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March 9, 2010

Erickson confident offense on right track

There will be no ambivalence on offense at Arizona State this year.

That's the message from coach Dennis Erickson, who met with several reporters for a lengthy interview in his office on a rainy Tuesday as the Sun Devils prepare for the start of spring football March. 30.

Erickson took over play calling duties from then-offensive coordinator Rich Olson prior to last season and the Sun Devils went to a zone-read base system modeled after the one at the University of Texas.

But the scheme didn't totally fit ASU's personnel and even though some elements of the system allowed improvement -- primarily the zone run blocking and pass protection -- the overall offense didn't show much growth and Erickson replaced Olson with Noel Mazzone.

"We were lost for a while just because of who we had and what we were trying to do," Erickson said. "We tried to make a little bit of a switch last year, which we did, we got better, but my thought is we were kind of in between what we wanted to do and we're not going to be this fall. We know what we want to do and hopefully we do it well."

As Mazzone allowed in a sit down with reporters following signing day a month ago, and Erickson reiterated Tuesday, the Sun Devils will have an offensive system similar to those employed at Houston and Texas Tech, two of the more high powered teams in the country in recent years.

"What we're doing now, with Noel's input, it's going to be quite different from what you've seen," Erickson said. "It's going to be faster, quicker, more motions. It's going to be different so I think it'll make it a little easier on our front protection-wise and so forth. But I thought we protected pretty well a year ago, we just weren't able to make plays.

We'll have a tight end involved more probably than those two teams although we'll be in a lot of four wides, we'll have a hybrid back that motions and does different things. It'll be completely different from what people have seen and they'll see it from Day 1. I'm excited about it because it's really what I've done but at a different pace. [Mazzone's] very good. You can ask anybody. He's had opportunities to be at a lot of different places. Our relationship -- this is where he wants to be. I think it's going to be a huge turning point offensively in our program. And nothing against anybody except we've got to make some fast paced changes offensively and move the football. That's the bottom line, we've got to score point."

Erickson said he's extremely pleased and encouraged with the depth and quality of veteran talent that's been established through the team, but perhaps most particularly alone the offensive front, which took its licks in 2007 and 2008 before stabilizing a little bit last season.

"Those young offensive linemen we've had to play the last couple three years are getting bigger and stronger," Erickson said. "You can see them growing and they're different people. Like Adam Tello for example, I look at him now compared to when we had to start him at right tackle against Georgia two years ago. I look at it and say, 'Oh my god, why did we do that to the kid.' ... And now he's 300 pounds, stronger and bigger, has a real good chance to start at right guard for us. He's so much better than he was.

"To see that transformation in that particular area, because obviously it's been an area of concern and concerned fans and so forth, we're so much better. You look at the offensive line now, with the junior college guys we've brought in and the guys we've got back. Like Kyle Johnson, who was 260 when he came in and is now 295. (Garth) Gerhart. You can go down through the group. Patrick Jamison has now become a football player. You see it in Andrew Sampson. All those guys who have had to play, it's just a maturation."

What has been troublesome for Erickson in the last two seasons, which saw ASU win a combined nine games, is that it is the offense -- Erickson's area of expertise -- that has caused the program problems. The Sun Devils led the Pac-10 in three of four major statistical categories on defense last season but still could only muster four wins because of an inability to put points on the board.

"It's been very frustrating for me to know that there have been times during the last two years or the last year particularly that we dominated teams on defense and weren't able to win games," Erickson said. "That's frustrating. That's frustrating for everybody involved because our defense probably a year ago was as good as anybody in our league and yet you win four games and you lose four or five real close ones that could have changed everything. So when you look at why, and what [are] our failures and the first one I've said many times, to evaluate myself more than anyone else, so we had to make a change offensively and do different things to what are being done out there according to what our personnel are all about and you will see a marked improvement offensively."


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