Running backs coach Larry Porter shares his thoughts on the ASU ground attack, D.J., Cam and how to beat Cal.
Nowadays, the coaching profession is extremely fluid, so when a coach takes another job, it often comes as little surprise (quiet down, Pitt fan).
After Todd Graham was hired as Arizona State's head coach, he hired Chris Thomsen from Abilene Christian to be the Sun Devils' running backs coach. However, just six weeks later, Thomsen left ASU to take the offensive line coaching position at Texas Tech.
Graham then scored an impressive hire so late in the cycle, in bringing Larry Porter onto the staff. Porter was most recently the head coach at Memphis, and had very successful stops at LSU and Oklahoma State.
He inherited the team's greatest strength in a backfield that included Cameron Marshall and dynamic newcomers D.J. Foster and Marion Grice. House of Sparky's Ben Haber caught up with Porter this week to get his thoughts on how the ground attack has performed through the first third of the season.
House of Sparky: How would you rate the rushing attack through four games?
Larry Porter: We got to get better. It's simple. We want to pride ourselves on running the football, running it with toughness and physicality, and being productive as well. I don't think we've gotten to the point that we want to be as of yet.
HoS: Over the last two weeks, the effectiveness of the run game seems to have dipped, with the team averaging under 3.5 yards per carry. What adjustments have been made to help get that number up higher?
LP: Not sure that we've made adjustments. We're aware. We want to run the ball with some efficiency, but we also want to hit some big plays as well. We're going to stay within the structure of what we do, and that will come as we go forward.
HoS: The running backs had some fumbles in the first few games. What does the group do in practice to help improve ball security?
LP: There's not a single day that goes by that we don't work on ball security when we touch this field. Ball security is job security, and that's just a way of life around here. We'll continue to focus on that, and that will never be something that is neglected around here.
HoS: We have heard that Coach Norvell wasn't the biggest fan of Deantre Lewis moving over to defense. What are your thoughts on Deantre and the move?
LP: We're always evaluating personnel and putting guys in position to play and help the team. He wasn't playing as much over here. We hated to lose him because he was starting to develop a role. Coach just looked over there and something triggered in his mind to take a look at this guy at safety. He went over and we hated to lose him, but he went over there and is helping them and we couldn't be happier because he's helping the team.
HoS: The big early splash was made by Marion Grice, and he's made several big plays since the opener. How would you evaluate how he's performed so far after coming up from the juco ranks?
LP: Everything is a process and it's a growth period for him. As long as he's committed to growing and investing in terms of being more productive, I think that the sky is the limit.
HoS: DJ Foster has been electric on the ground and in the passing game, however, he's not had more than 12 touches in a game. How much of that is by design and how much has been due to the nature of how the games have played out?
LP: It's more of the nature and flow of the game. We're always looking for ways to get the ball into the hand of our playmakers, but situations come up that dictate some things you do. Even with that being said, we're always looking for ways to get our best players the ball.
HoS: Obviously, the big question surrounding the backs is the slow start by Cameron Marshall, with just 95 yards and a 3.0 per-cary average so far. What's going on there, and what can the team expect from Cam the rest of the season?
LP: You got to keep it all in perspective. From my perspective, he's gotten better especially over the last couple of weeks. I see him starting to come on and do some things special. The whole key is not how you start but how you finish. We gotta have him play his best football down the stretch. If he just continues to work hard and improve like he's been doing, I think you guys will all see what you've been waiting for.
HoS: Through four games, the team has had four different leading rushers. Do you envision this kind of split and playing the hot hand for the rest of the season?
LP: We go into each game looking to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers. If a defense is giving us something, we're going to take it. That's how we've been able to position ourselves to be productive overall and that's what we're going to continue to do. These young men understand that when they get a touch, they need to make the best of it. That's the healthy part of the situation. These kids understand what we're trying to do offensively, and they know how critical it is to make the best of every opportunity they get with the ball.
HoS: Over the last few games, the backs have really stepped up in the passing game. How much of the passing offense is designed to go to the backs?
LP: We've got some guys with some pretty good hands back there. That being said, they can certainly be utilized in the passing game. Coach Norvell has done a tremendous job in utilizing them. That will continue as we go forward.
HoS: The usually tough Cal defense has struggled this year. What is the gameplan for the running backs to attack the Bears on Saturday?
LP: It's always the same from the standpoint of, every time we take the field, we're going to take it with toughness and physicality. We want to force every opponent to tackle us. We want to grind and bleed yards, and basically, and put a defense in position to when it comes to the second half of a game, they've been worn down because they've been forced to tackle us. It won't be any different in this game.