It was the hottest day of the year in Tempe and if you were in attendance at Arizona State's opening spring practice Tuesday you would have been smart to keep a safe distance. The tempo was on fire.
The tone was set immediately, and before practice even began, with the receivers group heading out to practice 30 minutes early. Position coach Steve Broussard or "Bruiser," as he's affectionately known, got down to business quickly, leading his players in drills and warm ups. His intensity was carried throughout practice, implementing different drills new to the receivers. During a ladder drill requiring swift, precise footwork, redshirt freshman Kevin Ozier stepped on Broussard's foot. The incident did not go unnoticed with Broussard shouting, "We need to work on your footwork 'cause you just stepped on my damn feet!"
The addition of first-year offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone created a fresh new atmosphere. He was by far the most vocal, fast-paced, and exuberant one on the field. While switching sides of the field he shouted, "Woo-hoo yeah, yeah baby!" to nobody in particular. Mazzone's energy was infectious causing the players to add in their own excitement. It was interesting to see the difference between Mazzone and former coach Rich Olson simply by their "swagger." Mazzone's conspicuous presence is definitely changing the environment during practice. Drills for offense were on-going and had little-to-no breaks in between, emblematic of Mazzone's personality and preffered style of play.
All of the quarterbacks showed subtle but definite improvement in their mechanics, specifically Brock Osweiler holding the ball in a better position before bringing it to his release point. Steven Threet looked extremely confident in a new drill in which the quarterbacks fired balls at a target about eight feet high with three holes -- all at three different heights -- which resembled someone's idea of a carnival game. The equipment was in use primarily when the quarterbacks were throwing what appeared to be quick flanker screen passes.
Practice started in stark contrast to anything we've observed previously in the Dennis Erickson-era at ASU, with hip-hop music blaring from overhead speakers as the players went through a series of warm up stretches, some of which were more involved than what typically was the norm in the past. It created a more uplifting atmosphere, energizing the players from the outset. Word around practice was that junior cornerback Omar Bolden was largely responsible for selling coaches on the idea, with head Sports Performance coach Ben Hilgart having a role as well. The practice started off with the sound of Flo Rida and Lil'Wayne performing "American Superstar." The music pumped the team up-and the energy never faded. It's unclear how much was the result of the music, and how much was the product of the increased practice tempo, but certainly the music made the players happier at the outset.
The only tight end to work with receivers in position specific work was Chris Coyle and the significance was clear to understand when Coyle was used exclusively as an extra stand up slot receiver in team segments, usually when the team went to four-wide looks. Coyle was one of the most impressive pass catchers in the session, including a diving play at the sideline with safety Shane McCullen in solid defensive position but unable to do anything due to the perfectly thrown ball combined with Coyle's acrobatics.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi. Redshirt freshman linebacker Anthony Jones, who is called "Mississippi" by teammates after the name of his birth state, had two interceptions in team segments of practice. One of which was a diving play where he got his fingertips just between the ball and the ground, was arguably the defensive play of the day, of which there were many to choose froom, including no fewer than five interceptions in team periods.
There were a number of spectators out to watch the first day of practice. Not surprisingly, 2010 ASU signee Ramon Abreu was among those in attendance. The Marcos de Niza athlete, who won the Ed Doherty Award given annually to the state's best football player, is known for his work ethic and that was clearly on display Tuesday as he focused on getting mental reps watching the safeties in action. Saguaro defensive end Jordan McDonald was also there observing his soon-to-be teammates. Danny Sullivan and Shawn Lauvao were the seniors who came out to support their former teammates.