The 2013 Sun Devil season was one full of transition both on and off the field, and that was certainly embodied with the team's wide receivers.
Left with massive holes to fill after the departures of Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie, ASU's wide receivers struggled throughout the year in providing a consistent threat for the offense. The changes were not limited to on-field personnel, as the group was learning a new offense and adapting to their new position coach, DelVaughn Alexander.
Coach Alexander was in the midst of his own transition, coming over from the ground-and-pound scheme of Wisconsin to ASU's up-tempo spread attack.
Once again facing an upheaval atop the depth chart, Coach Alexander now leads a very talented but unproven group of wide receivers into spring practice, which starts today. I caught up with him to discuss the lessons learned from 2012, get his thoughts on his 2013 roster, and what the goals are for this upcoming season.
Now a few months after the season, what are some of the positives you took away from the 2012 season?
DelVaughn Alexander: The guys' work ethic. You can never undervalue the work ethic that the guys gave us coming in as a new staff. That transition is never easy, and I think those guys tried their best to adjust to a new staff and continue to work throughout the season. The product of that was our late-season success that we were able to have as a team.
On the other hand, what were some of the negatives and areas of improvement that you identified?
DA: As a coach, I didn't think we were as productive as we wanted to be as a group. That's one of the areas that we'll definitely work to improve upon. I don't think we were as consistent as a group, and we're going to fight for consistency every day.
The returning wide receivers only accounted for 17% of the team's receiving production last year. How concerned are you with the lack of proven production of the group?
DA: I'm not overly concerned. I think last year was also a transition for me. Adjusting from running the football every down at Wisconsin, being in a huddle, slow-it-down offense, to going to the fast break, up-tempo offense that we run here. It was a transition for me as well. I'm sharper. I'm a better coach here now in 2013.
How much better do you think the players will be now that they have a full year in the offensive system?
DA: The sky's the limit. I think that these guys really understand our expectations. They understand our scheme. We talk about it daily here during the offseason. A year ago, after a series or a few plays during practice, guys were on a knee and chugging water. As the season went on, we're standing up, focused, paying attention to what's going on on the field, even when you're taking a break. Now, we don't even have to talk about those things. We can attack the field every single down, every single play at practice.
Let's get your take on some of the key returning players and where they stand heading into spring practice, starting with Kevin Ozier.
DA: Kevin Ozier is a senior. Kevin Ozier is a leader. Kevin Ozier is an established player. So I'm looking forward those qualities every single day. I'm also looking forward to him improving. There's some fundamental skills he has to improve upon. There's some competitive and mentally tough things that he has to improve on. That's what I'm looking for out of Kevin.
DA: I think Alonzo is very, very hungry. I'm looking forward to seeing the fire inside of him. But I'm also looking for him stepping up to the challenge of being productive and finding a role. Every day is going to be a challenge between the two of us, and I'm looking forward to him having a lot of success.
DA: Rick Smith, fortunately, did not redshirt. When you talk about expectations and when you talk about experience, he knows me as a coach. He knows exactly what it is that I'm looking for. He knows my coaching style, and he should know that I have his back and that there's a large amount of trust. I think that's a huge advantage for a guy with a lot of talent.
DA: Gary Chambers is a guy I speak to regularly about being a mature player. I talk to him about that this is his time. He's going into his third season. This is when players like Gary step onto the scene and have a chance to make plays.
Most of the talk surrounding the five wide receivers coming in surrounded Jaelen Strong, with Coach Graham calling him "the most dynamic receiver I've seen in a long time on film". What is your scouting report on Strong, and what impact do you expect from him in 2013?
DA: Jaelen obviously has big talent. He's got really good speed and he can catch the ball. He's a big time playmaker. You look at his video, and I think that everyone is kind of dead on when they say that he's going to be someone to watch in 2013.
The other four guys seem to fall into two separate groups. First, what can ASU fans expect from the smaller and speedier players of Cameron Smith and Ronald Lewis both in 2013 and beyond?
DA: In 2013, I think that Ronald Lewis is going to have a chance to show his diversity. He can play a lot of spots, and he did that same thing in high school. When we talk about Cameron Smith, his big asset, on paper, is going to be speed. But we look forward to him being a route runner, and doing a lot of the things he's able to do as a route runner when adding that speed to his ability to run routes.
On the other hand, Joe Morris and Ellis Jefferson bring big bodies and frames to the lineup. How do you envisioning them fitting in with the program?
DA: Joe Morris is a mature, junior college guy. Joe Morris is a physical guy who played the game a step above high school. He's really taken care of business as a junior college player. I'm looking forward to having a mix of mature players and guys that are coming out of high school. Joe will have a big role for us.
What are going to be your key areas of focus during spring practice?
DA: Right out of the gate, we want to go as fast as anyone in the country. We're going to go faster than anyone in the country, so we're going to start with our tempo. It will be our number one focus. Other than that, we'll get into some of the little other things that make a big deal in terms of penalties and turnovers. Outside of that, we just want to be fundamentally sound. We want to be consistent. We want to prepare to be productive, in whatever role that might be, in any capacity.
The biggest X-factor for the Sun Devil wide receivers in 2013 will be ____________?
DA: Depth. We're going to send a lot of wide receivers at teams with a lot of different skills, and moving those guys around in multiple positions. You won't be able to key on us. The fact that we're new is a fact that teams are going to have to adjust to, because we're going to have some really good talent on the field.