Q&A with Coach Tom Osborne Part II

Ever since the Sun Devils employed the two-tight end scheme, this group of players has become the class of the Pac-10, and one of the best in the nation. In the second and last part of this exclusive DevilsDigest interview, Osborne discusses the stars at this position such Zach Miller and Jamaal Lewis, as well as exciting newcomer Dane Guthrie

DevilsDigest: Coach, after talking about special teams let's shift gears and discuss the tight ends. Zach Miller still had a solid season, but you were probably more frustrated than anyone out there seeing him battle various injuries all season long…

Tom Osborne: "Sure, it's frustrating as a coach whenever you see any of your guys get hurt. I say that us coaches usually feel worse for those players than their parents do. We see them work hard in practice everyday, condition, make every sacrifice they can to play…Zach wasn't able to workout even once from his (shoulder) surgery right after the Sun Bowl all the way until the Wednesday before the Temple game. So the poor guy can't get himself in shape, cannot do all the football related conditioning drills."

"We won the Temple game in such a high margin that he didn't have to play a lot. We get to the LSU game, the second game of the season, and he gets such a bad high ankle sprain I thought he broke his leg. A high ankle sprain usually keeps you out for a very long time, but he's such a tough kid he's able to fight through it, sit out a couple of games and then come back. When he came back he wasn't the same player and his shoulder wasn't 100%. He was obviously cleared to play by the doctors, because we would never play him otherwise. Preventing lifelong injuries is more important compared to playing football. He hurt his ankle again in the Washington State game, and for him to play against UCLA the next week was absolutely amazing. I laugh when people say that he didn't have a good year. He missed so much playing time – probably three and half games, and still caught 38 balls, which is sixth and seventh best in the history of the school. How can you say he didn't have a good year? Maybe it isn't good because he caught so many the previous year. When he's at the line of scrimmage, there's not a better blocking tight end in this conference. Other guys may run faster or maybe are taller, but no one is a better blocker. He's such a great pass protector too. If he keeps on getting better, we may just make him an offensive tackle (smile)."

"It was also very frustrating seeing Jamaal Lewis get hurt and miss four games. Jamaal just started to play as we all knew he could for years. Some guys come out the shoot from high school and are ready to go, and some guys it just takes a period of time to develop. Well, we know that we never give up on a guy until he plays his last game for us. I told Lee Burghgraef that I will coach his brains out until the day he graduates, because we as coaches owe that to the players. So, Jamaal has started to play just like we knew he could and give us great match-ups in the passing game. So he misses four games and we can never get him and Zach on the field at the same time."

"The trade-off was that Lee continued to do what he does and get even better at it. At the end of last season, he played as well as he could play. The things that he does for our team that fans don't notice…that's what he was voted captain by the players. With Zach and Jamaal being out, Brent Miller was doing so much better and you love to see guys develop their game like he did. He's so much better than he was year ago, because of natural maturity and obviously playing more. That was good to see and it obviously makes our team better."

DD: With Jamaal Lewis reportedly moving to the wide receiver position, how much will that affect the tight end position?

TO: "Well, we're gonna play him as a receiver in certain situations, but he won't be there full-time. I think he would like to be there full-time because he doesn't have to block anyone (smile). I think it's gonna be an experimental thing because he can run and catch and that's a role he servers on our team. So we're gonna use him as half H-Back, half tight end, half wide receiver…he'll probably line up as a single receiver this year more than he has before. We're always trying to find ways to make our team play better. If he can play there (at WR) better than other guys we have – great. If he's there as depth guy and he only plays when a player goes down, that's fine. He has great skill and wherever he plays it won't change what we're doing with our tight ends in terms of game panning."

DD: Can you comment on some of the players that sat out or played very little and what are their prospects for the future?

TO: "Dane Guthrie has more talent in his right toe than you and I have in our entire bodies. He's a thick big guy that can run, and he ran full speed he could probably beat Jamaal. Now Jamaal is 220 and Dane is 265, but he can really run. He did redshirt at Florida, sat out here…he's been on the scout team for two years. He's never been coached every down, so he's still in that developmental stage. How much he contributes all depends on how fast he picks everything up and learns what it takes to play at this level. It takes time to get out of that scout team tempo. But athletically, there's no doubt he has it. He has the potential to be a combination of a line of scrimmage guy because of his strength, as well as a guy that can run in the passing game. They're very few guys, even in the Pac-10, that can do both. That's why a lot of teams go to the spread offense, because it's hard to find tight ends that can do both."

"Andrew Pettes is still learning what it takes to play at this level. He's a great young man with good character, and is still developing. Jovon Williams is in the same stage. He's bounced around between high schools in Mississippi and California, and has never been in a situation where he learned a lot in one place. He has learned a ton since he got here. He's a tough guy and down the road could be a great player for us."

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