most importantly, ASU has now made it through nearly 40 percent of its camp schedule without suffering a single real injury. Nothing more than a tweaked hamstring here, a slightly twisted ankle there.

Look at USC, UCLA and Washington, three Pac-10 schools that have already lost their starting quarterbacks to injuries that will keep them out for weeks or longer. Those and other schools are already in worse shape than ASU for that reason alone.

Also noteworthy, the team has physically held up extremely well despite pretty harsh conditions over the weekend. This is no doubt due in large part to its tremendous effort in the off-season strength and conditioning program and excellent turnout for informal summer workouts.

Practice attendees are not seeing doubled over linemen gasping for air, skill athletes unable to take reps when their numbers are called or worse, widespread cramping issues or anything else that would suggest an out of shape roster. Rather, the condoning of these players outwardly appears to be stellar.

Some would say being injury-free and well conditioned are correlated; that the better shape a team is in heading into camp, the less likelihood it will sustain injuries. Though that type of hypothesis is obviously not something that can be tested, it is a maxim that teams live by. At least thus far, it appears to be working, regardless of whether it's self-generated or simply good-fortune.

Of course, all of this does not absolve a mediocre workout, and the Sun Devils had their second such showing in two days on Sunday morning, as coach Dennis Erickson admitted following the practice.

"It wasn't very good today. There were some good things, I can't say it was all bad," Erickson said. "Offensively, that first-group did a good job in the scrimmage, (in) short yardage they pretty much did what they wanted. Now I look at the other end of it, I turn myself over on the defensive side of the ball, we've got to be better on short yardage on defense.

"That's what the game's all about. Third and one, third and two, football is all about third downs, getting them and not getting them and changing possession. You stop somebody on third down, force them to punt, that might be five minutes added to your offensive possession. So that's why third down on both sides is so important. We weren't very good on defense, we were OK on offense. Our intensity level wasn't there like I like it. Freshman are going to make mental mistakes, but we made too many with our veterans. I was not pleased. We've got to get better."

Short Yardage

Though it wasn't an issue on Sunday due to the running backs consistently generating first-downs on third-and-short-situations, there have been questions about how that goal line and short yardage role will be assigned this season.

"We thought Shaun (DeWitty) might be but he's (been out with a mild hamstring strain). Obviously you'd like a bigger guy there. Dimitri (Nance) is pretty good in there. (Ryan) Bass is pretty darn strong and Jarrell Woods is pretty strong. As we go into it there may be somebody that can do that down there The other aspect of not just being a strong runner, is taking care of the football. You don't want to ever turn it over but the last place you want to turn it over is when you're down inside the four yard line or ten or five or wherever, or the third downs we were talking about."

Secondary status

Erickson provided his impressions how the ASU defensive backfield is shaping up following the workout:

"Well at corners, Pierre (Singfield) is playing real well and so is (Terell) Carr. They're both competing against each other for that right corner. Our left corner [the] backup, Travis (Smith) is there right now. Both freshmen have been pretty good surprises, Josh (Jordan) and Deveron Carr. At safety we feel good about the two starters Cox and Nolan and Max has played really well. It's kind of a battle for that fourth safety. It could be Clint Floyd, it could be Callahan, it could be Holman, we'll have to see what happens."

Special Teams

Thomas Weber is set to reprise his dual-role as kicker and punter "unless somebody can beat him out" at punter, Erickson said.

It also appears as though Kyle Williams will again be the team's punt returner.

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