Q & A with Coach Bryce Erickson

The Sun Devils' tailback group is extremely deep, but which players will be able to separate themselves from the pack when the season starts? We sat down with Coach Erickson to get his thoughts about Arizona State's running backs unit.

DevilsDigest: Coach, fall camp is behind us and the season is just days away. How would you assess the running backs group right now?

Bryce Erickson: "I feel really good about our situation. It's also made my job, as a first year running backs coach, a little harder because of the competition and the depth we have at that position. I truly in my heart feel that I can play any of those six guys and get something positive out of them."

"Starting with (Dimitri) Nance, as I said all camp he is the most consistent with everything, as far as pass protection, route running...he has really got good feet. Is he a game breaker? Probably not. But I think he'll do well in our offensive scheme running between the tackles.

"Cameron Marshall – he'll do something very special before it's all said and done. I just didn't feel like redshirting him would help this team. He's only 17 yards old and he's going to get experience and he continues to get better each week. He brings a completely different look at that position. He's fast, he's powerful and he has game breaking ability. I'm excited about him.

"Shaun DeWitty is another consistent football player. He has had a real good fall and is our best pass protector. He runs very good routes. He's maybe the most physical back that we have running. If he continues to work on his pad level, he'll be another good change up.

"Ryan Bass gives us a completely different look than all those backs that I have mentioned. He's a shifty, quick running back. He has to work on not dancing that much, making one cut and just accelerating up field. If he can do that he'll really be a big help for us. He's hard to see on defense because he hides behind his blocks pretty good. I'll be really interested to see how he does in this offense. He'll be a good change up for us.

"Obviously, when you speak of physical running backs another one is James Morrison. He' s going to be a beast. Not a lot of shake and bake in him, he likes to run people over. He's pretty good in pass protection and he has good hands."

"Last but not least, Jarrell Woods has had a really good spring and fall. I can also see him being in the mix. He's probably our best inside runner and he may be the fastest running back we have. People really don't believe that but he has very good acceleration. He needs to work on his pad level."

DD: So with so much talent how do you sort everything out and compile a depth chart?

BE: "It's gonna come down to how these guys perform the next two to three weeks. I'm hoping that these games are going to shape the two or three guys I can count on consistently. If we have more than that, it isn't a problem. I honestly do not know who are the players that will be the go-to guys on a week to week basis.

"You can have good practices, but when the lights go on I want to see who turns their game on and who picks it up another level when we play other teams. That's the deciding factor for me right now, and I think in these next three games we'll able to define our four (top) backs."

DD: With having six good tailbacks, in your mind is there a fine line where this situation can turn from a blessing to headache ?

BE: "There are no headaches because they are all very good players. They have competed against each other from day one, and those that aren't starting and are lower on the depth chart are frustrated and that's how they should be if they have any competitive spirit in them at all. They always want to continue to compete against each other.

"If it was up to me I would play all six of them, but that's unrealistic. When you get into game preparation you only have a certain amount of reps you can give those guys out. You can't get those players ready if you split all the reps so each one just has a few. So it comes down to 1's and 2's and get a third/fourth down back that can get those last remaining reps so they know what to do in game situation."

DD: An offensive scheme, such as ASU's, that often calls for a shotgun gun formation and three wideouts, can really open the running lanes for the tailbacks because you'll tend to see cover-two and other defenses geared on stopping the pass. Do you feel that this is the defensive look your group will see for most of the season?

BE: "Our philosophy is to throw first to open the run. We have a great quarterback, great returning receivers, and we can get the defense on their heels. Like you said, get them in two-safety shell whether it's quarters coverage or cover two and we have to take advantage of those opportunities as an offensive front and running backs. We've got to make things happen.

"We can't get bogged down with one-arm tackles. We have to get positive yards. We have to put ourselves in situations where we are 2nd and 7, not 2nd and 10. We have to put our offense in situations that are manageable. We have to put our coaches in situations where it's easier for them to call plays. It's important for us to feel like we are the backbone of this offense and really have a vision to carry this team on our back if they need us."

DD: On a personal level, are you maybe a tad little more excited for this season than the rest of the coaches being that this is your first assignment as an assistant coach for a BCS conference school ?

BE: "There is excitement, but I have been around this game all my life. I've been on the sideline right next to my father, whether I was coaching or not coaching from his first run at Idaho to NFL games. I'm anxious to see how my guys do and I'm really excited because I think we're headed in the right direction.

"But other than that, I'm just ready to go. Ready to put our product in the field, find out where we are at, correct the mistakes and continue to get better. The first time I came here is when Oregon State was playing Notre Dame (in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl). Being at Sun Devil stadium, it doesn't get better than that.

"I was in the (coaches' box) last year and now I get to be down on the field this year, and there's no better energy when you are on that sideline and I'm really looking forward to that."

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