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September 3, 2010Practice? We're talking about practice?
Actually, much to the delight of the Arizona State football team and its fans -- and Allen Iverson for that matter -- we're not talking about practice. We're talking about a game.
After a final tuneup inside the Dickey Dome on Thursday, where the offense worked exclusively in two-minute drill and goal-line situations, the Sun Devils are finally ready to take the field Saturday against Portland State to open the 2010 season.
Remarkably, according to ASU Media Relations Director Mark Brand, the team has already completed 44 percent of its regular season practice schedule.
For a host of junior-college transfers and true freshman who take to Frank Kush Field for the first time, the event has been a long time coming.
"I'm really excited to show what I've got," said junior wide receiver Mike Willie, who will make his ASU debut after transferring from Cerritos Community College in Long Beach, Calif. "I haven't been here, this is my first year, so I've got to prove something."
Willie is one of a number of newcomers expected to make an immediate contribution for the Sun Devils, who are trying to elicit images akin to those of more prosperous times in the program rather than those of the past two years -- ones that coaches, players and fans are trying to erase from their memories.
Freshman running back Deantre Lewis, who made a big impression in his first fall camp and figures to be a prominent fixture in the backfield during Saturday's contest, said he has noticed the elevation of the preparation level that goes into games since arriving in Tempe.
"It's different because you've got to be more prepared," Lewis said. "You've got to be locked into your assignments. They want run one defense; they are going to throw a lot of things out there. I have it in my head what my assignments are."
While grasping the X's and O's will be a vital part to game preparedness, coach Dennis Erickson doesn't want the newbies to forget the simple part.
"Just go play like you played in high school, play like you played in the backyard," Erickson said. "Don't worry about anything other than that. Just be an athlete and play football."
Of course, even some veteran players are feeling like newcomers all over again.
Junior cornerback Omar Bolden hasn't started a game since ASU's road defeat at the hands of Georgia in Week 3 last season. The opportunities to digs his cleats into the turf during fall camp tempered Bolden's appetite for a while, but there is no replacement, he said, for the big moments under the shiny fluorescent bulbs of a rowdy stadium.
"You've just got to get out there and play because there's nothing like the real thing," said Bolden, who missed almost all of last season with a knee injury. "Practices and even scrimmages in the stadium aren't the same as playing under the lights on Saturday night with 70,000 (people). This is lovely, man. I'm just excited to get out there."
Bolden has his own advice for his new teammates: Don't think too much.
"Just have fun, man. This is football," the cornerback and team captain said. "Sometimes coaches make it more difficult than it really is. Sometimes you've got to, not ignore them, but just go out and do you."
Just like you would do in practice?
There's been a lot of movement in the two-deep along the offensive front since practices began exactly one month ago.
Going into the opener Saturday, projected redshirting freshmen starting right guard Evan Finkenberg will, according to multiple team sources, sit out the first half due as punishment for a DUI received in April.
The starting offensive line is expected to be junior Dan Knapp at left tackle, junior Adam Tello at left guard, junior Garth Gerhart at center, junior Mike Marcisz at right guard and junior Brice Schwab at right tackle.
ASU's second-team offensive line had some movement Thursday, with redshirt freshman Kody Koebensky shifting from right guard to center, effectively swapping spots with sophomore Andrew Sampson. Sophomore Kyle Johnson is at left tackle, junior Chris De Armas at left guard and junior Aderious Simmons is at right tackle.
Simmons' status for Saturday's was still undetermined as of Friday morning. He is expected to be cleared to play by ASU but whether it's in time for the opener is unclear.