WR's and OL's Looking Good, Could Improve

With a convincing 38-7 win over San Diego, one could presume that all the Sun Devil offensive coaches would be pleased and fully content with the performance they saw. But this is a new breed of coaches at ASU, and while the WR and OL coaches did commend their units, they offered their views of areas to improve. Here's what WR coach Darryl Jackson and OL Coach Jeff Grimes had to say about their respective units, as well as specific players.

The interview with coach Jackson took place on the day of the terrorist attack in New York and Washington D.C. So, while UCLA game tapes were on top of the VCR, the T.V. was broadcasting the horrors of the attack, which were just a few hours old at the time. "The terrorist attack puts Football in perspective real fast" Says Jackson "The schedule did alter a little bit since we probably watching more T.V. than usual while working. You try to focus on work but it's hard. Your heart just goes out to the people in New York and Washington." The coach moved to assess the performance against SDSU: "We played OK. Watching the game tape, we saw a lot of areas that we could get better at. We're looking forward to improving ourselves. We caught the ball very well, so that was good to see. We could do a better job blocking for the running game. We want to improve our scheme, no matter which opponent we're playing."

Do good numbers for the quarterback always equate to a good performance by the wide receivers? "Yes," says the coach "If the quarterback's numbers are good, that means a lot of balls are being caught. So, sure we played well in that sense. But we need to do a better job blocking the corners in the running game, and helping our backs." Coach Koetter eluded to the fact that signal caller Jeff Krohn did under throw the ball quite a bit in ASU's first game. That fact alone could cause some frustration among the receivers and their coach. But the velocity of the ball, according to Jackson, doesn't change the receiver's responsibility: "Our job is to go and get the ball wherever it is. That's what we're supposed to do. Under thrown, overthrown, it doesn't matter. We have to catch the ball. If the QB is getting a lot of pressure from the defense, then you can expect him to under throw the ball. But our attitude is that if the ball is in the air and in our vicinity – go catch it!"

Wide Receiver Shaun McDonald had a rough nite against SDSU while assuming his special teams duties as a punt returner. How does the receivers' coach view struggle on special teams, carrying over to a receiver's duty? "This is where mental toughness and discipline comes in. If you make one mistake, don't make it again. You have to move on after a mistake, and make sure you don't repeat it. You have to really have thick skin. McDonald is a competitor, and he knows when he drops one he'll catch the next 50 balls. That's the mentality he has, as well as all of our receivers have." Speaking of mental toughness and competitiveness, both Donnie O'neal and Daryl Lightfoot played hurt in the Devils' first game, which nevertheless didn't prevent them from having solid performances. That fact didn't escape the eye of their position coach: "They are extremely tough. This is game where you get hit a lot. But they have played this game for a while, and they know how to overcome their pain so they can play. They did an excellent job, but I can't say I'm surprised. That's what I expected from them whether they're hurt or not."

Two true freshmen receivers, which are talented enough not be redshirted this year, are Lance Rhodes and Matt Miller. Life as a redshirt can be somewhat frustrating, but Jackson loves the duo's work ethic and attitude. "Our philosophy is to play the best players that can help us win games. If these two rose above their competition, I have no problems playing them, even though we prefer to redshirt all freshmen. Injuries obviously play a part too. You just don't want to wait too long, and end up burning a redshirt year with 3-4 games left. We are very aware of that. Right now they're working their tails off, and if they surpass the other receivers they will play. Those two have been great in all aspects. You're as good as you want to be, and your biggest competitor is yourself. Right now they are competing hard."

At the time of the interview ASU was still schedule to play UCLA, however later that day it was determined that they will play Stanford next. Both those teams will undoubtley provide a bigger challenge than San Diego State did. Does the sudden jump from playing a considerably inferior opponent to play one who is equal to you, make coaches apprehensive? "Never fear an opponent," says Jackson "That's what military history has taught us. You have to bring your troops in sharp. I have full trust in my players. There's no much difference in our next opponent. You're just competing against someone else. In order to compete and win, you have to have confidence in yourself. Our troops are confident, so what do we have to fear?"

A successful and balanced running and passing attack can only be achieved through a solid offensive line. The line's coach Jeff Grimes had this to say on his group's season debut: "I think we played OK for our first time out. They are many areas to correct, but the main thing is that the guys played very hard and physical. They knocked guys around in the running game, and did well in pass protection. We didn't give up any sacks, but to Jeff's credit he did escape a couple. Overall, we do have some bad habits that we need to get rid off, especially when we player high caliber competition." The SDSU game featured several screen passes. Are those the biggest challenge for offensive linemen? "It is hard (smile). The quicker developing screens are easier to execute because your angles are better and the defense doesn't have much time to react. The timing isn't as crucial. In the slower developing screens, the timing has to be perfect, because the defense does have more time to read the play. You have to be athletic too, and you have defensive players who are usually lighter and faster than you. You really have to do the little things right."

One of the fiercest battle positions on all the team was the two guard spots that were finally won by Regis Crawford at right guard and Marquis Muldrow at left guard. What was the decisive factor that helped the two veterans secure their status as starters? "They did end up practicing the most compared to the rest, and their game experience from last year did play a factor. As I see it, we have seven starters, which includes our five regulars plus Travis Scott and Drew Hodgon. Scott and Muldrow were battling, but as the last two weeks Scott was injured and Muldrow really elevated his game. Scott rotated in and out a lot at both guards. Hodgon has really improved, and saw a lot of reps last game. I just see all this as a real positive, because I have a lot of depth and I can move players around. I can keep us fresher, and if someone does go down, I do have battle tested reserves."

One of the traits of Koetter's coaching staff is the young age of his assistants. Coach Grimes is 32 going on 33, and has been removed from the game for only 10 years. Does the young age of the coaches help the players relate better to them? "That's a good question," He says. "I think that they are great coaches at any age, and some young ones can't relate to players and some older ones can. I don't think age is necessarily a determining factor to see what goes in a player's head. However, to say there's nothing to it is selling it short. There is something to be said about being young and having some experiences that you can pass on to the players you coach. It can be positive or negative experiences that have to do more with the psychology of the game. There also something to be said about experience too, but experience is what you make of it. If you work hard, you can cram a lot in ten years of coaching and have the experience that's equivalent to someone who has been coaching thirty years. I'd like to think that all the coaches are on our staff do squeeze a lot of experiences in the years they do coach."

Grimes sums up the performance of ASU's offense line with a positive outlook: "I think we saw just the tip of the iceberg of how well we can be, both as a unit and a team. With the talent and experience of the offensive line, we can be as good as anybody in the country. I don't think we're there now, and I don't know who is at this time. It has nothing to do with toughness or effort, but just technical details. Everybody is working hard to overcome bad habits. As seniors you should play better than you have before. I have set the bar high as far as expectations. I do feel good where we are right now, but we're still not where we want us to be. We know we're going to play better teams this season, and we look forward to the challenge."

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