Rebuilt Schwab emerges from ASU doghouse
TEMPE, Ariz. – When Arizona State spring football practice began, linebacker Brandon Magee was asked how long it would take until he could resume full workouts following Achilles' tendon surgery last season.
"You seen Brice Schwab?” Magee asked, gesturing toward ASU’s massive offensive tackle. “That boy is big. I'm not hitting him right now. I've got to be 100 percent."
Size is Schwab’s obvious advantage. At 6-feet-7, 295 pounds, he has a body around which offensive game plans can be built. The trick for Schwab is finding the mind-set to match it.
"I’m still lacking a little bit of that confidence where I feel like I’m going to dominate a guy -- still not selling out because I have it in the back of my head that I’m messing up a play,” Schwab said. "It's a little hitch that keeps me from being totally confident. I hesitate, worrying that I'm about to screw up."
With all that Schwab has endured, it’s no wonder he’s got a hitch in his giddy-up.
He arrived in 2010 as a heralded junior-college recruit and started the first four games of the season, the first at right guard; the next three at right tackle.
Then he was benched, playing mostly on special teams the rest of the way and making an infamous error on a blocked PAT at USC that the Trojans returned for a late 2-point conversion in a 34-33 USC win.
The irony wasn’t lost on the USC faithful. Schwab had originally committed to USC before coach Pete Carroll decided to coach the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.
But the insults kept piling on the injuries. First came the benching, then coach Dennis Erickson’s staff decided it would be best for Schwab to redshirt the following year so he could get his technique and mind in better shape. And, of course, the barbs flew from every corner of Sun Devil nation on the conscience-free message boards and comments sections.
“At first, I got angry and I wanted to call them out individually,” Schwab said. “But then I realized the guys that are talking smack on you when you’re doing bad are the same guys who are going to be your biggest fan whenever you do well so I’ve kind of phased that out.
“Besides, there’s people out there who are going to hate me no matter what I do.”
New ASU offensive line coach Bob Connelly isn’t one of them.
“He’s very conscientious, he works very hard, he’s coachable and he asks good questions,” Connelly said of Schwab. “If I can just get him thinking the way he looks I really think he has unbelievable potential.”
When Connelly assessed Schwab, his first order of business was to decide where he belonged.
“I heard a lot of different things from a lot of different people like ‘he can’t play tackle because he doesn’t have enough fast-twitch muscle fiber’ but I don’t care what anybody else thinks or what the past perception of him was. It’s my job to evaluate him,” Connelly said. “With his size and athleticism and power he has the body type to play guard. But my questions was: Was he going to be athletic enough and mobile enough to play tackle?
“After watching him, there’s no question he has the foot speed to do it. He bends well and he’s athletic enough to play tackle.”
Schwab deserves the lion’s share of the credit for getting there. His current weight represents a 50-pound drop from what he weighed when he arrived in Tempe.
“I’ve gone from fat to an offensive lineman – a lean offensive lineman,” Schwab said, smiling. “When I first came out here everyone was like ‘Oh, you’ve gotta hit up this Mexican restaurant' and I did. I wasn’t really watching what I ate.
“But I sat down with the dietician here and set up a better program. I watch the times I eat, I cut out a lot of the carbs I eat. It’s more of a high protein diet and the biggest thing is eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables -- fresh foods that are boiled and baked not fried.”
With Schwab’s body, work ethic and study habits on track, Connelly has set his sights in restoring the redshirt senior’s faith while also improving his technique.
“The last coaching staff lost confidence in him, and by doing that he lost confidence in himself and went down the drain a little bit,” Connelly said. “It’s my job to build him up again.”
To do that, Connelly has shared stories of past players he coached with similar issues who are now playing on Sunday’s with fat contracts in tow. But Connelly is also working on a couple problem areas in Schwab’s technique, his tendency to open himself up in pass protection and his overly aggressive punch.
“His sets are too lateral,” Connelly said. “He’s got to learn to set back more. I want him to get width on the outside foot and depth on the inside foot. I want him to get back, stay square and position himself between the rush point of the defender and the launch point of the quarterback.”
Connelly also said Schwab has a tendency to get too wide in his stance, and to punch with his outside hand, turning his shoulders and creating a soft corner.
“He ends up guiding the guy on the angle he’s on right to the QB,” Connelly said. “His head and body are going forward and the defender is going by. It’s like two ships crossing at sea.”
It’s spring ball which means there’s still plenty of time for Schwab and every other Sun Devil to pick up the nuances of a new system and new coaching philosophies.
“It’s a learning experience for everybody right now,” he said. “We’re still trying to acclimate to the speed they want to run their plays at while still going 100 percent every play.”
Schwab is fueled by the fact that he’s No. 1 on the depth chart at right tackle now. But he isn’t taking anything for granted in his final season at ASU.
“I look at the new coaching staff as a breath of fresh air. Instead of having a certain perception of you, you’re coming in with a clean slate and they’re willing to coach you for who you are,” Schwab said. "I've cut everything else out, all the distractions and I'm focusing in on what I need to do because this is it. This is my year. I don't get another chance."