Q&A with Bo Graham

With preseason practices winding down and the beginning of the 2013 season quickly approaching for Arizona State, Devils Digest caught up with Running Backs Coach Bo Graham to discuss the unit's overall development, the depth chart, and how he would evaluate his first full offseason in his new position.

On the overall development of the running back corps from the start of off-season workouts through fall camp:

Graham: "I think the guys have picked up what we're trying to coach. They're in much better shape than when we first reported. Coach Griswold and the guys in the weight room have done a great job getting them ready physically. We've been able to pick up the tempo and have just been polishing up our plays and responsibilities. I think from a physical standpoint in pass protection, where we're more involved in the box, we've shown an improvement there as well. And again, just picking the new things that we've been able to carry over from the spring. I think they've done pretty good overall as a unit."

On some of the things he's still trying to emphasize or teach before the start of the season:

Graham: "Each week when we're playing an opponent, we're trying to put the rules in place, protection-wise or route running-wise, for whatever blitzes or coverage schemes we're going to see. Right now we're just matching those things up to Sacramento State and making sure that when they change personnel in certain situations, that we're aware of it. Communication from the front line and us has been a big deal. So just overall, improvement of communication and adjusting to what the defense is giving us."

On the improvement of the offensive line and its impact on the development of the running game:

Graham: "I think with the five guys we have up front right now, we've solidified our group. I know we've moved some guys around but the five that we have starting now have been in place for, I believe, the last three weeks, so we're getting comfortable with those guys. I think they've developed some chemistry. Having Jamil (Douglas) back at guard, he's a big presence holding down some space. Kody (Koebensky) is a great leader and a really smart guy. He puts us in the right situations and knows how to make the right calls.

"As far as communication, just developing the rest of the guys. (Tyler) Sulka has stepped up physically this offseason and now you can see that on the field. He's been a lot more dependable. Vi (Teofilo), the same with him. He's really stepped up and accepted the challenge and mentally improved. Just overall, Coach Thomsen has done a great job with those guys. (Evan) Finkenberg has always been solid ever since he got here and we're depending on his leadership as well.

But that group is solid. They don't ask for much and just go out there and do their jobs every day."

On the unit's comfort with the pistol formation, which was added to the offense during over the offseason:

Graham: "We look good. We run a variety of different plays, like zone or a gap schemes and just a lot of different stuff, so just trying to couple some of the things we're trying to do, like footwork. Some of those things are similar. So polishing up that and the mesh points with the quarterback , it's all been an experimental thing from the spring and seeing how things fit. We polished those things up. We look good. We're not always going to be in the pistol. We do move off-set as well, so it'll be a mixture. But they're picking the pistol up very well and I like what we're doing with it."

On his first full offseason as the running backs coach:

Graham: "It's been great. I think everyone has accepted me in there and we've got some great relationships going. And then with Camp T and getting to spend a lot of personal time together. Going back to the spring, we had a physical spring and all the way through to fall camp, so we've gotten a lot closer through conflict. We've just been pushing these guys on a daily basis. I think they've allowed me to coach them hard and hopefully we'll reap the benefits of it this year."

On Marion Grice:

Graham: "The sky's the limit with Marion. I think, physically and mentally, he's put himself in a position to be one of the elite backs in the conference. The biggest thing is he's been developing himself as a leader within our offense and being more vocal. From that standpoint, I expect him to be the guy to carry the load and be a leader when we face adversity and be that positive, constant force in the backfield. Those guys up front, when they look back, they know they can trust him."

On D.J. Foster:

Graham: "Again, he's another guy where the sky's the limit. He can be put in a lot of different positions, both at wide receiver and from the backfield. He's going to have plenty of opportunities to do both. And he's also developed himself as a leader. Both of those guys are more vocal. Both were new last year and now are vets, so we pushed and challenged them to step up from a leadership standpoint.

"As good of a football player as D.J. is, he's an even better person. He really is. He's not about the spotlight. He's all about working hard and wants to be a great teammate and he takes great pride in that. I expect big things from those guys. They've worked hard and put themselves in a great position. Having the success they did last year, and you look at the condition they're in this year, who knows what they can accomplish?"

On Deantre Lewis:

Graham: "I think it's been a long road for him. Even last year I think he was feeling things in his body that weren't normal. From an athletic standpoint right now, moving around-wise, I think he's better than he was back then. This offseason he was the highest point scorer, as far as running, lifting and conditioning, so I'm hoping for big things from him. But he's still progressing on a daily basis. Just keeping him focused on the prize and getting him to work, day in and day out. That's our biggest focus with him right now. But there's no doubt he can be an explosive, big time player for us. He's shown that, both in the spring and this camp.

"With Deantre, every day he's developing confidence, so things are starting to feel normal again. Having gone through that process, mentally, he was disappointed because it took so long to get to here. But I think he's building up confidence to where it feels like the old Deantre. And he's been out there and we've really worked him hard during the spring and fall just trying to get that rust off of him. Trying to challenge and push him through those uncomfortable situations. With it being a nerve-type issue, you never know. So it's all his body. He knows his body and he's constantly fighting through it and I think he's at a point where even if he's hurt, he won't tell you. He's a tough kid and again, I hope he comes out this year. He's put himself in a position to be back."

On Kyle Middlebrooks:

Graham: "He was cleared a couple of weeks ago and I've just been pushing him, just trying to progress him and get the symmetry back in both legs. He'll get some swelling - it goes up and down - so we're trying to work him in slowly but he's shown some signs of being able to do some great things as well. He's another guy who's had a great early career here and a guy who's trying to make a comeback. Right now, I wouldn't say he's exactly 100%, but he's real close. Each day he's getting better.

It's really hard to tell right now, just because he's braced up. I'm constantly having conversations with him, just talking about how it feels and how he's moving around on it. Right now, I'd say he's gaining confidence. I wouldn't say he's completely there, but he's close."

On Marcus Washington:

Graham: "Marcus is going to start on a lot of our special teams. He brings a lot of energy to the group. He might be in on some tough yardage situations. He's doing goal line and short yardage right now and he'll provide depth for us. If we ever get into a situation where we have Kyle or some other guys get banged up, we'll have Marcus in our unit and he'll be ready to get in there and maybe finish a game at that point."

On Terrell Davis:

Graham: "TD, again he's another guy who will be in on special teams. He'll be in the group. He's a big back. He's our biggest guy at 250 pounds. You know, we have De'Marieya Nelson who can step back there and go wide in big personnel, short yardage situations. He's the guy you'll see first, and Terrell and Marcus are the guys backing him up in those situations. So he'll predominately be a special teams guy for right now."

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