Q&A with Coach Bryce Erickson

To say that first-year running backs coach Bryce Erickson hit the ground running would be an understatement. Off the field he was instrumental in landing some of the 2010 class' biggest recruits such as Brice Schwab. On the field the running backs were a pleasant surprise in an otherwise stagnant offense. Devils Digest talked to Erickson about those topics and more in this extensive interview.

DevilsDigest: Coach, the 2010 class featured a few talented running backs, with Deantre Lewis leading that group. What can you tell us about this gifted player?

Bryce Erickson: "Deantre is a real explosive running back. He's been clocked at the high 4.3's. He will bring us a different dimension, one that I don't feel that we've had in quite some time in terms of his explosiveness and straight line speed. He's someone that is able to take it to the house with just a touch of the football in his hands. He's very shifty and catches well out of the backfield. Right now he weighs 200 lbs. so he's not a little guy.

"He's a playmaker and I see him coming in and making an immediate impact. It just depends how easy he picks up on everything in our system. Mentally is the biggest transition for student-athletes coming in from high school. That mainly determines if they play early or not."

DD: Kyle Middlebrooks is another exceptional athlete in this class and right now he's listed as a RB/WR. When he does play at running back what skills does he bring to the table ?

BE: "He's a 4.4 guy and 10.5 in the 100 meters and we project him as hybrid player that will alternate between running back and slot receiver. We'll do anything we can to get him in space. He's a darn good running back as well. He can play both positions well, and I foresee him as another Jamal Miles. He gives us another homerun hitter. Sometimes it's hard to project where someone will play until they get here and we see what they can do.

"With the things we are going to do this year offensively, it will be a system that is very conducive to players like Middlebrooks, Lewis and Miles. What's exciting for me is that we are going to do a little two-back sets, and you can give the ball inside for Cameron Marshall or on an end-around with Middlebrooks, Lewis or Miles. It will be good to have different looks."

DD: Another gifted athlete is Damien Williams. What can you tell us about him and his skills?

BE: "He's a 6-0 210 running back that is pretty much the full package. He's a mixture of Marshall and Lewis. He has the ability to get the tough yards in the inside plays and also have the ability to take it to the house at any time. Because of his versatility he can also line up at receiver because he has good hands. But depending on our depth we could take a look at him at corner or safety. We're going to play him wherever he can make an impact the quickest."

DD: I don't think I ever met a high school player more excited to be a Sun Devil than Taylor Walstad. Can you talk about his abilities at running back?

BE: "Taylor is one of my favorites because he was a Sun Devil form the beginning, the first guy to commit in this class and my first commitment as a coach. There was never anything that altered during all this time. Granted, he had a slight knee injury and wasn't able to have the senior year he wanted to have. But that young man bleeds maroon and gold, he wanted to be a Sun Devil since he was a little shorty and that dream has come true. He is as much of a Sun Devil as they come.

"I know that he will be very coachable. He's a very physical running back who has great quickness. He reminds me of Shaun Alexander in his running style. I'm very excited about him and like the other running backs he has a chance to play as a true freshman. Again, it all depends how well they adjust to college football. But every week he called and told us how he couldn't wait to be a Sun Devil. I had a very good recruiting experience with him."

DD: Staying with the recruiting theme, you were the recruiting coach for Brice Schwab, arguably the most anticipated newcomer in this 2010 class. When you look back at Schwab's recruitment what made him sign with Arizona State after he decommitted from USC ?

BE: "I recruited him when he was committed to USC but out of respect to him, and he made it very clear through his coaches at Palomar, that he didn't want to be bothered because he was completely committed. While I told him that if something came up to please keep me in mind, sometimes in recruiting you have to get lucky. As soon as the coaching change happened at USC, it opened the door for both us and him.

"I remember all this happening on a Tuesday and having a phone conversation with him that day. We talked again on Thursday and he visited us on Friday. He obviously enjoyed his time here and had a good relationship with not only myself, but Coach Smith and Coach Erickson. I felt that he was very comfortable here.

"He had so many schools after him, I almost felt bad for the young man, because he was so overwhelmed. My approach is a little bit different. I didn't want to pressure him like these other schools approached him, and in retrospect it was a little bit of pressure because of the timing of everything. We already started school and if he wanted to come here he needed to make his decision right away. He really just wanted to get the whole recruiting thing over with and he could see himself finishing his college career at ASU. He's a wonderful young man that is humble and doesn't get caught up in all the glamour. He's a team player that wants to get better, and since he's been out here he's working out extra. That's just the type of young man he is and we are very fortunate to have him. I think he's a good fit for us and he really feels that he made the right decision. He will be a wonderful addition for our football team."

DD: This was obviously your first year as full blown recruiter, visiting off campus with coaches and players. What challenges does someone like yourself encounter while you are on the road recruiting?

BE: "The hardest part was just to familiarize myself with the area. My number one goal in recruiting was to go to every single high school that was in my area. Even if there were schools that didn't have players we were looking at, I took the time to go there. I didn't want to show up out of the blue one year when they did have a good prospect and the coaches don't know who I am. I would go to ten schools a day, meeting face to face and shaking the coaches' hands. I knew I had to build relationships with these coaches.

"We have spring recruiting starting up here and when I go out there I want them to know who I am, and what my style is. I want them to know that I'm honest and upfront, and won't play around with their players. They will always know where I stand with them. I need to let them know that if they ever send a player to Arizona State University that we will take care of them on all levels: athletically, academically and emotionally. That's very important.

"Recruiting to me is really what it's all about. I'm excited to go out on the road and see players at schools and build relationships. I think that ASU has a lot to offer to these players and that we can recruit with the best of them. I know that once we get them on campus we can show these young men what we have to offer and be in it with any prospect. Every guy that you recruit is his own individual and an approach that worked for one guy may not work for another. With some guys you can be more aggressive with and some guys you can't put too much pressure on.

"Recruiting with the Internet and everything can be very overwhelming and stressful. But I love recruiting and I can't wait to get on the road again. Some years will be better than others. I don't know if it will be as a good of a year for San Diego because a lot of big time athletes came out of here in this recruiting class. But I love the area and the experiences I had with all the coaches here were very positive ones."

DD: Naturally during a 4-8 season there are many things that went wrong with the offense. However, some felt that the running game in particular did make a marked improvement in 2009. What is your assessment of the running back unit?

BE: "I thought the running backs did a great job. I was very proud of Dimitri Nance and I thought he got so much better from his junior year. I wish he wasn't injured for those two, three games because he would have easily gained over a 1,000 yards. He didn't play tentative and hit the hole very hard.

"As a group we had five fumbles which is five too many, but ball security was an improvement too. It was hard to keep Dimitri off the field and there were many situations where we got behind by a lot, where defenses pressured us more and he was solid in our pass protection.

"In retrospect I wish I would have gotten Cameron a little bit more involved and get him more experience. But then again, looking back at some of those situations I talked about I didn't want to play him in a situation that would kill his confidence early. He showed what he could do when he was given an opportunity.

"As a group I think our running game did improve, but I'm also realistic that we have to improve a lot more in the spring and in the fall. We are going to be a lot more explosive and up tempo and we have some guys that can take it to the house which is obviously very exciting to us."

DD: You mentioned Jamal Miles previously. I know there was some talk about possibly moving him to cornerback. Which position do you expect to see him at come spring practice?

BE: "That's not a decision that I will make, but right now he will be at running back. He will be that hybrid guy who will also play the slot receiver. We'll see how things play out in the spring and in fall practice and if we need him to help at the corner position. I know he's very unselfish and he will be willing to help out the team and he can make that transition. "

DD: Injuries have really hampered James Morrison since he came to ASU. Are you optimistic that he can be a contributor, obviously depending on his health?

BE: "I think James will be a big time player for us. I think he's a real good inside runner that doesn't mess around and hits the hole hard. He's doing everything in his power in the weight room to be 100 percent for the spring. He was better towards the end of the season, but because he was injured early he kind of fell down in the depth chart. He was great for us on special teams. I see him being a big time player for us and another guy that you can put in the backfield. He will get a lot of reps in the spring and show us what he can do. I'm very excited to see him in action because he has great work ethic on the field, in the weight room and in school. He will give you his best effort every time. "

DD: You touched a little bit earlier about the new offensive scheme that Noel Mazzone will implement. Can you elaborate how this will affect the running backs?

BE: "The biggest change will be the tempo, doing a lot more no huddle. Our run plays will attack more instead of stretch things out. Some plays we are still going to pull people and be more patient. But the best way to describe the change is that we will attack you, come downhill, hit the hole quick, run people over, juke people and get up the field. "

DD: Going into spring practice, what are your goals as a whole for the running back group?

BE: "As an offense, our goal is to learn the new system and get comfortable with it. There won't be too much difference, but as a coach I have to learn some new stuff. Protections will stay the same, but there will be a lot more in-depth coaching in other areas. We have to make sure that we completely understand what our philosophy is. As running backs, we want to get better every day and be the hardest workers on that field every time we step on it. We want to be aggressive, not turn the ball over, and always make positive yards when the ball is in our hands.

"We have to get everything down pat in the spring, so come fall camp we can leave some stuff behind and head in the right direction. We need to make this offense a machine that is always moving."

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