Depth at RB Will Cause Good and Bad Headaches

To say that ASU's depth at running backs is the greatest it has ever has been since 1996 would be a gross understatement. Coach Koetter loves the fact that he doesn't have to pick the lesser of two evils to carry the ball. However, he knows that he faces an uphill battle keeping all five talented players content at the same time.

"We have five guys and unfortunately none of those guys can redshirt." Says the third year head coach, "It's a good problem to have. But yet, it's not gonna be easy to keep those guys happy. The way the depth chart stands today, and it changes all the time, you have two guys that played for us a lot last year (Hakim Hill and Cornell Canidate) that are further down the depth chart. It's not that they're playing bad – those guys are playing good. But the whole level of that position has really raised. Mike Williams is setting a strong example for this whole position group to follow."

And if isn't enough that some of the individual running backs will fret over their playing time, the group as a whole is carrying a large chip on their shoulder amid some critics who refuse to believe that last season's anemic ground attack can drastically improve in 2003. Does holding that grudge actually help one enhance their play? "Everybody is motivated differently. Everybody that's involved in athletics finds that it's easier to work from that chip on your shoulder position. So athletes are always looking for an ax to grind. Everybody is motivated differently, so if that's what works for them – the more power to them."

Ironically enough, it seems that the media is expecting big things from ASU and Washington, who both have stellar signal callers but posses average running games. Is an effective rushing attack vital for capturing the Pac-10's crown? "That's a possibility. There are plenty of people who will say that Carson Palmer played better because of the emergence (running back) of Justin Fargas. Washington State was a great running team and they won our conference. So that's possible and there's data to back that up." Just like his players, Koetter seems tired of hearing the constant talk about the running game prospects. "We're two weeks from playing, and everybody is so bored that they're coming up with all kind of conspiracy theories. Let's just get to the games and every team will take on its own personality, and we'll take on ours. We'll try to run the ball better, and if we don't we don't. We'll throw it better and play good defense."

Speaking of that layoff before the NAU game, watching other teams kickoff their season makes coaches and players alike a bit antsy. "Last year we already played at this time. It was hard watching Cal-Kansas State and (it will be hard) watching some games this weekend. I think our players are itching to play right now. But we still have a lot of things to straighten out before NAU. We're gonna have to practice for these two weeks and make the most out of it."

Tuesday marked the first full practice (Sunday was a walk-thru) since the team arrived back from Camp Tontozona. The make up of the practices is destined to change along with the new venue. "We'll get more into a game (preparation) stuff. We'll start on NAU with our scout teams today. We're gonna do some situational work on Thursday both against the scout team and ourselves. We'll have a situational scrimmage on Friday." Practicing back on campus has its advantages and disadvantages. The obvious detractor is the hot weather, but the advantages seem to easily outweigh them. "It makes it a lot smoother because you can spread out. Your kickers can work on all the stuff they need to do at the same time. We haven't been able to concentrate throwing the deep balls like we wanted to because we didn't have enough field space."

Safety Brett Hudson's off-season workout regimen has showcased his jaw dropping physical abilities, and created high expectations for the senior. However, his play at cornerback last year should aid him just as much, as he transfers his cover skills to his safety position. "When we're blitzing one of those safeties has to be (guarding) a slot receiver. So Jason, Riccardo or Brett has to play like a corner when teams give us multiple receiver sets. With some of the great receivers in the Pac-10, there are times where the defensive staff wants to create match-ups. So maybe we want to use Brett on a big guy. Cal used that philosophy on Reggie Williams, and the rest of the conference took notice from that point on. Teams started taking a safety body type and putting them on a Reggie Williams or a Mike Williams. But it has to be a safety body type that can run very fast. We're fortunate that we have a guy like that in Brett."

ASU has a rich tradition of walk-ons who went on to stardom when given a chance to strut their abilities. This year's walk-on sensation may well be 6-3 229 Kellen Mills from local Mountain View high school. So far, the fullback has definitely caught the attention of Koetter. "He's done a nice job. He's a surprise. That guy may find his way on the field as a walk-on freshman. We're gonna push the envelope with him, like we did with Sam (Keller), and find out if he's for real not only as a fullback but also as a special teams player."

Other players that are capitalizing on their playing opportunity are true freshmen safeties Josh Barrett and Daniel Varvel, who have stepped up their play while veterans Joey Smith and Lamar Baker nurse their injuries. Has the gap widen so much that these first year players have permanently leaped forged over the incumbents? "When Joey and Lamar get back to full speed they'll be able to close it (the gap) up pretty fast. Both of those guys have been out for several practices, and when a player is out it gives another guy that many more reps. Barrett and Varvel made the most of it. At this position you have to be able to run full speed, and they (smith and Baker) can't run right now."

Concerning the number of practices that the team has gone through, Coach Koetter feels that his squad is very healthy. "Overall, other than Brent Miller we're in as good a shape as we can be. When every team in America that is coming out of two-a-days, you have a certain number of guys (injured)…we're relatively healthy, but there are some guys that can't do everything…Matt Mason and Kyle Caldwell have a chance to both be back by the end of the week, hopefully. They're both getting special fitted braces. Matt is getting his tomorrow and Kyle in the next two days…I'd like to see Kyle go when he's 100% healthy and confident, and I don't think that it will be by Friday…"

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