After the golden era of Tempe tight ends, the position vanished for years in the Sun Devil offense. This year, Chris Coyle has brought it back with a vengeance, and last Saturday he had one of his best games of the year, hauling in five passes for 85 yards and a touchdown against the Trojans.
We caught up with the junior after practice to get his thoughts on the recent struggles, the growing unrest fans have with his quarterback, and his charge at the record books.
House of Sparky: Breakdown the play on which you scored your touchdown against USC.
Chris Coyle: I started out by rolling out into the flat a little bit. I'm supposed to give the quarterback my eyes just in case he needs that little outlet route. If I get close to the sideline, I'm supposed to turn it up, and I just happened to get behind that linebacker who was trying to guard me (Lamar Dawson). I just have a little more speed than him, and I was able to get some separation and just look the ball all the way in and caught it.
HoS: Your touchdown reception was one of the few times the team has thrown downfield over the last few weeks. What are the reasons for that shift to a shorter passing game?
CC: I'm not sure of the reasoning behind that actually. I know that we're going to try to get back to more of the running game. That's what our offense is: Pound it hard then spread around a little bit. We're going to get back to that and hopefully it will open up some more of the deep ball opportunities.
HoS: Over the last two games, the offense has hit a wall in the second half. In your view, what is the reason for those struggles?
CC: There might have been a little bit of confusion out there. We've been running well. I'm not sure exactly what was going on in other guys' heads. It's just something that we really need to focus on in practice, to really focus on technique, our assignments. The minor mistakes can really ruin big plays. The smallest mistake can really ruin a play. Everybody is focusing on being as perfect as possible and making sure they are assignment sound.
HoS: The new offensive system of Mike Norvell nearly has a full season under its belt here in Tempe. How would you evaluate it so far, and how close to do you think the players are to being total comfortable in the offense?
CC: We're very comfortable now. It was a little weird at first changing over from the spread offense. But we;ve gotten into the mindset that we're going to be that more physical team on the field. I think everybody has bought in and everybody has gone out there with that mindset that we're going to take it to the other team. Not necessarily finesse it everywhere. We might do that after we pound it on them for a little while. It's just some hard nosed football.
HoS: A lot of criticism this week has been directed at quarterback Taylor Kelly, although much of it seems to miss factors beyond his control. What's your evaluation of your quarterback's play currently, and how he is growing into the role?
CC: I think TK is doing a great job. It's been a little rough, and there's some time that it was a bad decision, but he's also getting rushed out of the pocket a lot and just trying to make plays. For his first year, he's done a great job. He's made so many big plays just because of how mobile he is. When he gets out of the pocket, defenders start losing sight of their receivers, and he's able to find the hole and get the ball to somebody.
HoS: You have 48 catches on the year, just eight shy of Zach Miller's school record for a tight end. What does getting that record mean to you?
CC: It means so much to me. I heard about it at the beginning of the year, and I knew how many he had. I wasn't sure that I would be able to get that far, but now that it's getting close to the end of the year and I'm right there, I'm just striving to catch everything thrown my way. I'm not going to change my mindset. It's not going to affect me like that. I just do my absolute best to get open and catch everything.
HoS: Now that you've got 10 games under your belt as a starter, what aspects of your game have pleased you, and which do you think are the areas in which you'd like to improve most?
CC: The biggest thing I've worked on to develop is my blocking. I'm not the biggest tight end. I know I can run routes. I know I can catch passes. The biggest question about me was my blocking, and I've worked really hard throughout the year. I feel I've done a pretty good job blocking every defensive end now matter how big they are, no matter if they are 280 pounds. I'm still able to move them around a bit and get them out of the way. I think I've most improved on that.
HoS: What do you think is the mindset of the offensive players is now, given the four-game losing streak?
CC: We got to pick our stuff up. We need to pick up where we left off when we were driving down on teams. We've still been doing that, but it's about maintaining it for the entire game. We've had some bright spots where we have some big plays and put together a good drive. The biggest thing is maintaining it throughout the game and we need to get back to that.
HoS: Heading into Saturday's crucial game, what has been the focus been on during practice this week?
CC: We've focused on tempo. We always focus on tempo, but technique along with the tempo. Because sometimes when you speed the offense up a little bit, things can get sloppy. We've been focusing on staying mentally tough, and being able to get right up to the line after a play and do exactly what we're supposed to do. Everybody's got to do their job or else the play is over.
HoS: The Cougar secondary seems to be vulnerable. What is going to be the gameplan to attack them?
CC: Even though they've been having trouble, we're still going to attack them up front. We got a good run game, but once we attack them up front, they'll come down a little bit and we'll be able to open up the secondary for us. We'll be able to fit some passes in there, and I know Taylor will do a great job.
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