Q&A with Coach Jamie Christian

ASU's running game was one of the team's strengths for most of the season, but definitely took a hit once star running back Ryan Torain went down. To analyze the Sun Devils' rushing tack in 2007 and discuss the prospects for the future at this position, Devils Digest visited with its position coach Jamie Christian.

DevilsDigest: Coach, there was only one running back signed in the 2008 recruiting class, but he is one of the most anticipated newcomers on the squad. What can you tell us about Ryan Bass and what he brings to the table?

Jamie Christian: "We're excited about Ryan. He has great quickness, great speed, and great feet. The main thing that we do with our inside zone is we need a running back with great quickness. Bass has shown that he can be a great zone runner for us. He's a guy that can take it the distance for us."

DevilsDigest: Can you share with us the thinking behind taking just one running back in the recruiting class?

JC: "We were possibly looking at taking another running back, but we weren't gonna take an average guy. That allowed us to get a player at a different position that was better than a second-tier running back. We have some guys that have done the job for us last year so we had enough depth and didn't have to get two running backs in the class."

"We always feel that we have to take good running backs. We saw this year with Ryan (Torain) going down, you always have to have players in that position that will be ready to play. Running back is always a need and we're always gonna take at least one in a recruiting class."

DD: When you look at running game last season, do you break it down into two distinct periods – before and after the Ryan Torain injury?

JC: "I can't say that we didn't fall off in the running game when Ryan got hurt – he's definitely someone that we missed. But I thought the rest of the guys stepped up. They didn't run like Ryan did, but at the same time we played better teams at the end of the season. Also our blocking wasn't as good; guys weren't hitting the holes like they should. Defenses started to load up the box on us too. A couple of those games we fell behind and the opportunity to run wasn't there as much. So yes there was a drop-off, but it wasn't just because Ryan was hurt."

DD: Let's talk about the duo that stepped up in Ryan's absence. Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance– how did they perform in 2007?

JC: "Both of them did do a good job, but I'm convinced that they both need to get better from last year. Not only running the ball, but also in pass protection – that's something we have to get better at. But overall both did a good job filling Ryan's shoes and worked their butt off in practices and in the games. Keegan made big plays for us and the defense always has to account for that. At the same time he has to learn how to be a more consistent runner, how to hit the right holes and be a more complete running back. As far as Dimitri, he needs to be more physical and finish off his runs."

DD: Will the mindset going into the spring, let alone the 2008 season, is to have that tandem as a 1-2 punch in the backfield, or do you want one of them to emerge and be the primary ball carrier like Torain was?

JC: "To me the position is open and they both have to come in and compete. If someone takes over the position, we'll find out. We're giving both the same amount of reps and we'll see who emerges. We know we have two great players that can play the position and either of them can be the workhorse. To me it doesn't matter. Whoever gets the job done, whether it's one of the guys or both of them, it doesn't matter. Is it gonna be one workhorse or both guys doing the job – in the end it just all works itself out."

DD: It was frustrating seeing Jarrell Woods miss every game but the Holiday Bowl, but he run pretty well in that contest. What's your assessment of the job he did?

JC: "It was a good thing that he was able to come in that game and show us that he can be that caliber runner. He definitely opened our eyes and he can be a factor too. He will get more opportunities."

DD: Shaun DeWitty redshirted the season, but how did he perform on the scout team?

JC: "He was scout team player of the year on offense. He did good things there and worked hard. He has good size, good speed and I'm excited to see what he can do. He's another kid that can be a factor and will get more opportunities. Who knows which one out of all these guys will rise to the top? It can be any of them and it's gonna be a great competition. We as coaches wouldn't want it any other way and the players feel that way too. "

DD: You mentioned pass protection as an aspect that the players need to improve on. On the other hand, how did you feel about their abilities to catch the ball coming out of the backfield?

JC: "They did great as a group. They have great hands and catching the ball is definitely a strength for them. They make things happen when they catch the ball and we as coaches tell them that we want them to be part of the passing game and throw them the ball more. Part of pass protection is that if no one is coming at you that you need to block, you need to go out there and run your route and be ready to catch the ball."

DD: There's no doubt that the running backs are one of the most experienced groups on the team. On that note, what do you expect from them in spring practice?

JC: "We have one year together, so now I wanna see them improve from last year and minimize mistakes. Because they all have experience I don't wanna see any mistakes. The guys that make less mistakes will be the ones that play more. They can't stay on the same level, they have to improve. When I first got here, everybody told me about the great running backs we have and I agreed with them. But I also noticed that there's room for improvement."

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