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April 6, 2012Versatility and athleticism are qualities that Arizona State University's offensive line need to have now more than ever.
The Sun Devils' new identity is a run-first, offense making the offensive line's role more physically demanding.
"Right now as a tackle we put our hand in the ground instead of being in a two-point," junior Evan Finkenberg said. "As a whole offensive line we try to create a certain atmosphere out there with a little more smash mouth football."
Senior guard Andrew Sampson, arguably the team's best run blocker, has an upbeat attitude about the new Sun Devil offense as well.
"It is an offensive lineman's dream to run this kind of offense," Sampson said.
Finkenberg, a 2010 Rivals.com Pac-10 all-freshman first team honoree, is not only focused on being a cutthroat offensive lineman but also taking the role as a leader for the offense.
"Right now I'm just trying to be a leader for the O-line," he said. "Just trying to be a vocal leader out there and for the team and just trying to motivate the guys and work hard everyday."
ASU coach Todd Graham said he didn't know what to expect from the offensive line coming into the job but has been pleased to the point of calling it the most surprisingly positive thing he's seen with the team.
"I am really encouraged," Graham said. "We feel good about that group. This is hard for those big guys. They were not in shape. But I've been very pleased. There's all kinds of different things that we're doing that's been different than anything they've done. That's been a bright spot."
Finkenberg and Sampson, as leaders who have been pointed to repeatedly by Graham, have noticed less experienced offensive linemen also making positive strides.
"I think a lot of younger guys are stepping up," Finkenberg said. "(sophomore guard/tackle) Jamil Douglas doesn't have a lot of career starts but he is out there and he's working really well and he's playing really well next to me right now."
Sampson also pointed out younger players' improvements.
"They are all coming along. (Redshirt freshman guard) Vi (Teofilo) and (redshirt freshman center/guard) Mo (Latu) are the two (physically) strongest linemen that we have," Sampson said. "They have to gain an understanding of football more but that will come with time. And then (sophomore Sil Ajawara's) technique is coming along everyday and then (redshirt freshman) Devin (Goodman) as well."
With the new run offense and coaching staff, the 6-foot-6, 299 pound Finkenberg feels like he is getting a new prospective on the game.
"With a new coach they point out different things to you that you might not have noticed," he said. "They are teaching different techniques. But I'm excited to keep learning."
Sampson would agree with Finkenberg when it comes to what the coaches are teaching this spring.
"It's all [coach Bob Connelly] preaches, is technique, technique, technique," he said. "Before we go out to practice we have a couple things we work on every day. So we are conscious of it."
Graham and Connelly bring high intensity to each practice and are constantly educating players to improve the Sun Devil offense, Finkenberg and Sampson agreed.
"If you have a head coach that is fired up to be out here then the whole team kind of gets more excited." Finkenberg said.
"We are trying to create an identity on offense, a run-first kind of offense and try to get better everyday."