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September 14, 2009

Erickson: Offensive line hardest coaching job

If you've ever been to an Arizona State football practice since 2007, chances are you've heard offensive line coach Gregg Smith and his boisterous voice.

He's been called a "grinder" and a "hard ass" by the players on his line, and best in the business by Erickson. Smith has also had to deal with a less than ideal situation on the offensive front over the past two seasons.

"It's the hardest job in football," Erickson said of being an offensive line coach. "There's a lot of positions [where] you can [afford to] make a mistake … You can make a bad throw and a guy will make a great catch. But when you're the offensive line coach, you've got five guys moving. They all got to move, they all got to know what they're doing. Because if one of them doesn't, a guy is going to come free."

Erickson has been around plenty of offensive line coaches in his day, including current Indianapolis Colts coach Howard Mudd, and said they all share one characteristic: they voice their opinions.

Smith is no different. If you do something wrong, you're going to hear about it. So will almost everyone else on the football field.

"If he wasn't vocal it would concern me," Erickson said.

Someone has to speak for the big uglies up front, because as Erickson noted, the casual fan doesn't know an offensive lineman's name until he gives up a sack.

"It's a hard place to play and it takes a different type of guy to play it," Erickson said of the offensive line. "And then it takes a different type of guy to coach it."

Smith's immediate task is to figure out the starting combination for Saturday's contest against the University of Louisiana-Monroe.

After looking at the tape of the season opener against Idaho State, Erickson said he liked what he saw of senior Tom Njunge at the tackle position. Since last week, Njunge has been taking reps with the No. 1s at right tackle while sophomore Matt Hustad has been moved inside to right guard.

Sophomore Zach Schlink, who figures to have a fighting chance to start at right guard one healthy, is still recovering from the arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Aug. 24. Erickson said Schlink's recovery isn't going as planned and hopes he will be able to return to the field by the Oregon State contest on Oct. 3.

"I'm just hoping we have him sometime during the season," Erickson said.

The status of sophomore center Garth Gerhart (turf toe) is still up in the air for Saturday's game after Gerhart didn't practice on Sunday. As a result, sophomore Andrew Sampson has continued to take reps as the second-team center.

Once Erickson does have a full complement of players at his disposal, he said he would like to move Sampson back to guard and Hustad back to the tackle position.

Aside from messing with the offensive front, the bye week allowed for Erickson and his staff to go on the road and do some recruiting. Erickson said his assistants were busy in California and Texas over the weekend.

Among the recent trends growing across the college football landscape is the rapid development of freshmen quarterbacks.

Erickson said he watched the USC-Ohio State game on Saturday and got a chance to see USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley in action. Erickson also mentioned Michigan's Tate Forcier and ASU's own Brock Osweiler.

"Mentally, [freshman quarterbacks] are more ahead of the game than they used to be," Erickson said. "And you can't forget [Barkley and Forcier] were both there in the winter time. That was unheard of before, that didn't happen. You didn't have guys [graduate high school and enroll] early. So they go in to spring football just like Brock. And it was a great advantage Brock, being here for spring football, as far as him to even be where he's at right now."


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