October 16, 2008

Sun Devils finish out solid practice week

The Arizona State football team wrapped up its bye-week with a light practice Thursday, and Coach Dennis Erickson liked the effort his team gave all week.

The bye-week afforded Erickson and his staff to move some guys around and allow others to nurse some nagging injuries.

"We got a lot accomplished," he said. "It was good to get out and get some things done. They need a little time off now and get rested up."

But the biggest thing for Erickson was getting some of the younger players more reps to help them progress and to develop some much-needed depth at several key positions.

In Erickson' mind, the best players in the bye-week were Keelan Johnson (who Erickson said will not play this season), wide receivers Gerell Robinson, T.J. Simpson and Brandon Smith, linebacker Shelly Lyons, defensive end Jamaar Jarrett and quarterback Samson Szakacsy.

Smith had a particularly good practice Thursday as he beat cornerbacks down the field on fly routes several times.

"This is the best I've seen him," Erickson said of Smith. "He's been hurt all the time. He had a pretty good spring the first spring I was here and then we got into camp and he got hurt. Then the same thing happened this camp.

"He does have God-given talent. I'll be anxious to see him [play]."

Another area that improved in the bye-week was ASU's rushing attack.

"Our front is getting better at blocking," Erickson said. "Over the next six weeks we're going to have to be able to run it some."

Moving in the right direction

While the ASU defense has been far from perfect lately -- it allowed scoring drives of 72, 80 and 92 yards against USC -- it has noticeably improved the past several weeks.

Despite the long scoring drives, it forced five turnovers last weekend against Trojans and stifled Cal in the second half the week before.

The biggest difference, Troy Nolan said, has been the defense's mind-set.

"Our attitude has changed," the senior safety said. "We wanted to come in there and make a statement after that first bye-week.

"It's been a nice turnaround since those first couple of games when we weren't getting any turnovers. We knew we could be this good and it's nice to be playing like we can."

Erickson too has really liked what he has seen from the defense as of late.

In his mind, the biggest difference has been a recent spike in the defensive effort.

"They're just playing hard," Erickson said. "We're just improving as a whole defense.

"The thing that we've got to do defensively is we have to play hard every week."

But despite how good the defense has been ASU still lost its last two games, but in large part, that was because of its lack of offensive production.

But Nolan said the defense isn't frustrated. Football is a team game, he said, and neither side of the ball can point the finger at the other.

"[The defense] is playing well but we're only half of ASU football," he said. "Those guys on offense, I know they're out here pushing themselves and it'll turn around."

Extra points

  • Shawn Lauvao moved back to left guard Thursday after spending both practices earlier in the week at right tackle.

  • Tom Njunge was back with the first team at right tackle.

  • Wide receiver Mike Jones left practice early after apparently injuring his ribs during seven-on-seven drills.

  • Erickson said he wasn't sure about the extent of Jones' injury but he did say he would be "shocked" if it was anything serious.

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