Q&A With Coach Tom Osborne

In this exclusive DevilsDigest interview ASU's tight end and special teams coach talks about the 2003 recruiting class as it pertains to his units, recaps last season, and talks about what he expects in this year's spring practice.

DevilsDigest: Tight end Aaron Austin is one of the more heralded recruits in this last class. Can you talk about his abilities and skills?

Tom Osborne: "He's a kid that signed with us a year ago and decided to stick with his commitment. A lot of people tried to recruit him, because he was a free agent ever since last August. The way our culture is now, anytime a guy stands by his commitment and doesn't shop himself around that's commendable."

"There's going to be a learning curve with him like any new player. I tell these guys that what your bio from high school says doesn't mean that you can perform at this level. That has been proven many times. But Aaron is a big guy that can run, he's a very good athlete, and hopefully he can play well in all three phases: catch the ball, run block, and protect the quarterback. Fans and media evaluate tight ends by how many balls they catch. That's not necessarily the telling factor how well he will help you win."

"He's a kid that didn't play in two years. So to think that he will come in and light the world on fire the first day, I think that's bit unfair to Aaron or anybody else in his situation. 15 days of spring ball won't cure that. Hopefully by the end of fall camp he'll be able to be a factor."

DD: On signing day Coach Koetter said that Brent Miller was one of the fastest big players he's ever seen. What can you tell us about him?

TO: "He has shown the ability to catch the ball and run, and he has a lot of athleticism to play in space. It's so hard to evaluate tight ends in recruiting. There are only three or four legitimate guys on the west cost that can block well at the line of scrimmage and catch the ball. Brent has shown us both, and he opens so many more options for us on offense. He has a lot of intangibles not only be a talented player, but also to play great. You have a lot of talented players, but not all of them play great. Brent has the intangibles that allow him to perform at a high level, and he will be an overachiever for us."

"We recruited him last summer as an athlete. He's the type of individual that we want on our Football team. You can't get enough guys like him. He has great parents, he has a great personality, and he's a very good football player. At that time (when Miller verbaled), we didn't slot him at any position. As the recruiting process went on we asked him where he wanted to play, and he said tight end. That fired us up, because in the back of our mind that's the position we felt he could help us the fastest at. Could he play at a different position down the road? Sure he could. It will just depend how well he does there (at tight end). He's a gamer. We're really excited about him."

DD: Another player in your unit that comes with many accolades is kicker Jesse Ainsworth. What can you tell us about him?

TO: "I always laugh about kickers, and special team players in general. Nobody cares about them until something goes wrong. Everybody complained about Mike Barth missing four field goals against North Carolina. Mike Barth was an awesome kicker, and he made some money kicks for us. Jesse is a football player, who's also a kicker. He was a defensive end and tight end in high school. He's a very god athlete, and he brings a mental approach that's a little bit different than some kickers."

"He has a strong upside. He came here for a one-day camp in the summer, and after we saw him we offered him a scholarship and he accepted. He lit it up the world on fire in some kicking clinics in the fall, had such an awesome season, and all these schools were trying to recruit him. You have to give him credit too for not wavering on his commitment, and thank goodness he honored his word and came to Arizona State. His strengths are kicking field goals and kicking off. He does punt, but that's not the best thing he does at this point of time. It's hard anyway to find guys that do all three of those things well. They're all three distinctly different skills."

DD: Having said all that about Ainsworth, would it be fair to say that the starting kicking job is his to lose?

TO: "That's a good question. We don't have anybody in our program now that has kicked a field goal or kicked off. Tim Parker was great kickoff guy in junior college. Last year he concentrated solely on punting, and didn't practice much at kickoff. So, he could compete for the kickoff job with Jesse. It will be interesting for Jesse; we obviously offered him a scholarship because we think he's a good player. If he plays or not will depend on his performance, not his bio."

DD: When you look at these four phases of special teams: field goals, punts, kickoff returns, and punt returns, it would be probably fair to say that the fist three were above average. However, it seemed that punt returning was a weakness point. Why hasn't that phase of special teams perform up to par?

TO: "There's always a combination of things in situations like this. You can have ten guys block the punt perfectly, but because of one guy not executing you'll get only a two-yard gain. If a punter shanks a ball, you never get a chance for a return. It's something that we're trying to get better at. Everybody wants to see every punt returned for a touchdown, but that only happens three times the whole year in our league. As we gain more depth in this unit, we will improve. We knew that we could win the game not returning punts, so we substituted players during the week in practice, that's the unit we did it on the most. But we know we can't win the game if we don't cover kickoffs well. So, we had lot of personnel changes, and sometimes in games we ran out of bodies and had guys playing punt return that only had one or two reps all week."

DD: Going into spring practice. Can you give a list of early candidates for the kickoff and punt return jobs?

TO: "I'm always more concerned about the ten guys blocking for the returner…but I've also seen returners that can make your whole team. At punt returner I want to see if Daryl Lightfoot can do a better job fielding the ball. Hakim Hill could do it too. Terry Richardson and Loren Wade have a chance, but you're talking about young guys that you haven't had a chance to develop for a period of time, doing it for the first time at this level."

"At kick returner we played a million guys there, but when the season was over Josh Golden and Jason Shivers were there and did a very good job. Josh had a great return against Kansas State, and no one returns kicks on them like that. Cornell Canidate does a good job there too. Richardson, Wade, and Randy Hill are other guys."

DD: As you mentioned, Austin was slated to come here last season. He ends up not coming, and Mike Pinkard goes on to have a career year. Does it almost seem in a quirky way that the team's situation at tight end worked out perfectly in 2002, since Austin's arrival may have prevented Pinkard having the year he did?

TO: "That's a very interesting question. It always better to have a guy here for a year so that you can develop him before you throw him to the wolves. Aaron Austin isn't the starting tight end right now, because we haven't practiced yet. He has to earn that job. If he's the starting tight end, they'll be some growing pains. Experience tells me that it takes players a year to figure out what it takes to play at this level. So, it would have been great to have him (Austin) last year as our second tight end so he could have played, and develop him. With the learning curve he has right now, he'll make mistakes and it could cost the team. But that's the case with any new player, and you just have to live with it."

DD: The other new face at tight end is Jamal Lewis who redshirted last year. What do you expect from him this season?

TO: "Jamal has worked his tail off since he got here. He's always been an undersized guy, and he's worked to get bigger and stronger. He's made great strides, and he has all the intangibles it takes to play well. I'm looking forward to see what he can do in the spring."

DD: In last year's spring practice and through out Camp Tontozona, the punter situation was a cause for concern. Nevertheless, Tim Parker went on to be one of the best in the conference. How much comfort does it give you to have him back this year?

TO: "It does make us feel good that have someone that has been in the arena and led the Pac-10 in punting. There's no substitute to someone that has been through a pressure situation, and there's no more pressure than punting your first career game on the road at Nebraska. I can't think of a worse baptism for a guy in college football. We're switching snappers this season, and that can affect the rhythm and the timing of the punter. We haven't had a bad snap in two years here. You can take it for granted, until one snap goes bad."

DD: On that note can you tell us who are the candidates for the long and short snapping duties?

TO: "Jason Burke was here last fall, and has done a great job long snapping. Mike Talbot is working on it a little. Some of the incoming freshmen can do it like Kyle Caldwell and Brett Palmer. Matt Mason has done it at junior college. At short snapping, you'd like to have a bigger guy snapping because you have a 300-pound tackle running through the A-gap there. Drew Hodgdon and Grayling Love are probably two of the top guys. Burke has also done short snapping so he could play here too."

DD: Overall, as the tight ends and special teams coach do you feel that you're going into the spring feeling good about these two units?

TO: "With the incoming guys we have coming in, we can really build some depth. The depth on your roster affects special teams, and we haven't depth in the last two years. Depth allows you to have guys compete and play on numerous special teams. Your fifth safety should be starting on three special teams, just like your sixth linebacker. Those guys were all hurt last year. We traveled four linebackers all year. 11 out of our 14 games, there was at least one linebacker hurt. That position plays special teams more than any other. The guys that redshirted last year will have to learn on the run, but that's the fun part of spring ball – you get to teach these guys. Sometimes they'll learn the hard way, but that's like all of us after we make a mistake. We got sone new faces at tight end, and seeing how those guys do in the spring will be fun too."

Sun Devil Source Top Stories