DevilsDigest: When the final whistle blew at the UCLA game, did you have a sense of relief that a tough season came to and end, or was is eagerness to roll up your sleeves and start working on about next year?
Daryl Jackson: It's two folded. Football season is the best time of year. You get to see your student-athletes execute what you've been teaching them in practice, and see them execute it. You're definitely not happy seeing the season end, especially the way it did. That thought (being happy that the season ended) never crossed my mind. The first thing that I was thinking about is thanking my two senior receivers Donnie O'neal and Ryan Dennard for their great seasons. But now it's recruiting season, and we have to get better.
DD: You mention that the wide receivers, as well as the rest of the team, have to get better. On that note, what were the key problems in the wide receiver unit this past season?
DJ: We have to be more consistent. Our players did a good job for the most part, but there were games and situations, where we needed to come through and convert a third down and we didn't. That goes back to giving players reps in practice, so they can learn their assignment better and execute on Saturday. Being consistent and doing it well will get the job done. It's like polishing brass or gold – if you don't do it every day it will just rust on you. You have to work on it every day. That goes to working with our players in practice so they can be consistent all year.
DD: I wanted to talk about some of the receivers in specific. Let's start with Donnie O'neal. You say that he had a good season in your opinion, but before the season started it was believed that he was going to be the "go-to guy". Do you think that the incredible year fellow receiver Shaun McDonald had prevented Donnie from having a big year himself?
DJ: I think the media created these expectations about him. This is the first year I was going into battle with these guys, so I didn't know what to expect. Last year Donnie caught 39 receptions and had 661 yards, and this year he had 45 receptions with 711 yards. So on paper he did have a better year. He didn't have the game breaking plays that Shaun did. Like you said he was overshadowed by McDonald through most of the season.
DD: As far as Shaun McDonald goes, he has a phenomenal year to say the least, being voted first team Pac-10. What in your mind were the factors that contributed to his fine season?
DJ: Mom and dad did a great job talking to him (smile). He did a great job in the summer. He was one of those receivers that were grabbing one of the quarterback to practice passing after his conditioning drills. That gives you an opportunity to improve as a player, when you work on your game while others sit a home. He had a great camp Tontozona. No one expected much from him, but he has a lot of confidence and we had a lot of confidence in him. He just went out there and did what he has been doing ever since he was a little kid – play Football.
DD: Daryl Lightfoot never got on track because of his injuries. That must be disappointing, after seeing his flashes of brilliance here and there. How would you assess his season?
DJ: I'm sure no one expected him to have the season he was having. Everyone expected a lot from him because of his talent, but unfortunately he ran into the injury bug. That's something you have to overcome. But he gets to play three more years, so he can prove himself. It was a learning season for him because he got to see Pac-10 Football up close and live. I do expect to come back next year and have a better season. Our strength and conditioning program will help him not get as injured as often.
DD: Some fans criticized this offense as being predictable, in the sense that most of the passes were long ones, and was lacking short passing plays in its arsenal. There have been instances where it's second and four, and instead of throwing a quick 5-6 yard slant, the play that was called was a 30-yard bomb down field. From a wide receivers coach standpoint, is that an accurate portray of the offense?
DJ: From a wide receivers coach perspective, I'm trying to score a touchdown as fast as we can. That should be the philosophy of a wide receiver coach. If we have an opportunity to beat someone deep, I want to do it as fast as I can. It's like when you invest money, you want the quick return, like most of society, instead of waiting ten years. So, when I look at our offense, and I don't read the local print, our offense comes down to execution. We ran the same plays in the games and we won and lost. If it's second and four and the defense is forcing you to throw deep, then go and convert. We're gonna attack defenses, and not throw a lot of short routes. That's our philosophy, is to attack.
DD: One characteristic of this offense was a lack of a good catching tight end. When you had a good tight end like Todd Heap, it takes a lot of pressure off the receivers. Thus, do you think the lack of tight end who's an offensive threat, made it harder of your receivers this year?
DJ: Not at all. They way we look at it as receivers, when they call on us we'll step up and do the job. Whether it's blocking or going deep, we have to do the job right and execute. Tight ends not getting the balls as much this year was unfortunate, but it didn't make our job harder. As a receiver, you want the ball to be thrown to you on every down. You want your receivers to have an attitude of wanting the ball to be thrown to them as many times as possible, knowing they can make a big play each time they catch the ball. You want a playmaker attitude. You want them to want the ball in critical down situation.
DD: The quarterback situation was an on-going saga all season long. When Jeff Krohn was healthy, he was one of the best in the conference, which made the receivers look good. But he wasn't healthy, and his backups really didn't step up, as they should. I know you're not the type to make excuses, but this quarterback situation must have hampered the receivers' production, didn't it?
DJ: Not at all. No matter who's at quarterback, he's the general of your team. As a wide receiver you just part of the show. If he's throwing the ball to you, make the play and catch it. We work with all quarterbacks in practice, as well as the off-season. We know them well. If they get us the ball in our vicinity, we have to catch it. Whoever is playing quarterback doesn't affect me mentality. They are all throwing the ball to you, and it may look different from one quarterback to another. You still have to make a play.
DD: What's your outlook for the future of ASU's wide receivers for next year?
DJ: I wish the 2002 season started tomorrow! We redshirted a couple of kids in Matt Miller and Lance Rhodes, and it will be interesting to see what they'll do and how they will compete with the returning receivers. The beauty of college athletics is competition. It makes some players do great things, and others just to pass by. I'm looking forward to working with this group again, see what they bring to the table, and build upon what we accomplished in 2001. We'd love to go out there and see how well we do, and hopefully put some more W's on the board next year.
Q&A With Wide Receivers Coach Daryl Jackson
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