Q&A With Coach Jeff Grimes

Arizona State's stagnant running game in 2002 was blamed mostly on the team's offensive line. Was that criticism fair or unfair? How does this unit plan to improve for next season? In this exclusive DevilsDigest interview, the Sun Devils' offensive line coach answers those questions and many more.

DevilsDigest: What can you tell us about the offensive lineman in the 2003 recruiting class?

Jeff Grimes: Robert Gustavis – "He's a kid that we feel very fortunate in getting. He was committed to Arizona, and recruited by half of the Pac-10 schools. Because of our situation, losing some offensive linemen, our numbers have changed and we got on him late. So, we're happy he's here. He's a fairly versatile kid, he played tackle at high school but we'll probably start him out at guard. He's a very smart kid. The best thing about all the offensive linemen we signed, is that all have above a 3.5 GPA and/or scored over 1000 in their SAT. When you have a smart group of offensive linemen that makes my job easier."

Julius Orieweku – "He's a big kid that has to, like Robert, restructure his body. He played basketball in high school, and hasn't spent much time in the weight room. He has a huge dimension margin. We project him at tackle. A kid that can move his feet like that and run like he can…I don't know if they're a lot of kids out there like him. I'm kinda of surprised more people didn't recruit him. Don't get me wrong; we had to work hard to get him. We were in a dogfight with Arizona, Texas Tech, and TCU. But I was surprised schools closer to him like Texas and Oklahoma weren't recruiting him. He's gonna come early in the summer to our bridge program and participate in our conditioning program."

Mike Pollak – "He is as good offensive lineman. He's a quiet kid, blue-collar guy that will come in everyday and do what exactly what you tell him to do. He's a tough kid that will work hard. A very good Baseball player and overall athlete. He has a great family, and I really enjoyed recruiting him. Early on we may have been behind on recruiting him, because he had the ‘grass is greener on the other side' concept, which a lot of guys have at one point. With him being local, we were able to recruit him very hard, and he came to a lot of our games this year. A great looking kid that I think will be a very good player for us. He's projected at guard, but he could play some center."

Brandon Rodd – "Another kid we got on somewhat late. We've been recruiting him, but not as strong until our numbers changed. He's a kid that plays offensive tackle, but could probably play guard too. A pretty versatile athlete. As opposed to most high school linemen who are better run blockers, he's actually a better pass blocker. His high school team wings it on every down, so he just didn't do much of run blocking but I think he could turn into a good run blocker. It's a great advantage for him to be a good pass blocker, because kids that haven't done that much take two years to do that effectively. He's another great looking kid that doesn't carry much body fat on him. I think he's gonna be a real big kid before it's all said and done."

DD: What is your assessment of your unit's performance in the 2002 season?

JG: "I would say there was a little of everything. They were some frustrating times, and times of great accomplishment with a group that realistically was nothing like the group we had before. I don't mean better or worse, because they were different in many ways. I think when you look at the individuals; we had four guys that were drafted the same year, which is highly unusual. It was a group that talent wise was exceptional the year before, but I don't know if we were all on the same page as a group. This year we were on the same page, and the kids played hard and believed in each other. They all came along as the year went by."

"We did two things I never hope I have to do again. Number one, Regis Crawford isn't a tackle, but we had to play him at tackle to get through this year. He knew that from the start, and it was a struggle for him at times. He has a lot of gifts as a player, but they're not as a tackle. He never complained once and did what was best for the team even though he didn't do what's best for him. The other thing we had to deal with this year is play a true freshman, especially at tackle. But that's the situation we found ourselves in. As frustrating as that was at times, ultimately he helped us accomplish most of goals this season. We could have done better for sure, but with the team that we had at offensive line, which had only one experienced guy and he playing out of position. So, there's a lot to be said about these kids. I'm proud of what we accomplished, and how hard they tried. I think we'll be a lot better off this year because of what we went through."

DD: Congratulations on your promotion to running game coordinator. Can you tell us what this new position entails?

JG: "It frees up coach Koetter a little bit. He has one the toughest jobs in America just being the head coach at a place like Arizona State. He's also the offensive coordinator and not too many people can do that very well. He's organized enough and intelligent enough to be able to do it. He does a fantastic job, but it's very difficult for him. I don't think a whole lot will change during the season, but in the off-season it allows Mark (Helfrich who is the passing game coordinator) and I take a little more of a leadership role in directing what we do. Maybe we're meeting one day, and coach Koetter has to meet with an administrator or a fundraiser then I can go ahead with that meeting. Anytime that something has your name in it, not that I didn't take a great deal pride in the running game already, it says that there's a certain amount of responsibility attached to that."

DD: Speaking of the running game – it was a roller coaster ride in 2002. Two main contributors were probably the running backs and offensive linemen. As far as the later component, how would you evaluate the performance in that area last season?

JG: "It takes more than those two groups, it takes all 11 guys. Whether it's at fault or credit it's a team aspect. To answer your question, we were playing a brand new line. We were also playing with new backs that didn't get a lot of carries the year before. We didn't run the ball effectively enough, and at some point you do what you do well. We still maintained a pretty good balance in terms of running or passing in most situations. We just lean to the pass more, and it was obviously more effective for us. The year before we were better running the ball, and they were a variety of reasons to it. I think we'll better this year running the ball just because we have experience in all the positions and that will make us better. We're gonna get guys in the positions they need to play, and we'll have competition at a lot of positions. We have two young running backs that we're gonna add to the mix, and we have some good offensive linemen that will help us run the ball better."

"When you look at yards per game rushing, it's little bit misleading in terms of the success you had rushing. You can't compare a team like ours to Nebraska, because they run the ball 50 times a game and we don't run it as much nor we will ever. But we'll be more balanced. The yards per rush really tell you something. It shows if you were effective or not running the ball. Right now we're looking back at film, and being specific in trying to determine on each and every play why we were or weren't successful. As coaches we have to do what best fits our personnel. Is it more of an inside run, outside run, counter plays vs. zone plays, pulling our guys vs. double teaming…they're a lot of different things you can do in the run game, and we have to do what best fits our personnel. We'll do a better job running the ball next year."

DD: When it comes to number of sacks given up in 2002, was that also attributed to the lack of experience by the offensive line?

JG: "We have to remember that we threw the ball a lot of times last year. We haven't finished tallying all our numbers, but we're gonna look at each protection and say: ‘on this play it was the left tackle…on this play it was the running back…on this play the quarterback had nowhere to throw the ball…' There are so many things that come into play. People say sacks are on the offensive line. Well, they start with us, and some of them probably are. But there's a lot more that goes into it. When you throw the ball more, you'll have more sacks. We certainly don't want them. Having a young offensive line, and guys playing out of position somewhat contributed to it. It's a team game and we all win and lose together. We didn't do as well as we could of last year, and we're looking how to improve in that area. We'll have better offensive linemen, and more experience at quarterback and running back. We all have to do a better job and that starts with us upfront."

DD: You talk about Regis Crawford playing out of position. What are your thoughts on where to play him on the line and who will replace him at left tackle?

JG: "We're gonna have a lot of competition on the offensive line. In the interior positions, we have a lot of guys that played. We have Tony (Aguilar), Regis, Drew (Hodgdon), Tim (Fa'aita), and Grayling (Love) who have all played extensively, and we have just three interior spots. You also have Adrian Ayala who played tackle, but really is a guard. You have six guys competing for three spots. Tackle position is different. We'd like to not play Regis outside, and when we move him inside you really have one guy out there and that's Chaz (White). I would honestly tell you I don't know who will play in those spots. Chaz has probably has the most experience there, so most people think he'll be in. As far as the other (tackle) spot Stephen Berg and Andrew Carnahan are both playing tackle, and either of those guys could win a spot. Zach Krula is a kid who played mostly guard, but we'll see if he can play tackle. All the freshmen that redshirted have made tremendous progress."

"Grayling Love is a kid that naturally plays better inside, but has played some tackle for us. He's a very technique conscious kid, smart and versatile. He played all five positions for us last year and did a great job. He was probably the unsung hero of our group. Chad Rosson is a kid that has been in the program long enough and he ought to have a chance to compete. Now you bring four freshmen that are ready to compete too. Two of them, maybe three, are tackles. Again. I don't want to do that, but Chaz White played last year because that was best for us. We're gonna put the best five of the field. So, to say right now who will win that (left tackle) spot would be unfair and inaccurate at this point. Spring ball will tell who's performing. The tape doesn't lie."

DD: Finally, what are your thoughts about spring ball as it pertains to the offensive linemen? What are you trying to accomplish in these 15 practices?

JG: "In order to be a good run blocker you have to play with leverage. In other words, you have to be lower than the guy you're playing against, and have a better pad level. That helps you become a better running team. In the pass game, in order not to give up sacks we have to do a better job using our hands. That's something high school kids that come in here have no clue about. We're try to work on it, and it's something that separates the high school level from the college level, and the college level from the pros. We're trying to have our players have the same level of consciousness of using their hands, as an NFL player would have. Are they're gonna be the same as a player standing out there on Sunday? Probably not. But if they can play with the same consciousness, as an NFL player has to play with regarding their hands, they'll be way better off. That's the first thing I noticed when I was in NFL camp is how players use their hands. If we can play with lower pad level in the run game, and do a better job using our hands in the pass game, we'll be way better next year."

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