TEMPE, Ariz. – Tuesday marked the first spring practice for the Arizona State football team as they look to compete in the newly-formed Pac-12 conference.
The Devils, who have already been floating around numerous preseason Top 25 polls, are returning 18 of their 22 starters (nine on each side of the ball) and seem to be one of the early favorites for the Pac-12 South division.
Head coach Dennis Erickson realizes that projections mean nothing, especially when a down of 2011 football has yet to be played.
“It was good to see them out there running around,” said Erickson, who is in his fifth year with the university. “We’ve just got to keep getting better; we’re a long ways away.”
The Sun Devils are carrying some momentum from their disappointing 6-6 season last year, coming off two consecutive wins, including an exhilarating 30-29 overtime victory over the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson. The man who was under center during the mini-steak is now the undisputed starter for the Sun Devils.
Junior Brock Osweiler (6 total TDs and 0 INTs in the two starts last year) is taking over for Steven Threet, who decided to retire from football in late February due to a history of concussions. Threet has decided to stay with the team as a student assistant and Erickson believes his experience and knowledge of the system will make a “big difference” with the young signal-callers. Osweiler is ready to lead this team to a bowl game with some experience under his belt and the team behind his back.
“I’m a lot more comfortable (being) in the offense for a year,” Osweiler said. “There’s not exactly a quarterback competition so it takes that weight off you and just allows you to play.”
Erickson already likes what he’s seen from Osweiler, calling the 6’8″ quarterback “a good leader.” But while the head coach does have the upmost confidence in his new starter, he doesn’t want to ask too much of big man in his first full year season at the helm.
“Does [Osweiler] have to win games,” Erickson asked himself in front of reporters Tuesday evening. “No. He just has to make sure he does the right things to give us a chance.
“I think we have some talent offensively to where he doesn’t have to make every play.”
ASU’s breakout freshman running back last year, Deantre Lewis, is still recovering from a bullet wound he sustained in mid-February but managed to jog the length of the field Tuesday.
The sophomore, who was the Sun Devils’ second leading rusher with 539 yards and the ground and four touchdowns, spent four days in the hospital after he was the victim of a random drive-by shooting or as he suspected “a gang initiation.”
The bullet caught him in the buttocks but he luckily suffered no tissue damage.
“Every morning I thank God that I’m back out here and I’m able to do the same stuff again,” Lewis said.
Doctors have said that Lewis should make a full recovery.