Q&A with Coach Daryl Jackson

2004 was a record-breaking year for quarterback Andrew Walter. The natural byproduct of that performance was the solid play of the Sun Devil wide receivers. In this exclusive DevilsDigest interview, we talked to ASU's wide receivers coach about the group's showing last season, as well as its prospects in 2005.

DevilsDigest: Coach, let's start with the wide receivers signed in the 2005 recruiting class. What can you tell us about them and the skills that they bring to the table?

Daryl Jackson: Chris McGaha – "Chris is an athletic receiver. He was player of the year in the state of Arizona, so that pretty much sums it up as far as his abilities to make plays. He has a great knack of finding ways to make people miss and getting into in the end zone. In the game of football there are three things you need to do: catch it, make people miss, and get into the end zone – he does all three extremely well. He's a very fast receiver too."

Brandon Smith – "He's a taller receiver that runs a 10.5 (in the 100 meters). He's rangy and tall, which gives the quarterback a little more room to throw the ball. He's can stretch a defense similar to what Chris can do. The great thing about him is that he has the height, and in today's football we always try to find that taller receiver that can run, and he has that combination of speed and height."

DD: Speaking of physical wide receivers, do you see that recruiting that type of player has become a popular recruiting trend, much like the trend of recruiting taller cornerbacks?

DJ: "Yes that is the trend in general. You're always looking for that taller guy. From a receiver's standpoint, the one thing you can't take into account is the range that a receiver has when the ball is in the air. They are some great short receivers, like Troy Brown for the New England Patriots. He had a big impact, and he's not the tallest of guys. But he makes plays. But then you have taller receivers, so when the quarterback puts the ball a little high they have the ability to go up and get the ball. That gives the quarterback a little more range as to where he can put the ball. If you're playing against corners that are shorter than your receivers, of course it gives you an advantage. Then you have corners that have a 45 inch vertical, so it really doesn't mater (smile)."

DD: Some pro football experts are equating the passing game these days to basketball, saying that most of the passing plays are nothing more than jump balls. Is there some truth to that?

DJ: "I truly don't believe that. I don't think it's a jump ball situation. It depends on the system that you're running. If anyone watched the Super Bowl – I don't think you saw that at all, and New England has won it three out of the last four years."

DD: At this point of the off-season you had the chance to review a great part of the 2004 campaign. How would you evaluate the wide receivers' performance?

DJ: "We're a 9-3 and Sun Bowl champions – that's my evaluation (smile). Bottom line is that we got the victories and the check marks in the right column, and the rest just takes care of itself. The one pleasing thing is that we decreased the number of dropped balls from the previous year. The other thing we did well is fight adversity. Our whole team made plays when plays needed to be made."

DD: When you look at the various components of wide receiver such as run blocking, route running, etc. Were you pleased with those aspects last season?

DJ: "All depends on which day we finished watching cut-ups (smile). We did an adequate job in those areas, but we still have room for improvement and we need to be consistent. In today's game, the team making the fewest amount of mental errors, will be consistently good down after down. Our group was consistent, but not consistent enough to win more games. That's the area we're gonna work on – be consistent in our route running and more physical in our run blocking every snap, and not allow a defensive back to not be touched by us or put on their back by us. We also need to make sure that when we did run our routes we define our angles to the quarterback so it makes his job putting the ball in our hands a tad easier. When you have four, five guys running at a quarterback that's tough. But if we do our job to create separation, that makes life easier on everybody."

DD: Can you talk about Derek Hagan and his development through out the 2004 season?

DJ: "Derek has improved every year since he has been here. He wasn't high on anyone's radar when we recruited him. When you watch him on film he's a very competitive kid, he has a great knowledge of the game, and he wants to be very good. He wants to know the game inside out, and each year he has gotten better at a different phase. Last year he got better catching vertical balls, he decreased the number of drops he had, and he obviously increased the numbers of catches. He's making a lot tough catches, but he's making the tough catches look easy. He's also helping other receivers get better. Ultimately, that's what it's all about."

DD: When it came down to his decision to come back for his senior year, it seemed that he made up his mind long before the season was over. Did you also get the impression that his return was never in doubt?

DJ: "That was my impression. The media has a perception of things, but people that are involved in the game know what's going on – not only in our small arena here but also around the country. I know what D-Hag's goals are and what he's trying to accomplish, and they're still out there because he hasn't accomplished them yet. Just like Andrew said last year ‘you better off enjoying your time in college, because the NFL is a totally different deal.' I know he was raised a certain way, and he has goals that he's going after, and he has a great chance reaching them."

DD: This time last year, one of the biggest questions on offense going into spring practice was who will be the #2 wide receiver alongside Hagan. Terry Richardson had a great spring, and continues to have a great year in that role. Can you talk about the impact Richardson had last season?

DJ: "The great thing about our offense, when you look at stats the next guy (leading in receptions) was Zach Miller. Having a tight end that can run block, go down the field, and catch balls puts more pressure on the defense than anybody knows and makes our (the wide receivers') job that much easier, because now you're singled up outside. T-Rich continues to get better. He understands the game, and we just have to make him play consistent. If we can get him to do that it would be great."

DD: Moey Mutz and Matt Miller had some fine moments last season. How would you assess their play?

DJ: "For our group, the biggest dark horse that everybody tends to overlook is Mutz. Moey had an incredible season. He had only two drops all year. The number of big plays, like converting third downs into first downs, that he had…people don't realize that. They just look at how many touchdowns you score, and they're so many other little things that receivers bring to table. He did more for our group than anyone out there would understand. To our players and our group – they understand that."

"Matt Miller is the same. He did come on strong in the middle of the season and played extremely well, having some big catches. In football today, most likely you're not blowing out anybody at this level. It usually comes down to a field goal, or a one, two point win. He made some key catches in those games that he scored. Two of those games, if he doesn't score a touchdown we don't win. We have a steady, solid, and senior laden group and they have to make sure that we get consistent. Matt, Moey, D-Hag, and T-Rich - they have to make sure we did a good job staying consistent, but we have to get our younger receivers better too."

DD: Nate Kimbrough and Michael Jones redshirted this past year. What are your expectations of them this coming year?

DJ: "My expectations of those two is to learn how to play the game fast the entire time. It's not like reading cards (on the scout team) – there's a big difference between reading a card and hearing a play, thinking on the run, and executing it. If they play fast, they can show their ability. But to play fast, they have to think fast. If they can do those two things without making mental mistakes, they can be successful."

DD: Have you seen promising signs from them during their redshirt year?

DJ: "The one thing about a redshirt year is that they're running the other team's offense. You can see the athletic ability. Nate is very athletic, has good hands and can run good routes. Mike has very good hands and he's rangy. But now you have to put them in our offense and see what they can do. That's the difference."

DD: As a wide receivers coach you're more worried about your own group's performance than other positions, but some of the success of your group hinges on the quarterback. This coming year, the team will experience a transition in quarterbacks from Andrew Walter to Sam Keller. Can you talk about that transition? If the Sun Bowl is any indication, this transition may be a seamless one…

DJ: "The great thing about the quarterbacks that we recruit is that they want to come here because they know they're going to throw the ball up and down the field. Andrew is a great quarterback. Sam was a highly recruited and highly rated quarterback, and some people may forget that. He's been around our group and has taken a lot of reps. It's not like our group only worked with one QB. So from a transition, chemistry, and timing standpoint Sam has always been there. So for me, it's hard to answer that question because I've seen him every practice and he throws to those receivers every practice."

"The fact that he started his first game at the Sun Bowl - that's great experience. No one is going to say that it wasn't a good experience. The bowl game was a tremendous experience for everybody on our team. But that was last year. Now it's a new year.

DD: And on that note, what are your goals for the group for the 2005 spring practice?

DJ: "Consistency in all phases. Consistency in blocking, catching the ball, yards after the catch, and in knowing your assignments with no mental errors."

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