Bo Graham Q&A

Some may think that with the exceptional talent at running back, that their position coach, Bo Graham, may have the easiest job among the ASU football coaches. Yet, with the goals set forth by his father, Todd Graham, nothing could be further from the truth. We sat down with Graham to discuss his unit's spring performance, incorporating the Pistol scheme with this position and other topics.

DevilsDigest: At the beginning of spring practice, you obviously had a set of expectations and goals for the running backs. Now that these 15 practices have concluded, do you think the running backs met those expectations and goals?

Bo Graham: "Yes I think the guys just as a unit, we made some minor adjustments. Footwork, some of those things that we're doing alignment-wise, was a challenge. We were eager to see how well they pick it up and I think as a staff, we've been happy with our ability to change and also change little rules and protections; things that were just slightly different than things in the past and that are going to help us as far as improvement in the big picture.

"Those guys in the back end, from the running back position, they picked those things up well. I've been surprised at how committed they are as students of the game. Those guys, they want to win. They love football and they picked up the things that we challenged them for sure."

DevilsDigest: Todd Graham said that you would think Bo Graham has the easiest job on the staff with all the talent, but he doesn't. Even though good players will often make their coaches look good too, why is that statement correct?

Bo Graham: "I think when you go into a room, a situation like we have, you have to coach each guy differently and part of that is getting to know them. Finding out what makes them tick. With the guys in our room, it's surprising, it's an extremely unselfish group. With our ability in the backfield to produce at a high rate last year, I think those expectations are higher now. Just as Coach says, ‘The best players on our football team should be coached the hardest.' Well those guys in the backfield, they were some of our best players from last year so those expectations have risen.

"We set the bar high and now we're trying to go above that. We're trying to meet the challenge there and it's always a challenge."

DevilsDigest: You talk about the expectations being even higher this year. How does somebody like Marion Grice stay hungry and get better coming off such a great season?

Bo Graham: "We have a lot of goals left on the table. Marion, just like everybody else, wants to be Pac-12 champs. We want to win the South. We want to go to the Rose Bowl and we have unfinished business. I think our guys, we're proud of last year, but in the end, it wasn't what we wanted. Those guys are hungry to go to the Rose Bowl. We want to win a championship and he wants to finish here as one of the guys that led us back there to Pasadena.

"He's been working hard. I think last year experienced success, but again, he's never been through a real off-season. Just looking at him, his body has changed and responded. He realizes how raw he was. There was room for big-time improvement. He's a natural athlete and in space, he's going to be successful. He's far from being a well-polished, all-around back. He's made great progress here in the off-season. That's his motivation, to be a more complete back as far as his skills."

DevilsDigest: Same scenario with D.J. Foster. He had a lot of success last year but also has a lot of room to improve…

Bo Graham: "I think D.J. was thrown into the fire. I think if you ask D.J., he probably wishes he might've waited a little bit more last year to play. He was a little light and he realized how physical and how fast the game is and he still had success. That says a lot about him and his natural ability.

"What he's done now is he understands what he's going into and he's gone and trained himself and put on 15, 20 extra pounds on so that he can dominate and it's not going to be a surprise when he gets on the field. He's certainly made great strides in being a physical presence. He was 185 pounds last year and he's finishing runs, finishing falling forward. He is a physical by nature, he is a competitor and so we're really excited about the development physically. He's going to be a force."

DevilsDigest: Deantre Lewis is one of those guys everyone is going to be rooting for because he had such a tragic injury which he has worked so hard to rehabilitate from. How close do you think he is to getting back to his freshman year form?

Bo Graham: "I think Deantre is going to be a weapon for us, no doubt. He's got big play capability. He's a natural athlete. He's kinda like D.J., Marion; all of them fit the same mold. He can line up at wide receiver and he can beat a corner one-on-one, versus press coverage. He can get in the backfield and if he can get through the box, he's a threat to score. All three of those guys are dangerous.

"Deantre is a guy that is going to have a role in our offense. If you look at the big picture from this spring, he's had more explosive plays than anybody. He has definitely shown signs that he is going to be valuable to us. He's definitely going to be a big part of what we're going to be doing next year."

DevilsDigest: Do you think Deantre, compared to Cameron Marshall, fits the mold of what you're trying to do better and that this is the best 1-2-3 running back group you've had as far as what you're trying to do with this offensive scheme?

Bo Graham: What you think you give up is the ability to pass protect and hold up in the box against those linebackers who are a little bit bigger. All we got to do is tie. A tie is a win for us. What I found is our biggest weakness is fundamental pass protection technique, footwork, and being physical. Being able to cage up a backer and hold up. We understand that's been our weakness and that's what we've concentrated on; improvement in that regard.

"Yes, you give up a big back like Cam who was definitely a work horse and a big physical presence and I never really worried about him in press protection, but I think the physical improvements those three guys have made in the weight room and the things that we've been doing individually, those things have improved. I think we'll be able to hold up. I think we'll be able to have success being able to pass protect.

"With Deantre, he is a big-play threat; not that Cameron wasn't. His style was different. He was more of a freight train and these guys are like fast cars, they're gazelles. A little different skills, but as a group, I feel confident in our ability to do dirty work and the things that Cameron was able to do last year."

DevilsDigest: Marcus Washington definitely looked like he had his moments in the spring. Can you talk about his performance?

Bo Graham: "We talk about attitude and effort, and Marcus is a guy who goes out and he doesn't cheat you at all. He is 100 percent full-speed. What I've really been concentrating on with Marcus is just getting him under control. He's had great success on special teams where you're going down on kick-off, on punt, where you can just let it loose and play. Naturally, he's a gifted athlete but just the finer details; getting him under control, understand that different plays have different tempo, route-running.

"I don't question his physicality. He can block. He can protect. He's definitely one of our best guys in that regard. Getting out in route and just polishing up those skills. I call him ‘crazy horse' because he's out of control at times. We've just got to bottle up that energy and get him to play within our system. He's going to have a role for our football team. I want him to be on every special team unit. I encourage every guy in our room. Every guy should be on special teams as much as possible. He's going to be big time for us there. He could come in and provide a physical downhill running presence. Not so much a big homerun threat, but a guy who can get the tough yards for sure."

DevilsDigest: Are you happy with the development of Terrell Davis has shown throughout the spring?

Bo Graham: "Terrell has shown great signs the first part of spring and then he was a little banged up. He had some bruises on his ribs that kind of slowed him towards the end, so there was a change in him about halfway through (spring practice). My challenge to Terrell is to develop a physical role within our offense. He has put on nearly 30 pounds. He's 235 pounds and again, another guy that can be extremely valuable to us in special teams. He needs to develop a special role within our offense, whether it's in heavy short yards or playing a little fullback.

"He is extremely raw. My focus on Terrell is fundamentals. He's 235 pounds and he doesn't always play like it. We're trying to get him to realize how physical he can be and using his arms and understanding footwork and things like that, but he's not there yet. He doesn't play like he's 235 pounds. Once we get him to realize that and he buys into those fundamentals and techniques and establishes himself as a physical presence, then I think you see Terrell developing a role."

DevilsDigest: Can you talk about the reasoning for tinkering with the pistol offense in the spring, especially from a running backs standpoint?

Bo Graham: "I think the best thing the pistol does is it provides symmetry in your offense. When you offset to one side or the other, Coach Graham will tell you, you give away certain tendencies. People are going to study you and say: ‘Okay, if the back is lined up strong, then they're probably going to run these plays.' By being directly behind the quarterback, now we're balanced. Our presentation is the same and there's symmetry within what we're doing.

"Sometimes people are unsure which side to attack you so it balances things. I think that's the best thing that it does. It also opens up our vision in some run plays because we're not so turned. There are some very positive things. I think it allows you a little more momentum in those downhill runs. Coming from that position, there are some positives. There are also some challenges with it. I think we will have a variation of our alignments. With the addition of the pistol, I don't know how much we'll use it, but you will see it next year. It's something that will be a positive."

DevilsDigest: It's no secret that the wide receivers group has been struggling last season and also in the spring. How important is it for you to have your top three running backs who can not only run the ball effectively, but also act as potent receivers?

Bo Graham: "I think it makes you dangerous. What we want to do is we want to create one-on-ones in the on the field in space. The more we can get a running back on our team versus a linebacker, then obviously we feel confident in our ability to win those situations. It's a great thing to have.

"I've never had it. To have three guys who are well-polished, who you can move around, who naturally have those skills. I joke around with D.J. that we've been working on releases, I just send him down there with the corners and he's just naturally gifted in those areas. Same thing with Deantre and same thing with Marion. They're just athletes and they understand football. That's going to make us extremely multiple. It's going to produce for us no doubt."

DevilsDigest: How much is your past experience of being the program's On-campus Recruiting Coordinator going to help you not only with coaching the running backs, but also going on the road right now recruiting?

Bo Graham: "I think it allows you to understand the big picture. It's definitely a different position. You get to see things from a different perspective. It's going to help me because I am familiar with who the guys are and who we need to go after and the school in general. I've been able to study Arizona State and I've been able to just focus on this school and the things that we have to offer here. As I go out to these homes and I'm talking to kids, I feel confident in my ability not only to sell this program and the opportunities, but also being involved with Coach in the past, I understand the philosophies and expectations and what he's looking for.

"I feel real comfortable about it. I feel real comfortable that we're going to go out and have success this year. We're going to find those that want to be Sun Devils and that's what our focus is."

DevilsDigest: After not signing running back in last year's class, needless to say that this is one of the high priority positions in the 2014 class. What kind of running back do you look for when you go out there recruiting and how much easier is it to recruit this position in a scheme that is very running back friendly?

Bo Graham: "It's very running back friendly scheme. What we're looking for are guys who are very successful in one-on-one situations. We want explosive guys. If you look at this conference, those shorter, low center of gravity guys have been successful if you look at the backs in our conference. I think just by playing in space, and you're playing in a spread offense, those are the guys you're looking for. I'm looking for the most well-rounded back who can come in here and produce in the passing game, who can get out in the backfield, who can (pass) protect, who can obviously run the ball in and outside of the box. That's what we're looking for.

"It's similar to the guys we have. That fits our system. Obviously guys with high character. Guys that want to work and that want to be champions. That's what we're looking for."

DevilsDigest: How much of a thrill is it to be working directly under your father? What have you learned growing up in a football household that you can now bring to the table as a coach?

Bo Graham: "First off, it's awesome. I would be lying if I said it wasn't special. Most of the time I'm up in the press box and just to watch Coach run of the tunnel - it's significant to me. It has great meaning. I've seen everywhere he's ever gone the road that he's had to take to get here. I'm very proud of him. It's been hard. He's paved the way for me to get where I'm at. It's just remarkable seeing where he's started and where he is now. It's truly an amazing story.

"He's overcome a tremendous amount of adversity. By being able to experience that, I've seen him do great things. I've seen his mistakes. I've seen his success. I've shared his success and failure and I know where he's coming from and that's what helps me. I know what he wants. I know what he's trying to do here. We've had success in other programs and I know the changes in the things that are priority that we need to get done in order to put ourselves in the best situation.

"I've been around him for a long time so I've seen him grow and I think that's the biggest thing, is having that example. Having that my entire life to look up to, I don't really have any excuses. If I don't know what I'm doing by now, I just haven't been paying attention."

Please visit our premium message board Sparky's Huddle to discuss this interview and to get caught up with all the Sun Devil recruiting news.

Byron Kline and Courtney Baker assisted with this article.

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