Q&A With Coach Daryl Jackson

How does Arizona State prepare for life after Shaun McDonald? The Sun Devils' wide receivers coach answers that question and others in this exclusive DevilsDigest interview.

DevilsDigest: Coach, let's start by reviewing the wide receiver who signed a letter of intent- Rudy Burgess. What can you tell us about him?

Daryl Jackson: "Great athlete. Changes direction really well. He's a punt and kick returner, who makes people miss. He's an exciting player who has shown he can play at the next level."

DD: When you were recruiting receivers, following the loss of Shaun McDonald, what mold of a wide receiver were you're looking for? Was it a physical receiver or speedster such as McDonald?

DJ: "We're just looking for playmakers when it comes right down to it. For what we do, we're looking for receivers who can outrun defenses. If a receiver has the tendency to be caught from behind, then he'll have a tough time fitting in here. If he's a guy that can run by defenders, then that's the guy we're looking for."

DD: How would you assess the play of your group in 2002?

DJ: "We made a lot of big plays, but we also should have made more plays. We made some big plays and converted third downs that help us win ball games and get to the Holiday Bowl. I'm happy with how we played in 2002, but now we're moving forward to 2003. We have a different group coming back, and I think we'll be successful with it. We'll find out who are playmakers are, and put them in position to make plays."

DD: I don't sense any apprehension about filling the void left by McDonald…

DJ: "Not at all. It's a great opportunity for the receivers. Shaun caught 87 balls last year, and what I told my group is that those are 87 catches that need to go to someone. We're not likely to throw ball less than last year with Andrew (Walter) back there. We'll probably throw it a bit more. Those 87 catches present opportunities for everybody that's here. With our style of offense I'm excited, because I know we'll spread the ball around."

DD: Speaking of that void, do you try and find players that can do what Shaun did as far as certain routes or do you just do some revamping in that regard?

DJ: "We haven't changed one bit since we got here. They are receivers right here that can run the routes that he ran. It's not an exact science. For what we do, we just put our playmakers in a position to make plays. Shaun excelled extremely well at making plays, and that won't change with this group of guys. They know the routes, and we'll have enough practices during the week to work on the game plan. You know which players are gonna run which routes when you game plan. That player will have 20-30 reps, and come gameday it will be innate. We know we have the players here that can make plays, and we just need to find out who can go out there on a consistent basis and make those plays."

DD: Much of the success of a wide receiver hinges on the quality of play of the quarterback. Talk about the impact Andrew Walter had on the receivers with the stellar season he had last year.

DJ: "He had a great impact on the whole team, not only the receivers. When you look at the history of the Pac-10, the successful teams have seasoned veteran quarterbacks. Having good receivers can help a quarterback, and a running game can help him too. Even though I'm a receivers coach, I'm all for running the ball because when the defense puts eight men in the box, the receivers get single coverage outside. Shaun was a big target for our quarterbacks, so our receivers have to build trust and confidence in Andrew and vice versa. That's what we have to work on, but we'll be fine. The great thing about having him out there, is knowing where the ball is going and knowing that it will get there. He has a strong arm, and as receivers you need to get to where the ball is in a hurry. That's great for me because there's no better way to learn than to have a quarterback who knows where the ball is going. That makes our receivers know which spot they need to be in to make the play."

DD: With Walter and virtually all the receivers coming back, there seems to be a good familiarity factor among all the players…

DJ: "Yes there is. Even though Shaun caught 87 balls, Daryl (Lightfoot) caught 40, Derek Hagan caught 32, and Skyler Fulton caught 29 and if he doesn't get injured in the Kansas State game he gets over 30 too. We really had four receivers with over 30 catches each. A lot of schools can't say that. So it's not like Andrew wasn't spreading the ball around. Shaun caught a lot of balls in the beginning of the year, but there were games where Daryl and Skyler led us in catches. As we got better as a group the ball got spread around more, and you saw a lot more diversity. That to me is key because the defense can't focus on just one receiver."

DD: During last season coach Koetter spoke highly of Terry Richardson, and told about the dilemma as to if to redshirt him or not. This season he comes off his redshirt year. What kind of contribution do you expect from him?

DJ: "Every player comes here with a lot of potential. He's an extremely good receiver who worked hard on the scout team and in the weight room. In spring ball he'll get an opportunity to work with the offense and learn it. He didn't get many chances to catch balls from our quarterbacks, and now he gets a chance to do that with a veteran quarterback. He's gonna come along at his own pace. If he comes out and takes over great. If it takes him a little time to mature that's fine too. There's no pressure on the kid to do anything. He just has to come out and play to the best of his ability, and make plays. That's all you ask from him."

DD: Lastly, what are you're trying to achieve in spring practice as it relates to the wide receiver group?

DJ: "The things we're gonna work on are getting aligned properly, getting down the depth of our routes, and be technically sound. If we do those three things well, that will allow us to do some things that we weren't able to do last year. Again, we are returning four guys who played a lot for us. They're all gonna fight out, and we'll see who comes up on top in the spring."

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