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April 17, 2010

Physical play, mental errors highlight scrimmage

You didn't need to actually watch Saturday's Arizona State scrimmage at Sun Devil Stadium to understand the tenor of the afternoon session. If you were in attendance, all you had to do was close your eyes and listen. There were enough easily identifiable sounds -- loud helmet clashing, post-collision celebrating and oxygen depriving gutturalness -- to know what was taking place.

"A lot of hitting," Sun Devil coach Dennis Erickson said following the workout. "I think the physicalness of what happened out there today was probably the most physical scrimmage we've had since I've been here on both sides of the football. Offensively too, we had some very physical runs, things up front."

ASU's top three running backs combined for 93 yards on 18 carries, with James Morrison reaching the corner for a big gainer, the first such run in a spring scrimmage, and Cameron Marshall breaking off a big chunk up the middle on a well-blocked inside zone play.

Marshall had the first rushing touchdown of the spring for ASU and had seven carries for 36 yards while Morrison had six carries for 38 yards and Jamal Miles five for 19 yards.

"It went pretty good," Marshall said. "I felt we ran hard today, we ran the ball well today, we caught the ball well today. We had a couple long screen passes. Overall as an offense we looked good.

"I was ecstatic with the job the line did today. I can't ask for anything more. I'm excited to get behind them and do it again next week."

Marshall participated in full contact after being questionable for the scrimmage with a strained hamstring, but it didn't appear to limit his effectiveness.

"Physically I felt good," Marshall said. "My hamstring wasn't really bothering me at all. I'm not full speed yet but it felt good, no pain."

Quarterback Steven Threet worked with the first-unit in the initial series of the scrimmage, and finished 12-of-20 for 161 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Brock Osweiler saw more action -- though Erickson said there was no significance behind it -- and went 18-of-27 for 147 yards.

"As far as overall scrimmage, it's one of the better ones we've had here since I've been the coach here," Erickson said. "We're spreading it around. The offense as you can see is getting better and better. Ran the ball, I thought Cameron came in and showed some flashes and Jamal showed some flashes. So you get a combination like that, makes a difference in energy."

But the popping sounds of heavy hitting ruled the day. Cornerback Omar Bolden had a vicious hit on receiver Aaron Pflugrad in the flat, safety Clint Floyd leveled a receiver, linebacker Oliver Aaron flew through the air to knock a ball carrier out of bounds and Miles dropped his shoulder and ran over cornerback Josh Jordan.

And those were just some of the big hits, several of which were scary, including one that left linebacker Brandon Magee on his back for several minutes with a stringer and concussion.

Mixed in with improved running game performance and a high level of physicality were some serious mistakes and costly inefficiency.

"We probably went offsides what, about eight times on defense," Erickson said. "And then we throw interceptions in crucial situations. That's what I talked to them about. The most important thing you've got to know, and it's an emphasis in this thing, is create turnovers on defense and don't turn the ball over, particularly going down into the red zone. We threw a couple down in here when we probably could have kicked a field goal or something."

Then again, considering Thomas Weber went just 1-of-6, missing short, wide left and wide right from 47-yards and beyond, maybe not. Weber has shown 50-plus yard range in individual work this spring, but he's yet to demonstrate his leg strength is back where it was before he was hurt early last season. His only make Saturday came from 37 yards.

Safety Eddie Elder had both interceptions -- the result of quarterback error on each occasion -- and almost had a third.

Receiver Gerell Robinson couldn't haul in a deep pass from Threet on the first play of the scrimmage. It likely would have resulted in a 65 yard touchdown.

Offensive players relaxed before hearing a whistle on an attempted screen pass from Threet, and linebacker Anthony Jones scooped it off the ground and took it 28 yards for a defensive touchdown.

Pflugrad had six catches for 50 yards and one touchdown, while tight end Trevor Kohl may have been the player of the day for the offense, with three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. Kohl is slimmer and making plays downfield he never was able to last season in addition to his blocking at the line of scrimmage, which is superior to his teammates at the position.

Notes

  • Linebacker Gerald Munns was out with an illness. Linebacker Shelly Lyons missed the scrimmage to attend his brother's wedding. Receiver George Bell did not play with a hamstring and cornerback LeQuan Lewis is out for the spring with a broken bone in his hand.

  • The offensive line has dealt with a lot of injury woes in recent years and that's continued in the spring. First-string right guard Zach Schlink did not participate with a knee issue. Adam Tello, the team's other top right guard, also was out. Mike Marcisz, who started a game at the position last year, has not participated in full hitting segments of practice all spring as he recovers from offseason shoulder injury. As a result, Andrew Sampson worked with the first-group at right guard. Patrick Jamison did participate at right tackle after missing the last several practices. Left guard Jon Hargis suffered what was believed to be a minor knee sprain and left the scrimmage.

  • Linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Colin Parker and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy each had a sack. Matthew Tucker made a terrific tackle in space against Miles. Linebacker Derrall Anderson made a tremendous tackle in space in the flat as well, showing great range from the middle of the field.


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