Q&A with Coach Eric Yarber

The Sun Devil wide receiver unit was part of a dramatic turnaround in the ASU offense last season. The retention of talent, along with some promising additions, should feature one of the most explosive passing attacks Tempe has seen in quite some time in 2008. To talk about the recent past, present and the future of the ASU WR's Devils Digest sat down with its position coach Eric Yarber.

DevilsDigest: Coach, let's start by discussing the wide receivers signed in the 2008 class

Eric Yarber: Jarrell Barbour - "He's a very explosive athlete who could play a number of positions. He's a big play guy that always tries to take the little pass and go the distance. Hopefully academically he'll be all right."

Kemonte Bateman – "Another very athletic player, a very quick receiver. He's very good with running after the catch. He has great hands. He has some work to do academically but it looks like he'll be ready to go."

A.J. Pickens – "He's gonna be our slot guy. He's in the mold of Kyle (Williams) he has a little magic in him – he can take a short pass and make big plays out of them. He'll be part of our downfield passing game and also be able to return punts and kickoffs. He excels most in the open field."

Gerrell Robinson – "He's probably the most athletic guy. He's raw right now but has a lot of upside. He has all the tools to be a great player here at Arizona State. He can go ahead and get balls at the highest point. He can catch underneath passes and make people miss. He's also very good in the open field. He has good speed; good hands and has all the tools to be a great player. He has the size, strength, speed, quickness – he can do it all."

DD: How would you assess the wide receiver group as a whole during the 2007 season?

EY: "I think they were above average. They improved a lot from spring throughout fall. They played hard, made plays when their numbers were called. I would give them a favorable grade."

DD: Let's talk about in specific about some of those wide receivers. Right now Mike Jones is with the baseball team and not participating in spring practice. How do you think he faired last year? He started strong but his production went down in the later parts of the season…

EY: "He did have a strong start. I wouldn't say he tapered off later in the season, because Chris (McGaha) was having a sensational season and some of the throws, the quarterback reads were to go to Chris – not to Mike. Mike is a very smart football player, like a quarterback on the field. He can play a lot of positions, run very good routes and has enough speed to get deep. He's a playmaker."

DD: Right now, he's not participating in spring practice due to his duties on the baseball team. Do you have enough confidence in him to show up at fall camp not missing a beat?

EY: "Based on what I've seen in the past – yes. You never like your players to miss spring ball, but if one kid can miss spring ball it could be him. He's so smart; he picks up the offense very well. It's just a matter of him being in shape. We don't want him to lose a lot of his conditioning. He needs to be in good football shape come fall."

DD: You mentioned Chris McGaha's production. Even though he scored his only touchdown of the season in the bowl game. His performance all year was one big highlight film…

EY: "He did make some incredible catches, because he has some great hand-eye coordination. I've always told people that he has good speed. People think he's a possession receiver, but he can be an intermediate receiver and also be a deep threat. The majority of his catches went for first downs and he did an excellent job; He was my most improved receiver from spring all the way through fall. He's a guy that starts playing the game within the game as the great receivers can do as they get more experience."

DD: Kyle Williams showed some flashes and made big plays, but probably lacked consistency compared to the other two receivers we mentioned…

EY: "That's my job. I have to make him more consistent. He has too much talent not to play at a high level all the time. I have to get that out of him. All I have to do is make corrections for Kyle and he makes those corrections and we'll go from there."

DD: Right now Brandon Smith is playing well in the spring. He had the injury last year in the fall that set him back. What do you think are the chances of him having a significant contribution this year?

EY: "If he stays healthy we think he can contribute this year. We thought he could contribute last year before he had the injury, and these nagging injuries were a shame. He was growing and making strides before the injury. That was a time for him to learn the receiver position. Now he has to start over and hopefully he can stay healthy now. If he's healthy I expect big things from him."

DD: Nate Kimbrough, like Smith, suffered some injuries too last year. Right now in the spring he's injured again. Is he another guy that if healthy can make a big contribution?

EY: "If he's a healthy he can help make this receiving core very good. I believe he will be healthy and add depth to this core. He's a very fiery, competitive guy, has good hands and becoming a better route runner. He cares about being good and that's the biggest thing about my guys – they care about each other and they want to be good, they want to be coached. I'm fortunate to have a group like this."

DD: Kerry Taylor had a great camp last year, but didn't see much playing time because of the numbers at receiver. Based on what you're seeing now, I would have to imagine that he's really standing out…

EY: "Kerry is playing very good ball right now. We've moved him more to the slot where he can used his quickness and smarts. He has great hands, a good route runner and so coachable. Hopefully he'll play more this year. Last year is was a numbers game and I had a pretty good receiving core that didn't give him an opportunity to play."

DD: T.J. Simpson was solid on the scout team last year, which looks to have helped him in the spring…

EY: "When he was on the scout team, the defense said that he gave them very good looks. When you're on the scout team, it's hard to simulate speed and T.J. does have big time speed. His upside if phenomenal. He's raw right now, but he's learning the receiver position. Like the rest of the guys, he wants to be coached and he wants to be good. The sky is the limit for him."

DD: Is it more than just talent and depth the reason why we'll see more four and possibly five wide receiver sets this year?

EY: "We had depth last year, but now the guys are more comfortable playing different spots. That's our goal, to have everyone play all four or five positions. With the depth we have, we do have the luxury to go four, possibly five wide receiver sets."

DD: How important is it to have everybody but one receiver coming back from last year, but also to have an experienced quarterback in Rudy Carpenter? Your expectations from the passing game have to be higher than last year…

EY: "They are higher and I let those guys know that I will be even harder on them this year, because I will expect more from them. They have a season under their belt, they're familiar with the offense, they should be able to run faster and run better routes. I forewarned them that this is how I will be coaching this year."

DD: As you continue through spring practice, what are your goals for the wide receiver group?

EY: "As always we want to play with great effort, never have lulls. I want those guys to be complete receivers, block down field. Every big run that happens is because a receiver did block down field. We want our running backs to have 60-yard runs. We want our receivers to take pride in their blocking. I want them to be disciplined route runners. If a route calls for 14 yard out, I want them to run it 14 yards and not deviate. I want these players to be playmakers, so when their number is called they will make big plays."

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