Middlebrooks capitalizing on his chances

Saturday marked the third spring scrimmage for ASU and it was undoubtedly the most successful session for the offense thus far. Sophomore Kyle Middlebrooks, one of the break-out players this spring for the offense, helped lead the way on the ground rushing four times for 57 yards showcasing is trademark quickness and taking full advantage of his reps as he fills in for the injured Deantre Lewis.

Kyle Middlebrooks served as the perfect compliment at running back slotted next to the big bodied Cameron Marshall. With the later taking limited reps on Saturday afternoon, the running back help pace the maroon squad's offensive ground attack.

"It went pretty well," said Middlebrooks. "The offense moved the ball a little bit in the middle and better towards the end of scrimmage. Overall I thought we did pretty well today."

Last season Middlebrooks spent much of his time behind Marshall and Lewis at running back while also splitting time with junior-to be Jamal Miles at the slot receiver position. This spring however, Middlebrooks finds himself almost exclusively at running back, hoping for a chance to move up the depth chart while Lewis nurses his injury.

"It has benefitted me a lot," said Middlebrooks of the additional practice time, "because now I'm getting a lot more reps, getting a better feel for the offense. I'm starting to get more comfortable with what I need to be doing and I'm also getting a chance to go out there and do what I love to do."

As a freshman, Middlebrooks also spent time on special teams as a kick return specialist where he averaged nearly 26.5 yards per kickoff return. His dizzying speed and elusiveness are what keep him on the field in any capacity he was available to serve in.

Sun Devil fans have drawn comparisons to former Sun Devil star Rudy Burgess when talking about Middlebrooks. Despite his slight frame, the young play-maker says he's grown into the running back position, despite the lumps and bruises he's received along the way.

"I'm very comfortable being a running back now," Middlebrooks claimed. "But they like to use me as an option at the receiver and of course I get to do my thing with the special teams. I just like being versatile and having a chance to do everything. But I enjoy being at the running back position a majority of the time now."

As he gets settled into his new role and begins to receive more and more playing time, Middlebrooks appears giddy about the potential the upcoming season has in stored. However, he says he also knows there's much for him to work on now before September rolls around.

"I just want to get better at my whole running back game," he said. "I've got to get my footwork down, get better at blocking and pass protection because that's a big part of our offense; protecting the quarterback. Us running backs get to do what we do, but we've also got to protect our quarterback."

Last season, Garth Gerhart mentioned that offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone challenged the offense to strive for 175 yards rushing each game. With nearly the entire starting offense back for the 2011 season, Middlebrooks feels confident the Sun Devils can achieve and perhaps surpass such a lofty goal.

"As one of the running backs, we have high expectations for ourselves," he commented. "We know we have good running backs, a good returning offensive line, and basically a good core. We know that we can get out there and use our speed and power and we'll be able to do some big things out there this year.

"We're going to go for as high as possible! We're going to break that 175 yards from last year. We might go for 200 or even 250 this year. We're going for it big!"

As the Sun Devils prepare to enter the final week of spring practice on Tuesday, Middlebrooks admits that the learning curve this year has been much easier for himself and the entire Sun Devil offense having been through it before with coach Mazzone. Having learned all the nuances this offense contains and most of the fresh aspects the staff is trying to install, the sophomore expects it all to pay big dividends on the field.

"This year I think everybody is beginning to learn the whole offense much better," he said. "We've all picked it up faster because we've been under it for a year now.

"Everybody has been real good about picking up some of the new concepts. It's been a lot easier and we're picking things up real fast. I think overall it's gone really well so far this spring."

One of the new concepts that the staff has introduced to the offense this season has been the "pitchfork" formation, as coach Dennis Erickson named it (avoiding the sacrilegious Wildcat title), keeping Jamal Miles behind center flanked by either Middlebrooks, Marshall, or even both. Without wanting to give away too much information about the new look, Middlebrooks assured us that is just a sneak peak.

"I like the pitchfork," he said. "It's a lot different than anything else. We've got a lot of speed back there. We've got me, Cam, and Jamal...we can go to any of us and it's deadly.

"Expect to see it in the games and it's going to be big time."

The beginning of this spring was dominated mostly by first-team defense, but this past week marked the offense's best string of practices. While a lot time in the spring is dedicated to teaching and developing young players, Sun Devil fans can find encouragement at how well the offense has been meshing recently.

"We've had our ups and downs but overall I think we're doing well," remarked Middlebrooks. "Our receivers are catching the ball. Our linemen are doing a good job blocking for us. The running backs are doing their thing. I think we're progressing really well."

Of course, aside from the action on the field over the past few weeks, the Sun Devils' new uniforms which were finally unveiled a few days ago have been occupying the minds of Middlebrooks and the his teammates. Despite being a proponent of Sun Devil tradition, Middlebrooks says he's a fan of the new threads even though a certain mascot has changed locations on the uniforms.

"I like all of it," he said enthusiastically. "I like the black. I like how the black can go with the little stripes on the top. I just kind of miss Sparky a little bit. I kind of wish he were still on the helmet, but I like it.

"It's time; it's time for a new change. And I think a majority of the guys like it too."


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