Pac-12: Jack Elway

Writer: Erickson deserves credit as spread innovator

July, 29, 2009
7/29/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

How about some love for the West Coast's contributions to the rise of the spread offense?

Longtime sportswriter Bart Wright, currently the sports editor of the Greenville (S.C.) News, is working on a book about the spread offense, and he thinks one coach got left out of ESPN.com's recent exploration of the roots of the spread: Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson.

 
  Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
  Dennis Erickson incorporated spread principles into his offenses at Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, Miami and Oregon State.

"I don't think there's any question he's a father -- not the originator -- but he carried it on," Wright said.

Of course, it's sometimes hard to nail down exactly what the spread is. The spread-option is a lot like the old single-wing. And the run-and-shoot certainly spreads the field with lots of passing.

But Erickson's version of the spread, Wright said, was devised by Jack Neumeier in the 1970s at Granada Hills (Calf.) High School.

Neumeier? He coached this guy you may have heard of: John Elway. 

Neumeier was looking for a way to force defenses into favorable one-on-one matchups. So he started using empty backfields and four- and even five-receiver sets.

It worked.

That's one of the reasons Jack Elway moved into the Granada Hills school district when he became coach at Cal State Northridge in 1976.

When the elder Elway took over at San Jose State in 1979, his first offensive coordinator -- yep, Dennis Erickson -- adopted some of the Neumeier principles.

The big breakout game for Erickson's spread, according to Wright, was San Jose State's 30-22 upset of then-7-0 and ninth-ranked Baylor in 1980.

What was Erickson's plan? "He wanted to attack Mike Singletary," said Wright, who's done many interviews with Erickson for his book.

Yes, that Mike Singletary.

"You don't normally try to pick on the best player in the country, but that's what he did," Wright said.

The idea was to force Singletary to chase receivers in space. Over and over again.

It worked.

By the way, the guy hurling the rock for Erickson that afternoon was Steve Clarkson, now a well-known quarterback guru.

Those spread principles, refined over time, became the bedrock of Erickson's offenses at Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, Miami and Oregon State.

One of the reasons Erickson may get overlooked in spread discussions is few recall that Miami's dominant offenses from 1989 to 1994 were pure spreads. Because the Hurricanes had so many future NFL greats on their roster, the assumption is they were running a pro-style scheme.

Just last week Arizona's offensive coordinator, Sonny Dykes, pointed this out in an interview with the Pac-10 blog. He was trying to defend the spread offense against accusations it doesn't prepare players, particularly quarterbacks, for the NFL.

Said Dykes, "It's weird. Remember [the University of] Miami was one of the first teams running the one-back and running a spread offense with three receivers on the field?"

Obviously, lots of coaches -- high school and college -- from lots of different states have discernible fingerprints on the development of the spread offense.

And Wright wants to make sure folks don't forget Erickson is one of them.

While you were on vacation ... Arizona State

July, 23, 2009
7/23/09
6:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The second of 10 quick updates on offseason Pac-10 goings on.

Arizona State in a sentence

  • Arizona State will try to bounce back after a disappointing 2008 season that started with a national ranking but finished with a losing record.

The big issue

  • While the Sun Devils should be solid defensively, they will be breaking in a new quarterback, likely senior Danny Sullivan, and the seemingly annual struggles on the offensive line need to be corrected.

Quick hit news

  • Two players transferred to Arizona State from other BCS schools: quarterback Steven Threet from Michigan and wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad from Oregon. Both will sit out in 2009 and be eligible in 2010.
  • Two quarterbacks bolted the team. Jack Elway decided to quit football but remains enrolled at Arizona State. Chasen Stangel decided to transfer to Eastern Kentucky.
  • Only one player from the 22-member recruiting class is certain not to qualify academically: offensive lineman Fred Thornton, who will attend Scottsdale Community College. A couple of others, however, still have some remaining work, including super-recruit linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
  • San Jose State dropped the Sun Devils from their 2010 schedule in order to play at Wisconsin.

Sullivan tops at QB, but defense rules at Arizona State

April, 20, 2009
4/20/09
12:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Arizona State's offense managed one major highlight -- a 35-yard touchdown run from Ryan Bass -- but the Sun Devils' defense dominated the spring game Saturday.

Read full accounts here and here.

Some main points:

  • Senior Danny Sullivan completed only 8 of 16 passes for 42 yards, but he didn't throw an interception as Samson Szakacsy (9 of 14 for 50 yards) and true freshman Brock Osweiler (7-14, 66 yards, two picks) did. Sullivan will enter the fall No. 1 on the depth chart, but the biggest news out of the weekend at the position was the departure of sophomore Chasen Stangel, who had fallen to No. 4. He is the second scholarship quarterback to bolt this spring, joining Jack Elway, though Elway will remain at ASU.
  • How good was the Sun Devils' defense? From the Arizona Republic: "There were three interceptions (Ryan McFoy, LeQuan Lewis and Josh Jordan), a fumble recovery (Clint Floyd), seven sacks (including a pair by Jamarr Robinson), four failed fourth-down conversions and 10 punts in as one-sided a conclusion to spring practice as anyone would care to witness."
  • The news wasn't all good for the defense: Defensive tackle Otis Jones tore his ACL. The redshirt freshman would have at least added depth on the defensive interior, and his loss increases the pressure for incoming freshmen Corey Adams and William Sutton to be as good as advertised.

Pac-10 lunch links: Elway wants to be a student, not QB

April, 7, 2009
4/07/09
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Spring is nature's way of saying, "Let's party!"

  • Elway retires -- this one from the Arizona State football program, which is now down to four quarterbacks with senior Danny Sullivan and sophomores Samson Szakacsy in the lead. Getting personal with Dennis Erickson.
  • Arizona's No. 3 quarterback is an impressive guy
  • Big shoes to fill at Cal? How'd you'd like to replace the Mack truck?
  • Oregon wasn't sharp on Monday. But if fabulously talented Jamere Holland, a former touted recruit at USC, has finally gotten with the program, the Ducks' offense may have found a go-to receiver. Running back LeGarrette Blount returned to practice after sitting out with a foot injury.
  • The unique Oregon State spring football journalistic stylings of Paul Buker -- amusing and interesting, with info on a struggling offensive lineman and a bulldozing defensive tackle.
  • UCLA's Prince is looking like the king of the Bruins' offense. And a pecking order is emerging at running back.
  • What's going on at USC? Here are five observations to get you up to speed. Good to see Michael Lev is joining me in the Curtis McNeal fan club.
  • Jerry Brewer passed on the men's hoops final to watch Washington practice, and he came away impressed -- and, Jerry, you didn't miss much. The Huskies have a lot of running backs in the mix.
  • Checking in with Washington State coach Paul Wulff on a variety of topics.

More bodies, more competition for Sun Devils

March, 16, 2009
3/16/09
6:46
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson is throwing names around and reporters pens are racing and it's hard to figure out who's first team, who's second team and who's merely intriguing.

The confusion, by the way, is a good thing.

 
  Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
  Arizona State's Danny Sullivan is one of five guys competing for the starting quarterback spot.
A year after trotting out a handful of young guys who clearly weren't ready to play in the Pac-10 -- particularly on the offensive line -- the Sun Devils' depth chart appears full of potential and full of reasons to believe that a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2008 was merely a blip for Erickson's rebuilding project in the desert.

"We've got bodies for a change," Erickson said. "That also brings in the thing USC has -- competition."

Of course, when spring practices start on March 24, everyone will be asking about the quarterbacks, and Erickson is glad to answer.

And the names start flowing.

He's got five guys competing. Senior Danny Sullivan, who waited patiently while Rudy Carpenter owned the position the previous three-plus seasons, starts at No. 1. Sophomore Samson Szakacsy is No. 2, but he's got to prove his elbow has fully healed.

Redshirt freshman Jack Elway -- yes, that guy's son -- is No. 3 after running the scout team a year ago. Sophomore Chasen Stangel is fourth in the pecking order.

Then there's the tall guy.

He's No. 5 for now, but 6-foot-8, 235-pound Brock Osweiler, a true freshman from Kalispell, Mont., has already enrolled and already has tongues wagging.

"He's got a chance," Erickson said.

Coy isn't a term often applied to Erickson, but there's just a hint of that when he fields questions about Osweiler. Time's winged chariot might be hurrying near, as coach Andrew Marvell once told reporters, but Osweiler's candidacy could linger into the fall as the Sun Devils' coaches winnow the field to two or three guys.

"Age has nothing to do with who will be the guy," Erickson said. "None of them have any experience."

That's not completely true. Sullivan has seen spot action. He went 15-of-43 for 151 yards last year with two interceptions and one touchdown. But Erickson isn't counting those uninspiring numbers, or counting out Sullivan, whose lack of mobility is countered by his experience and strong arm.

"We've seen Danny Sullivan every day for two years, and I think he's very underrated," Erickson said.

Of course, quarterback isn't everything. The Sun Devils felt pretty good about Carpenter last year, but their inability to protect him over the past two seasons seemed to catch up to them as the season wore on and the record-setting hurler seemed to lose his rhythm.

Which brings us back to the exact same Big Issue Above All Others ASU had a year ago. Any Sun Devils fans know what's coming?

"Bottom line is you've got to block somebody," Erickson said. "Bottom line is you've got to be able to run the football."

That is where Erickson is most optimistic about improvement. He now sees a for-real two-deep depth chart with more guys who look like they can play.

The only certainty is workout-warrior Shawn Lauvao moving from guard to left tackle. After that, it's wide open.

On the other side of the ball, there's also going to be competition and player-shuffling, but the questions are more pleasant.

"Defensively, we've got a lot of good players coming back," Erickson said. "That's a strength for us."

The biggest position switch is Travis Goethel moving from strongside linebacker to the middle, replacing Morris Wooten, where he'll compete with former starter Gerald Munns, who's returning after leaving the team last season for personal reasons. The arrival of prep All-American Vontaze Burfict in the fall figures to further thicken the plot.

The biggest competition will be to replace All-Pac-10 safety Troy Nolan. The list of candidates for Nolan's spot -- and strong safety for that matter -- includes Clint Floyd, Max Tabach, Ryan McFoy, Keelan Johnson, Jarrell Holman and freshman Matthew Tucker, who's already enrolled.

So, yeah -- whew -- that's a lot of guys.

Which has Erickson expecting his Sun Devils to emerge from spring practices believing 2008 was the program equivalent of eating a bad oyster.

Talking Pac-10 quarterbacks

March, 9, 2009
3/09/09
7:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Talking about quarterbacks ranks right up there with eating for college football fans.

If you're Florida and Oklahoma, you talk about how good yours is.

If you're Oregon and Washington, you talk about how good yours could become.

If you're certain other schools, you talk about how bad yours was last year but note he's sure to be better this year.

Or you talk about how he's headed to the bench because so-and-so super recruit is going to take the job by the ears this spring.

If you're Oregon State, you talk about having two starting quarterbacks.

If you're Arizona and Arizona State, you talk about having no idea who's going to be the starting quarterback and if he's going to be any good.

So there's always a lot to talk about.

And in what we once liked to call the Conference of Quarterbacks, the Pac-10 is mostly full of indecision this spring. Only Oregon, with Jeremiah Masoli, and Washington, with Jake Locker, are 100-percent set at quarterback, barring injury.

Still, seven teams welcome back at least one quarterback with starting experience, and USC's Mitch Mustain started eight games at Arkansas in 2007. Only Arizona and Arizona State will pick between quarterbacks with no starting experience.

So: Let's talk.

Great shape

  • Oregon: Considering the way dual-threat Jeremiah Masoli played over the final three games, it's not ridiculous to list him as a Heisman Trophy darkhorse.
  • Washington: Sure, Jake Locker got hurt last year. And, sure, he wasn't spectacular before he got hurt. But ask any opposing coach about Locker, and they'll tell you he's one of the Pac-10's biggest talents.

Good shape

  • Oregon State: Sean Canfield was mostly the starter and Lyle Moevao was mostly the backup in 2007. The reverse was true in 2008. Now, with Moevao sitting out spring after shoulder surgery, Canfield gets to make a statement. Whoever wins, the Beavers know they have two good quarterbacks.
  • California: Everyone knows Kevin Riley needs to be more consistent, Riley included. But he played fairly well last year -- 14 touchdowns vs. six interceptions -- and there's no reason to believe that won't be better in 2009. And, if he's not, the scuttlebutt on sophomore Brock Mansion is positive.
  • Stanford: If touted redshirt freshman Andrew Luck wins this job, he will beat out a quarterback in Tavita Pritchard who has started 19 games and has beaten USC. How many other Pac-10 QBs can match that résumé?

We'll see

  • USC: While we don't really know at this point what USC will look like at quarterback, it's hard to imagine that the Trojans won't get at least solid play from either Mitch Mustain, Aaron Crop or Matt Barkley.
  • UCLA: On the plus side, UCLA has a returning starter in Kevin Craft. On the downside, Craft threw 20 interceptions and just seven touchdown passes last fall. That's why a lot of folks are talking about redshirt freshman Kevin Prince.
  • Washington State: Marshall Lobbestael is the favorite to win the job over Kevin Lopina. Lobbestael, however, is presently suspended because of an underage drinking bust, and he's still recovering from a knee injury. Both have starting experience, though neither was exactly lights out.
  • Arizona: This is just a good ole fashioned quarterback competition between Matt Scott and Nick Foles. Both have talent, with Scott being more of a runner and Foles more of a drop-back passer. Neither has any significant game experience.
  • Arizona State: This is just a good ole fashioned quarterback logjam, with five fellows officially vying to replace Rudy Carpenter. Senior Danny Sullivan is the longtime backup, while Samson Szakacsy, Chasen Stangel, Jack Elway and true freshman Brock Osweiler are the young guys trying to break through.

Pac-10 spring position battles

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Now we talk quarterbacks.

Because that's what just about every Pac-10 fan -- other than Oregon and Washington adherents -- will be talking about this spring.

Even Oregon State, which saw Lyle Moevao throw for 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns, has a bit of quarterback intrigue, or did you forget how well Sean Canfield played while Moevao was hurt (3-0 with two starts)?

We're supposed to do only five entries here. But we're going to do six.

Washington State gets left out because Marshall Lobbestael, the favorite to win the job, has been suspended after a weekend arrest for minor in possession and, in any event, he would be limited this spring as he comes back from a knee injury.

And so does Oregon State because the Beavers are choosing between two known quantities, while the following teams will be evaluating one more or more candidates with almost no significant playing experience.

Please note, however, that the likelihood of these competitions being settled this spring is remote. In fact, the coaches evaluating these competitions may not even announce a pecking order until the season opener is on the immediate horizon.

That's just how coaches ride.

1. USC: Mitch Mustain vs. Aaron Corp vs. Matt Barkley

  • Quarterback at USC is the premier position in college football. Under Pete Carroll, two quarterbacks have won the Heisman Trophy, and Mark Sanchez figures to become the third to be selected early of the first round of the NFL draft. So part of being a Trojans quarterback means dealing with the hype, which will be a part of the winnowing process this spring. Mustain is talented, but sometimes tries to force the ball where it just won't go. The speedy Corp, who was Sanchez's backup at the end of 2008, would be the most athletic quarterback to play for Carroll. And Barkley was only the top prize of the 2009 recruiting season.

2. California: Kevin Riley vs. Brock Mansion

  • This is a gut check for Riley, who clearly isn't happy with how things went in 2008. He was yanked as the starter when the Bears were 3-1 and he'd completed 57 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and just one interception. His performance over the second half of the season suffered as his confidence sank, though a shoulder injury and concussion probably deserve more blame than they've gotten. Mansion, a sophomore, is a prototype, 6-foot-5, 230-pound pocket passer who was a touted recruit in 2006. Experience should give Riley the early edge, but Mansion is a legit contender to start in 2009. And both will be getting used to new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.

3. Arizona State: Danny Sullivan vs. Samson Szakacsy vs. Chasen Stangel vs. Jack Elway vs. Brock Osweiler

  • In the battle to replace Rudy Carpenter, rising senior Danny Sullivan is the veteran backup who has patiently waited his turn. Sophomores Samson Szakacsy and Chasen Stangel are the top challengers. Elway has to prove he's more than his last name. But the guy to watch is Osweiler. He's a 6-foot-8, big-armed, athletic true freshman out of Kalispell, Mont., who originally planned to play basketball at Gonzaga. He'll participate in spring practices, and his name keeps coming up when you ask ASU folks about who might run the offense in 2009.

4. Arizona: Matt Scott vs. Nick Foles vs. Bryson Beirne

  • If Arizona is going to build on last year's breakthrough, it's going to have to find at least an adequate replacement for Willie Tuitama. Scott and Foles will start as 1A and 1B. Both have good arms. Scott's athleticism might give him an edge. Foles, a Michigan State transfer, is a prototypical 6-foot-5, 230-pound drop-back passer who loves watching game film but won't scare anyone out of the pocket. Whoever wins the job will have a solid supporting cast, topped by tight end Rob Gronkowski, to ease the adjustment.

5. UCLA: Kevin Craft vs. Kevin Prince vs. Chris Forcier vs. Richard Brehaut

  • The first issue will be how Craft responds after throwing a school-record 20 interceptions last season. Will he show leadership, take charge of the huddle and fight for his job? And, oh, make better decisions with the ball? If not, look for Prince to be the top challenger. There were moments last year when Craft was struggling when Prince's redshirt was nearly cast aside. Forcier didn't take advantage of his opportunities in spot action, and coaches will turn to touted incoming freshman Brehaut only if those three languish.

6. Stanford: Tavita Pritchard vs. Andrew Luck

  • Pritchard started every game last year -- not to mention that he led the monumental upset effort of USC in 2007 -- but the Cardinal needs more from its quarterback if it's going to make the next step as a program. Ranking ninth in the conference in passing, no matter how tough the running game is, won't cut it. Luck was one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation in 2007, and there was considerable discussion about taking his redshirt off last year (it b
    ecame coach Jim Harbaugh's singular annoyance to be asked about it every time Pritchard struggled). This one is wide open and likely will endure -- like most of the other aforementioned competitions -- into the fall.

Pac-10 Morning: Scrimmages abound, as does cash at USC

August, 15, 2008
8/15/08
10:23
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Two weeks from today and we'll all be reading about Oregon State's visit to Stanford -- Thursday night football, baby!

  • Arizona's camping at army base Fort Huachuca is providing time for reflection. Perhaps the Wildcats have found a new preseason tradition? Devin Veal might provide some depth at WR.
  • Speaking of going away to camp, Arizona State makes a one-day trip to Camp Tontozona for a scrimmage on Saturday. An extended stay at Tontozona was made unnecessary when the school built an $8.4 million in-door practice facility. Topping the notebook is WR Chris McGaha's pesky toe injury. Nice column here from Scott Bordow on an ASU freshman quarterback by the name of Elway.
  • Scrimmage at California, and it appears that Kevin Riley outplayed Nate Longshore in this one... the plot thickens. Here's a more detailed report. Notice all the newcomers -- freshmen and JC transfers -- who get mentioned? Funny thing: This was supposed to be Jeff Tedford's worst recruiting class. But he told me that this class has more guys who are ready to contribute than any previous group. Go figure.
  • Oregon WR Terence Scott burned his redshirt year in 2007 for two receptions, but he's not bitter. The JC transfer could help the Ducks in '08. And preseason camp isn't all about sweat, X's and O's and injuries. There's fun, too.
  • Scrimmage! Oregon State goes live and frosh RB Jacquizz Rodgers was the star of the day. In fact, The Oregonian's Paul Buker comes to this conclusion about the Beavers offense: "If we can believe what we've seen in Fall camp, there will be no comparison between this year's offense and the unit in 2007 that moved the ball in fits and starts, dinks and dunks and a fly sweep here and there." But Rodgers won't likely be the No. 1 guy. That's Ryan McCants. Important sidenote: OG Jeremy Perry didn't participate in the scrimmage, choosing to rest his sore knee.
  • Want to know a dark-horse guy to come out of nowhere and put up big numbers? My pick is Stanford's Toby Gerhart, a powerful guy running behind an offensive line that appears to be coming together.
  • If UCLA is going to exceed middling expectations, a good place to perk things up would be special teams. Competition at LB? Hale, yes! And the interior defensive line is a given with Brigham Harwell and Brian Price, but things aren't too shabby at DE, either. It looks like Michael Norris has won the CB job opposite Alterraun Verner.
  • Scott Wolf's USC notes include something on a Longhorn Spy (kidding!) and an explanation for why DE Everson Griffen was so steamed the other day.  The story behind a kicker and his Mohawk. And are things deeper at TB than expected?
  • Folks are in the money at USC, according to this post from the LA Times' USC blog, and we're not just talking about the revelations this week that Pete Carroll took home $4.4 million in 2006-07. Check out how much offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian pockets: $704,380.
  • Washington may start a 26-year-old millionaire in its secondary. It's hard not to root for UW kicker Ryan Perkins. And big -- HUGE -- recruiting news for Washington and Tyrone Willingham. Molly Yanity chats with OT Ben Ossai, who's got the talent to become an All-Pac-10 player.
  • Washington State isn't kicking it yet, but Wade Penner might be the guy who does so. A look at the Coug running backs and a practice recap. Vince Grippi also gives his take on the starting 22 here. The WSU Football Blog return.

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