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September 8, 2009

Erickson still looking for best five up front

The Arizona State football schedule in 2009 isn't desirable, but it is what it is.

Starting next week, the Sun Devils play in 11 straight Saturdays, but this week's bye hasn't gone unappreciated. Not only are several players on the mend from injuries, but it has allowed for coach Dennis Erickson to mix and match with the offensive front.

On Tuesday, Erickson moved sophomore Matt Hustad inside from right tackle to right guard. Junior Tom Njunge, who competed with Hustad for the starting right tackle spot during camp, spent time running with the ones at right tackle Tuesday.

"Njunge played pretty well [Saturday]," Erickson said. "We're just trying to find the best five guys to get them on the field, so we moved Hustad there today and tomorrow because we have the bye week. Now would we have done that if we were playing Saturday? Probably not. But we want to take a look at Hustad [at right guard] to see where we're at."

This domino effect along the offensive front may very well have started because of a toe injury to sophomore center Garth Gerhart. At Tuesday's practice, Gerhart wasn't in uniform and was limited to riding the exercise bike on the sideline.

Erickson said Gerhart injured his left big toe on Saturday, some unwelcome news to Gerhart who's been battling turf toe on his right foot all fall.

With Gerhart out, sophomore Andrew Sampson has been moved to second-team center behind senior Thomas Altieri. Sampson started against ISU at right guard but is the team's only other option to anchor the middle of the line.

"It'll make for a very versatile line," Hustad said of the position changes. "But, you know, it is a little tough. You'd like to know the person next to and what their tendencies are, but we'll figure it out."

In reality, Hustad is indifferent to the o-line shuffle. He said he played guard throughout high school and that he knows the position pretty well. He said he also likes being in the trenches where there's "no time to think" rather than on the edge

"I could really care less where I play," Hustad said. "I'm just glad to be out there."

After two years of sitting on the sidelines due to injury, Hustad finally ran out the Tillman Tunnel healthy, happy and most importantly as a starter. He also had a boisterous crowd of supporters in Sun Devil stadium. Call them the "Matt Pack."

Hustad said his girlfriend made about 40 "Matt Pack" shirts to hand out to his family and friends. Hustad's immediate family flew out from Montana to Tempe for Saturday's game and will be going to all 12 of ASU's games this season.

It all added up to be a magical evening for Hustad, three years in the making.

"It was pretty ridiculous," Hustad said. "I loved every moment of it. It's funny, there could have been three fans there and I would still have been pretty jacked up. I just loved it."

Aside from giving Erickson some time to toy with new combinations on the offensive front, the bye also allows for players to ease their way back after injury.

A couple of cogs from the defensive front seven -- sophomore defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and sophomore linebacker Shelly Lyons -- made their returns to the practice field Tuesday and participated fully.


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