Erickson Meets The Press

Oct. 16, 2001

DENNIS ERICKSON - WEEKLY MEDIA CONFERENCE OF OCTOBER 16, 2001

(On Arizona State in general) 'They're a football team that's been up and down a little bit during the year, having won (three) non-conference games and losing a couple (Pac-10) games on the road. They haven't played a league game at home yet, so the emotion and momentum and everything involved in a home league game is in their favor. But they're an awfully talented football team in a lot of different areas.

'You look at them on defense, and you start with Terrell Suggs, to me, he's one of the better defensive players in this conference. He plays defensive end, he's got tremendous speed, and they do a lot of different things with him to free him up. He's just a very dominant player - he was a dominant player last year as a freshman, he's been a dominant player this year as a sophomore. He's a guy you've got to account for, you've got to find out where he is, you've got to make sure he's blocked. Because if he's not blocked, he's going to come through and knock the ball out. He creates turnovers, he does a lot of different things that cause a heck of a lot of problems for you. He has people to go with him - Solomon Bates at inside linebacker is a heck of a player. And their safeties, Alfred Williams and Willie Daniel, are both guys who have been around for a while and played and are leaders on their team. They've played well defensively for the most part, they did have a problem against Stanford, but even against USC last week they played very, very well.

'When (quarterback Jeff) Krohn got hurt, it affected what they were doing offensively. On the other side of the ball, they're very talented. They've got great speed at wide receiver in Shaun McDonald and Donnie O'Neal, guys who create a lot of problems for you. Dirk (Koetter, head coach) does a nice job - they're in all kinds of different sets. They've scored a lot of points against everybody. Jeff Krohn was hurt last week and it affected their productivity in the second half, there's no question about it. According to what I see and read, he's going to be ready to play this week and that's going to be a real plus for them. Probably their strength is their offensive line, they're seniors who have been there quite a while and have played a lot. Coach (Dan) Cozzetto (now an OSU assistant) coached a couple-three of them when he was the offensive line coach there. They're very talented. Levi Jones is an NFL prospect at left tackle, Scott Peters is an All-America center who is an outstanding player. They've got seniors and experience there, and that's why they've been able to move the ball offensively. They've been able to have a combination of running it with the push they get up front and throwing it. Delvon Flowers was a very highly-recruited running back out of El Camino about three years ago, last year he hurt his knee and didn't play and is coming back right now. He's a very talented kid but he isn't playing all the time, I think his knee is just starting to get back to 100 percent.

'They're a football team that's very, very talented. Like a lot of us in this league, if good things happen to them, they have a chance to have a successful season. I look at them and six or seven other teams in this league, and there isn't much that separates any of us. The bottom line for us right now is to go down there and play well, to play with great intensity. All we can concern ourselves with is getting our third win, and it's going to be difficult down there. It's a hard place to travel to and to play. That's the biggest thing we've got to focus on.'

(On the significance of returning to the site of OSU's Fiesta Bowl win - will you talk to the players about that?) 'No, not really. I've been there so many darn times - some good, some bad. This is a different team and a different time. We're just trying to get our third win, when we went down there before, it was a little different situation.'

(At ASU, you play on a Saturday night in a location that's got nice weather - how do you keep players focused during the day as they wait for the game?) 'Hopefully we're maturing enough and we've got enough leadership that they understand what they've got to do to be successful. I don't think it's any different place, most of the time when you're on the road, during the day you're in your room, probably watching TV. We've just got to focus. We know what we've got to get done, and I don't think that will be a problem.'

(Was last week's win over Arizona a sigh of relief, that you knew this team could play that way and it finally put it all together?) 'I don't know if it was a sigh of relief, but it was something we hoped would happen, that during the season we'd play like that. To see it happen was fun to see. To see us play defense like I knew we were capable of playing, to see us run the football like I knew we were capable of running it. Nothing against Arizona by any means - they were beat up that night and they'd had some injuries, they're not the most dominant team we'll face in the next seven weeks. But it's good to know we have some guys who can make plays. The thing I liked probably more than anything was that we played with great emotion on defense and ran around and looked similar, in that aspect, to the team of last year, which is the level where we have to be.'

(On OSU's offensive line vs. Arizona) 'We played better in the offensive front. Again, the combination of us improving there and some of their injuries in the middle - but I liked the way our new guys and inexperienced guys played. Our guards, Mike Kuykendall and Kanan Sanchez, played extremely well, they're getting better all the time. (Tackle) Lee Davis is playing better, with much more aggressiveness. Those are the areas and the players who have to continue to improve. (Tackle) Vincent Sandoval and (center) Chris Gibson have played pretty well all year, but those guys have really showed improvement. It's a good young group. Kanan is a freshman, Mike is a junior, Lee is a junior - they're getting better all the time, and that's a key. We need to continue to improve in that area, because for us to be successful we've got to be able to run the football. That's just the nature of where we are right now offensively. When they block like that, we've got a chance to do that.'

(How did you come out of the Arizona game, injury-wise?) 'We came out good. We don't have anybody who looks like they'll miss practice at all this week.'

(If ASU quarterback Jeff Krohn's injury limits his mobility, will it cut down what the Sun Devils can do offensively?) 'They move him quite a bit, but they could still do that. I don't think they'd even consider playing him unless he was pretty close to being 100 percent. I don't know where he is with that knee injury, I'm sure he'll find out more as the week goes on, because it's hard to play with your ankle banged up at that position. According to what I read - and I only know what you guys know - he wasn't limping and he'll find out today. I'm assuming he'll play, but I don't think they'll change their offense even if he's not totally 100 percent. The other quarterback, Matt Cooper, is pretty good. The problem you have when you get an injury like that is, you don't get any turns. I think that hurt him more than anything, and that's a decision you have to make: Are you better off taking Cooper, who's completely healthy, and giving him all the turns, or are you splitting turns? Are you sure he's going to play? It's a decision they're going to have to make. But Cooper is a pretty talented kid who, a couple years ago, was pretty highly recruited, and he does have talent.'

(On walkon wide receiver Cole Clasen, and how you make decisions on walkons?) 'We're always looking for walkons. It's something that's big in this program, particularly in-state walkons. There are a lot of kids out there, in this state, that for whatever reason - size, small school, whatever it might be - aren't recruited as highly as they might be if they were someplace else.

'Cole was kind of an in-betweener in that he was a running back, and an awfully good one, but we signed Steven Jackson and we weren't really looking for a running back. He was recruited by some Big Sky schools - I believe Boise State and Portland State - but he wanted to play in the Pac-10. Steve Coury (former OSU wide receiver and Lake Oswego H.S. head coach) is a good friend of mine and Oregon State University, and he talked to our coaches about him. When I talked to Steve, he really felt he could fit into the slot. So we brought him in as a running back and then saw him catch the football and do some things that jumped out at you - not many walkons really jump out at you, in my experience. For whatever reason, because of his ability, he jumped out. So we decided he could fit in, we moved him into the slot three or four days into practice. He just has the qualities, physically, and the talent that fit into that position plus he's tough and a competitor. But he can run and he's strong and he has great feet and catches the ball. It's a great story.

'But we've had walkons since I've been here that maybe aren't quite that story, but they have contributed and played well. (Defensive end) Noah Happe was a walkon for us and he's played extremely well for us, (safety) Jake Cookus was a walkon for us, (linebacker) Erik Tuma was a walkon for us, (former punter) Mike Fessler was a walkon, and we all know about the (quarterback) Jonathan Smith thing before I got here ... so we've had guys, particularly from this state, who have had a chance to do it. He's just a story that's really stood out.'

(Is it more important at a place like OSU to have the contributions from walkons?) 'I think walkons are important with the 85 (scholarship limit) regardless of where you are. What happens to a school like us is, kids come to school here and it's not real expensive. You take the Miamis or the USCs where it's a private school, and you're not going to have a lot of guys walk on and pay their own way. It just doesn't happen. Where here, or Oregon or Washington - the state schools, a kid in state is going to come to school and pay in-state tuition, you've got a chance to get those guys. Your opportunity of success, you're going to have more of them at a place like this than it would be at some other places. But I don't know that it's talent so much as the private school sector, and what their policy is.

' I don't know what the policy is at some schools. We want to take as many of them as we can if we feel they can play. We evaluate them all on film, we study every guy who wants to walk on and we evaluate them and make sure they have an opportunity to at least compete. There are some who try to walk on who were second team in high school or don't even play, and you can't have those guys out there, either. So you've got to separate it.'

(What will you do about starting wide receivers this week?) 'We're not sure. James Newson is going to start at flanker, Cole Clasen is going to start in the slot. What we're going to do at split end, I'm not sure. We're going to let them compete this week and see how they practice. And that's how it is - we've got to become more consistent at that position, and guys have to step up every week. We've got two who have done that, and we've got to find a couple other guys to do that, too. It's very close for our third, fourth and fifth wide receiver, and we're going to play five or six, so we want to see who practices best and who will make plays, and those are the guys who will play that week.'

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