Q&A with Coach Tom Osborne

The Sun Devils' tight end and special teams were two of the more accomplished groups of players during the 2006 season. Devils Digest sat down with their position coach to get an assessment on their play this past season, as well as a preview of Hawaii's special team unit.

DevilsDigest: Coach, obviously Zach Miller had a great season at tight end, but how would you evaluate this unit as a whole?

Tom Osborne: "We made a lot of progress from spring ball or even fall camp. They played well in our two-tight end scheme, they were a big part of our running game…Zach is obviously a great pass receiver as well. But the development of Brent Miller was great and he helped us a lot this year."

DD: Can you talk about the other players in this group and their development?

TO: "Dane Guthrie was hurt and missed all of fall camp, and when you miss those 33 practices that's equivalent to missing practices for 11 games during the season (three practices before each game). You miss that much time, it's hard to learn. He's still going through the adjustment stage."

"Brady Conrad did really well. He just got here in the spring, and he learned faster than almost everyone else. That's why he was in the mix early, because he knew what he was doing and was productive. Jovon Williams is a guy that cares a lot, but is undersized – he actually lost weight since he got here. He wants to do well, and only time will tell. Andrew Pettes still has a ways to go."

"Lance Evbuomwan was a high school wide receiver that we're trying to convert to a tight end and that's a hard thing for anybody. He was never in a (tight end) stance before he got here in fall camp. He gained a lot of weight and that slowed him down a little bit. He only turned 18 last month, so he has a huge developmental curve. He's a great big guy…my goodness can he catch the ball – you can tell he played basketball. He needs to learn to pass protect and run block and that's stuff he's never done before. He has some upside, but like any other transition it doesn't happen overnight."

DD: Granted the pre-season expectations from Zach Miller were huge. Looking back on his play in 2006, did he even exceed those accolades?

TO: "He does get a lot of hype and deservingly so. He's such a good football player in every phase, and such a great competitor – it's amazing. He's so smart. You teach him something one time and he has it. We put in a play for him not too long ago. We told him it was a route that he ran against Cal his freshman year in week nine and he can almost repeat it word for word how we thought it then. Because he does exactly what you teach him to do, we were able to utilize him in so many roles. Tight end's value isn't only in how many balls he catches. He was a huge part of our running game in the back side and the front side. He's a special player."

DD: Kicker Jesse Ainsworth was once again solid with his kickoffs, but do you feel he got over the hump with his long-range field goals?

TO: "I think for Jesse, like a lot of other guys, it's just a mental confidence thing. He goes out there one game for one play and misses a field goal. And then goes out there again for one play and misses…he's so conscientious and wants to do things right so bad, and when things don't go well for him he starts overanalyzing everything. He has great ability and those eight in a row that he made at the end of the season were great for his confidence and great for our team. But too bad we just kicked field goals against UCLA."

DD: In punter Jonathan Johnson, you probably couldn't ask for more of a contribution from a first year player…

TO: "He's done a great job. He gets the ball out quick and gets it up high, and of course didn't have any punts blocked. The hang time on his punts has been really good and gave us a chance to cover. So all that combined helped our punt team do great this year, and we finished number one in the Pac-10 in punt coverage. He'll be even better next year with more experience and confidence."

DD: When you look at Hawaii's special teams, what do you see on film?

TO: "How about this for numbers. They have 112 kickoffs but punted only 16 times in 13 games. You watch the kickoff film, it's like watching paint dry…they play very well on special teams, because their guys play their hearts out. Schematically, they don't do anything we haven't seen. But it takes one player or one bust for a big play to happen. They do very well in kickoff coverage, even though they don't put that many in the end zone. We're gonna have to play hard, like we do every game on special teams, to make things happen."

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