Q&A with Coach Jamie Christian

Last season the ASU tight ends' performance in the running game was in sharp contrast to their contributions in the passing attack. Special teams surprised many with their punting improvement, while the kicking game greatly suffered because of a key injury. ASU's TE's and Special Teams Coach Jamie Christian talks about those units' 2009 performance and his expectations for those groups this year.

DevilsDigest: Coach, there was one tight end signed in the 2010 class, Josh Fulton from Phoenix St. Mary's. What can you tell us about his abilities?

Jamie Christian: "Josh is a very athletic tight end and that's what we were looking for. He has good frame, good size, can run good routes and has good hands. His athleticism really stands out and at 6-3 240 he has solid size coming out of high school. He has an opportunity to be a really good player and I look forward to working with him."

DD: How would you rate the overall performance of the tight ends in 2009?

JC: "I thought we were solid in the running game and those guys were almost unsung heroes. We didn't throw to them a lot, but I thought they did a very good job run blocking and that really helped improve our running game from the year before. They have to do a better job catching the ball and that's something we talked to them about during last year. As a tight end if you are blocking all the time and never get the ball thrown to you tend to lose focus."

DD: Last season's injury to Dan Knapp obviously hurt the group, being that he may have been the best tight end you had then. How would you sum up his production and how is his health coming into this season?

JC: "He's a lot healthier now. Last year he was coming off a previous injury and I thought he was making great strides before he got injured again. He did some serious blocking there even though he wasn't moving as well because he was coming back from an injury. Hopefully, this year his knees will be healthier so he run routes better and gets an opportunity to catch the ball more."

DD: Steven Figueroa is a young player who was also hampered by injuries. In the limited playing time he did see, how would you assess his first season of playing after redshirting his first year?

JC: "Like you said he didn't play much because of injuries, but if he can get a good spring under his belt and get stronger, his athleticism will help him become a much better player."

DD: Trevor Kohl started out as a walk-on and got extensive playing time in the later part of the season. Can you talk about what you saw from him in 2009?

JC: "Trevor can do a little bit of everything. He does a good job blocking and running routes. He has solid hands and is also very physical at the point of attack. He's one of the guys that towards the end of the season I felt the most comfortable with, as far as being able to both block and catch. We obviously can't have a one tight end who can only block and a second one who can only catch. You then become very predictable in your offense. He really worked his butt off last year and was a huge plus for our position."

DD: During fall camp both true freshmen Christopher Coyle and Max Smith showed very well, and there was talk about possibly not redshirting one or both of them. How do you feel they project for the 2010 season?

JC: "I'm excited about both those kids. They are two different types of players. Chris is more of the athletic tight end who can catch the ball and run great routes, while Max is more of a physical player. Both of them have great upside. Obviously the challenge for Chris is to be more physical and for Max to do a better job running routes and catching the ball. The more those two guys improve on their weaknesses, the more they will have a chance to contribute to the team ."

DD: With the new offensive scheme installed by Noel Mazzone, how does the tight ends' role change, if any, from last year?

JC: "They will be aware of catching the ball and running more routes. We still will have some plays that we will run that are similar to last year. The whole no huddle aspect is something that they have to adjust to. But again, they need to be more of a receiver than they were last year.

"In certain formations the blocking will still be the same. But when we are spread out more the tight ends sometimes will line up like a wide receiver."

DD: When talking about special teams in 2009 the big story was obviously the hamstring injury to Thomas Weber which prevented him from kicking most of the season. How do you think he will fare this year?

JC: "I think Web will have a big season. He is always focused and he is the constant worker, and he will really come out strong this year.

"I'm just real excited about special teams as a whole. We have the spring to improve on some stuff, like our return game. Right now we are looking at what we did last year and how we can improve."

DD: One of the biggest surprises of last year's team, maybe the biggest of them all, was the play of punter Trevor Hankins. He is another walk-on that came from out of nowhere to have a solid season…

JC: "He did a great job and at one time he actually led the Pac-10 in punting. We have to do a better job covering punts. We weren't awful but we could be better. He was definitely a plus and I know he can get even better. So I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do this year."

DD: How would you rate the return game from last year and which players can we expect to carry out the kick and punt return duties?

JC: "I like what we did, but we have to get even better in practice. Kickoff coverage was good, we were around 11th in the nation and that was without having a great kicker like Weber. So that tells you that all the players in that group did a good job knowing their assignments. Being 11th in the nation with only three touchbacks means that you are covering a lot of kicks.

"We need to get back on par with our punt coverage. We were one of the best in the nation a couple years before and last year we were around fifth in the Pac-10 and we need to get better.

"We won't do too much kickoff return in the spring, so we'll focus more on punt return. A couple of guys we are going to look at (as returners) are Jamal Miles, Omar Bolden, Kerry Taylor, A.J. Pickens, Aaron Pflugrad…but it really is up the air to be honest. Kyle Williams was our guy for the last three years and we need to find out who will replace him. We're not looking only at a guy that can make plays but also someone that catch the ball and secure it."

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