Arizona State provided a transcript Monday of coach Dennis Erickson's recent Q&A about spring football, and he touches on a lot of topics.
While more than a few folks will rate Erickson as a coach who's on the hot seat this year -- and not unfairly -- it also appears he's got enough talent in Tempe to considerably cool said seat. In fact, the Sun Devils will be most folks' pick in the Pac-12 South Division, and they likely will earn a spot in the preseason top-25.
Here are some Erickson highlights.
On how this spring practice feels as opposed to years past:
This spring feels quite a bit different, as far as the team itself. I think we came in last year with the feeling that it wasn’t quite there, particularly offensively, skill-wise, our offensive front … there were some question marks there.
On quarterback Brock Osweiler: Brock has got to really progress. I think he proved to everybody what kind of competitor he was in the last two games, in particular the Arizona game. To me, you could kind of tell when he was on and when he was off, and yet he willed us to win, found a way to get it done, which to me is kind of what that position is all about. He will technically get better and better.
On the talent the Sun Devils have a quarterback (RFr Taylor Kelly, Fr Mike Bercovici and incoming Fr. Michael Eubank): It's the best I've ever been around in college, or any place I have ever been, I've never had it that deep. Three of them are unproven, of course. But physical talent … from what you can see is pretty amazing.
On Osweiler's "it" factor: Sometimes you don't see it until it's presented to the guy. Sometimes it's hard to see that in practice. You look back to when we made the evaluation a year ago and the decision to go with Steven, because he was more consistent with what we were trying to do offensively, when you go into that situation you never really have a chance to say "you're going to start against Oregon and "you're going to start against USC" and really find out, because that's an intangible that you really just don't know. I think that showed up. The really good ones that I've had, they've got that intangible; being able to find a way to win, and that what’s its all about. Stats are stats. But making plays when you have to in key situations is what he did. In the UCLA game we were down and he came in and was hot and they couldn't stop us. But in that (UA) game, he had to make plays in the end just to get it to overtime. But he's got a lot of work to do, and he knows it. He's got some technical stuff that he's worked on this winter; getting the ball out quicker, being more accurate. But he's taken over the leadership of that offensive team.
Did last year's quarterback battle affect Brock's performance negatively? Yes. I expect a huge difference. And that happens in most quarterback battles I’ve been in. We can talk about how it’s good and gives you depth and you like the competition, but eventually you've got to make a decision. Whoever, the quarterback that doesn't win that thing, it hurts them. I think it affected Brock, no question about it.
On how Osweiler's accuracy is improving: He’s fairly accurate. He just doesn't get the ball out of his hands when he needs to. He's been working on that a lot. He can run, he runs a 4.7. He can keep that football. It doesn't look like he's going, but he runs pretty well. I think we can do things with him running the football in different situations that we didn't do with Steven [Threet].
On the running backs: Running back-wise, we've got guys who we all know can take it to the house. There are three or four of them that can do that. It's the experience of the guys who've proven themselves on the field. We only won six games, but they know what they're doing. It's given us a chance here in the offseason to tinker with what we're doing a little bit. Those guys went to that one-back clinic down there in Houston and shared ideas, because a lot of us are doing the same thing and picked up a few things here and there.
On the defensive front: With the defensive front, we're dealing with losing those two tackles; Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola. But with Will Sutton we all know what he did the year before. I'm excited about Corey Adams because now he's a guy. We're young at tackle. I mean we are all underclassmen at tackle. And of course Junior Onyeali won't be in spring ball. Greg Smith has had a really good offseason. He's up to 270 pounds and can really run. I'm excited about watching him in the spring. The end is a little bit of a situation with Jamar Jarrett and James Brooks and those other guys, and see what happens there. Jordan McDonald has gained about 20 pounds this winter. We have some other guys that will be here this fall that will be good to take a look at.
On defensive tackle Corey Adams: Well, he's been hurt all the time. There's no question about that. But right now, you watch him, and he's what we thought. When you see him in the offseason in the mat drills, he's more flexible, healthy, moving around. If he stays healthy, he'll have a tremendous career. I think he can be a real impact player.
On any changes to the offensive schemes: I think we'll add a few things. It might even be simpler than it's been. I think one thing we can do right now is line up and run the football without having to trick people ... Shoot, we got a whole lot of offense. Let's just be good at what we do. Let's get the ball to our guys who can run fast and let them make plays. So you'll see a thing here or there, but not much.
On linebacker Vontaze Burfict: Vontaze Burfict has stepped up. It's amazing his change in the last three months. Now, he doesn't miss workouts, ever. He's a leader out there doing all sorts of stuff. He's in the best shape I've ever seen him in. He's a big-time leader out there.
On what prompted Vontaze's change: Maturity. Teammates challenging him to be what he is. Don't be something you're not. Be what you are; a great football player. The light just came on. I think the light came on at the end of last year. I think from the Stanford game on. I think having some success and winning, and saying maybe that gray-haired (coach) knows a little bit about what's going on.
On Vontaze and the preseason praise he's been garnering so far: I think if he does what he's doing right now, he has the capabilities to be as good as anybody in the country.
On Vontaze realizing it: I don't know. I think he just plays football. He's having fun. He's smiling, having fun. I don't know why he had that chip on his shoulder. Maybe it was immaturity. But it's totally different now.
On the secondary: I think our secondary is going to be better than we've ever had. Our corner situation, depth-wise, is going to be better. Deveron Carr, he won't be out there in the spring, but he's out there running. With Deveron, Osahon Irabor, and Omar Bolden, we've got three or four guys, and Devan Spann -- I think he’s the real deal. So we've got more depth than we've ever had. At safety, Eddie Elder I think really got better as the year went on, last part of the season he really jumped out at you. I think Clint Floyd's getting better all the time. Keelan Johnson is very athletic and will continue to get better as he learns. Shane McCullen, Matt Tucker ... we've got some depth there. It'll be fun to watch those guys play. Alden Darby has moved to safety and he'll make us better there. It'll an interesting spring competition-wise. The great thing about Darby is he can go outside too. He can play nickel and has the ability to play man-to-man coverage.
On defensive end James Brooks playing up to his potential on the field: We think he can be better than he has been. He knows that. Hopefully he'll have that opportunity. He's been here a long time and gotten better and better.
On defensive priorities this spring: I think defensively we'll sit down and decide how much more we want to blitz. We've got some awfully good blitzers. We talked about this last year, the 30 (3-4 alignment) stuff is one thing, but can you do it in your four-down package? Strategically those are things we'll look at. We're a 4-3 team. That’s what we do. We’ll spend some more time, give them more looks ... We played our best last year when we just sat there and played and let our guys run around. And when you have a middle linebacker like we have, and some outside guys who can run to the football, you want to be able to blitz. But do you want to have to go to a three-down scheme to do it? I don't know. I'd be happy to do some things, but if you're a 4-3 team, you're a 4-3 team.
On team's energy heading into spring practice: It's exciting and it's got to happen. What's exciting to me, finally, is after four years we're worthy. I thought last year we were really close, now I feel like we're here. Now we've got to do it on the field. Numbers-wise, even though we've got a lot of seniors, we do have a lot of young guys playing. We're finally at a place, where if we have the success we think we're going to have next year, that we can plug guys in the year after that and the year after that and the year after that. And we know what we need and what we can plug in to be really really well ... I never doubted that we were going to get to this point, but sometimes it's just hard. Now we've got to do it on the field, and our schedule isn't exactly easy. I mean we play a top 10 team right out of the shoot [Missouri], then you have to go back and play Illinois. Then you come back and play USC and Oregon State. Two years ago I would have said ‘give me a break.’ Now I say ‘bring it on, lets go’ and that’s how our players feel.
On the pivotal season for ASU football: Yeah … I mean this is my fifth year. I have been going at this for four years. I mean if we win eight or seven games is it the end of the world? Not really. But I believe this team is capable of winning some games and having an opportunity to compete for the championship, and that’s what we want to do. For me, I think it’s a very important season for this program, no question about it.
On how the new recruiting territories have been for the staff: I think we're going to put [new defensive line coach Scott Brown] in Texas. He's been recruiting Texas for a long time. It's not just one area for him; he's recruited the whole state. He knows the coaches all around Texas, so we’ll evaluate the film and call and get interest and cover it. Hopefully that'll open up some things for us. But the majority of our recruiting will be done in this state and California. So we've got a lot of guys in California. I mean we are in there hard … we'll leave no stone unturned. I have been my best in recruiting over the years, turning stones over. Its just how its been every place I have been, because that’s just what you have had to do to win. When I was at Oregon State, Washington State, or even Miami, we were never able to get the 50 or five star guys, so you've got to find out who can play. It's all about evaluation. You’ve got to focus yourself on your staff's ability to evaluate. You've got evaluate what's going to win at Arizona State.
On the late signings: The four or five guys that we signed after the letter of intent day are every bit as good as the guys we didn't get. Because I'm not going to take a guy just to take a guy. Why would you do that? You can take one in the winter or even the next recruiting season. The guys we've taken late aren't guys we took just to take. They're guys that can play football that we found out about late and studied very hard. And you'll see when they get here that we were right.