This past offseason brought about wholesale change for the Sun Devil football program, and no position embodied this more than wide receiver.
The group saw three starters depart, taking with them over two-thirds of last season's production. Needless to say, new wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander had his work cut out for him upon his hiring in January.
While Alexander had lots of talent to work with, there were many hurdles to overcome, including a glaring lack of experience and the installation of a new offense. The group got off to a slow start during the season's first three weeks, but over the last two games, they have stepped up their play considerably.
We caught up with Coach Alexander this week to get his thoughts on the reasons behind the early struggles, what spurred the turnaround, and the focus for tomorrow's game against Colorado.
HoS: When you first arrived in Tempe, you inherited a receiving corp that had just lost three key players. What were your initial thoughts of the group during those early days?
DelVaughn Alexander: I was just excited to be here. Anybody that would have walked into my room and said they were a wide receiver would have gotten me more excited. When you talk about inheriting anything, I inherited an opportunity to do what I do and that's coach.
HoS: Over the first three games, the receivers definitely had their struggles. What do you feel were the reasons behind that slow start?
DA: It was probably that game against Missouri that there were some things we didn't like that happened. I think before that and after that, the guys have stepped up and have done what they are expected to do. But that's nothing compared to what we have to do.
DA: I think they're on course. I think they're on course to get better as the season goes. You start at one point and everything you talk about is being better than that as time passes, and that's called experience. They're starting to show their experience by making plays.
HoS: At this point, with nearly half of the season behind you, what is your overall take on the performance of the wide receivers?
DA: What we're trying to do is establish a consistent work ethic. We're doing that, we're establishing that work ethic, and now we need to show performance consistently on the field. We understand that the performance you show on Saturday is based on the work you put in.
HoS: So far, no one among the group has emerged a "the man". How much of that is by design to spread the ball around, and how much is that just the nature of a young group and offense still in development?
DA: It's good that we don't have "the man". It means that we're a blue-collar group, a blue-collar offense. It's important to show that what we do, we do it together. Every piece, every link in the chain matters.
HoS: Who do you feel are some players who are really poised for a strong second half of the year?
DA: (Laughs) I'll take any one of them. I'll take a big half or any kind of advancement in any given game. But that's just the deal. It's about the work, it's about doing the work and it's about showing up on Saturday, one Saturday at a time.
HoS: In this offense, run blocking is a key component of a receiver's responsibilities. How do you feel the group has performed in that area thus far?
DA: It's something we work on every day. You gotta work on the fit, you have to work on the energy, and the mental toughness to block. We've gotten better at it, we've gotten to our targets, but we need to finish. We need to finish our blocks better. We need to help the offense get more explosive runs by keeping those guys covered up.
HoS: What do you feel is the ceiling of this group of receivers?
DA: (Laughs) How good can they be? They can be as good as any team in the country. That's what we strive for. But our fight is against us. Our fight is against us and our preparation and our focus, and that has nothing to do with anybody else.
HoS: Over the bye week, what will be the areas of focus in practice for the receivers as they prepare for Colorado?
DA: Fundamentals. Once you get going into a season and you've played five games, you think you've got the routine down, and you think everything that you've worked on is what you're going to use throughout the season. That's true, but if you don't take your body through the motions everyday, if you don't take your body through those habits and review those mentally and physically, then you're not going to be good at it. So that's what we did. We worked on our fundamentals every opportunity we had.