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March 27, 2011

Sun Devils looking at some new formations

With Arizona State players in full pads for the first time in months, great weather, and an extended full tackling scrimmage segment on the practice script, it seemed everything was lining up for an impressive opening Saturday of spring football.

That's not exactly how it played out.

With sophomore defensive tackle William Sutton playing the role of instigator, right offensive guards Andrew Sampson and Kody Koebensky were a little jumpy, and a disrupted rhythm led to grass stains on a lot of footballs.

"We weren't very good at the beginning of practice," Sun Devil coach Dennis Erickson said. "We had more off-sides than we've had since I've been here. We were trying to do different things with our snap count, change it up, and that normally happens. Then at the end of it in the scrimmage we were a lot better. We dropped balls, weren't very good on offense. Defensively we ran around, I wanted to see how we tackled.

"I really like the way (Alden) Darby is playing right now at safety, he's got that burst. We haven't really seen him tackle so it was good to see him scrimmage. I thought we tackled well defensively. We made some plays offensively, I thought Brock did some really good things."

Part of the reason for the disjoined feel, Erickson said, was some of the new formations being tinkered with, including a three back wishbone variant with the quarterback lined up under center.

"We're just trying to get to where we can just run the football," Erickson said. "So we're in two tight ends under center in a couple situations and do some different things there. We're in that inverted bone a little bit and got some of that from Oklahoma and then they went to the one-back (clinic).

"(Tight end/h-back) Trevor Kohl is a heck of a football player and we've got to try to take advantage of him. Those are the big things we've added so far. Any time you add something it seems like you aren't very good until the next time you do it."

Offensive line coach Gregg Smith is also teaching his group some new blocking calls, which perhaps contributed to some of Saturday's troubles.

"I think it's pretty good for us, a short yardage formation and I think it will work for us," junior running back Cameron Marshall said. "Trevor is a great blocker, he works hard and tried his hardest on every block. He's a big and talented guy so I like having him in front of me.

"I think we're trying to make it easier on our linemen. Not so many different protections and rules so it just becomes second nature, easier. I couldn't tell you all the ins and outs of it but we have less blocking schemes than last year."

Amidst all the poking and prodding of the offensive scheme, one thing Erickson has been pleased about is the performance from his starting quarterback, junior Brock Osweiler.

"In the three days from what I've seen he's taking things over extremely well, executing really well, bigtime leader for us out there, that's what you need at the position," Erickson said. "We'll keep it within the context of what he does really well. We'll thrown the football up the field probably a little more with him. But he's really adjusted. I like where he's at and I like where the two young [quarterbacks] are at."

Special Teams a mixed bag

Now that Thomas Weber has departed, the Sun Devils will have a different kicker for the first time in the Erickson-era. Freshman Alex Garoutte, the team's lone scholarship player at the position, figures to be the guy, even as he's struggled quite a bit this spring.

Saturday, Garoutte connected on 5 of 7 from 37 yards and in, but missed all four attempts from 42 yards and then went 1 of 2 from 47 yards. Leg strength doesn't appear to be an issue, but most of Garoutte's longer attempts were either pulled or pushed.

"I think Alex will be bigtime," Erickson said. "I don't know if you guys remember when I first came here with Thomas (Weber struggled in his first fall camp before winning the Groza Award that season). I'm not worried about him at all. He's going to be a kicker. He's the guy and he's got one of the strongest legs I've ever been around. He's got the ability, you've just got to keep kicking and kicking, maybe he'll have some people work with him in the summer time. I think he's going to be bigtime. He's having some (growing) pains right now."

While Garoutte didn't have a day to write home about, the Sun Devils' punt team, which is looking at a new spread formation, made a positive impression on the team's coach.

"I think [the formation] gives you better coverage, without a question," Erickson said. "(Junior punter) Josh Hubner really kicked the ball today like we thought he would. We're going to probably do [the spread] most of the spring and kind of see. We can always go back to what we did before. I like the coverage aspect of it."

Lewis status uncertain

Sophomore running back Deantre Lewis has been conditioning on the sidelines at each of the three spring practices, but his status is undetermined for the rest of the spring as he recovers from being shot in the buttocks in February.

"We'll be lucky to have him back," Erickson said. "We don't want to hurry it. He's been sore. You don't get shot, and the thing doesn't just go away. We're taking him slow, if he's here in the spring at the end that's great, if he isn't that's okay too because he'll be ready to go in the fall."


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