Senior Dimitri Nance has had more carries than the rest of Arizona State's running backs combined, but he's a little banged up this week and has seen limited action in practice. As a result, freshman Cameron Marshall and sophomore Ryan Bass have been given more reps, and that could carry over to Saturday's game against Cal.
Bass leads the team with an impressive 6.9 yard-per-carry average, but he's totaled just 24 carries on the season and has been disappointed with his limited playing time, sometimes visibly so, including following an Oct. 17 game against Washington when Bass was the only Sun Devil to remove his shoulder pads prior to leaving the field.
"The hardest part is coming out here every day and giving it your all and leaving everything on the field and not getting the opportunity to show my talent," Bass said. "But I got to keep working hard every day. That's all I can do."
Last season and at times this year, Bass has had trouble with ball security in practice and games, and his ability as a pass protector has not been on the level Nance or Morrison, according to his coaches. Those are the reasons he hasn't seen as much game action as others according to running backs coach Bryce Erickson.
Bass said he doesn't feel the reasons for his lack of playing time have been adequately conveyed to him or his parents, who have had dialogue with members of the ASU coaching staff. But Erickson said it's been repeatedly explained to Bass that he is behind others in part due to their well-roundedness at the position.
"I don't know what the miscommunication in his mind was, but the reason those other two guys are ahead of him on the depth chart is, our motto at running back is 'Ball security is job security,'" Erickson said. "He's had an issue of fumbling the ball. He had a pretty important fumble against Oregon State. And then pass protection is a huge part of it, too. That's something he needs to continue to get better at."
In the next breath, however, Erickson allowed that Bass is a gifted athlete who could provide the Sun Devils with a boost at the position if he's willing to maintain the consistency of effort and improvement in the areas where he has not excelled.
"But I will say this about Ryan: He has practiced his butt off these past few weeks. I thought he sparked us in the Stanford game. He has another dimension at that position that we don't have. And if he continues to get better at the things he needs to improve on, ball security and keeping it closer to his body - because if you pay attention to him running he always has that thing outside and that's when it gets knocked out - so he's done a good job of really focusing on really keeping that ball tight to his body.
"He's a lot more physical than people give him credit for. He's just got to believe that himself. And we work pass protection every day and he's continuing to improve in that aspect, too. So, he's done a great job so far in preparing, and if he continues to improve I'll have no problem getting him more playing time in the games because again, I think he gives us another dimension."
With Nance being less than full strength this week, and with Bass showing well in his opportunities against Stanford, ASU coach Dennis Erickson said Bass could be in line for a bigger role in the near future.
"What you need to do is earn your way on the field," Erickson said. "You need to practice well, have confidence in your protections and all those different things. [Bass] is getting better all the time. It is like anybody, they have to show us that they can do it and when they do that they get more playing time and he has done that. He got a lot more playing time last week and he will continue to."
Another player who will continue to get more work this week is sophomore offensive lineman Garth Gerhart, who will start at center for the first time this season after starting at right guard last week. Senior Thomas Altieri, who has started every game at center this season, will not play against Cal due to a knee sprain suffered against Stanford.
Gerhart has battled turf toe all season and has missed multiple games while being limited in others.
"It's feeling a lot better," Gerhart said of the big toes that have bothered him on both feet all season. "It's not 100 percent and it probably won't be all season but I at least feel like I'm getting to where I'm more like my usual self out there."
With Gerhart shifting to center, senior and former walk-on Brent Good will start at right guard, a position he manned the week prior.
Dennis Erickson said he's still unsure whether senior Tom Njunge or sophomore Matt Hustad will start at right tackle.
Senior wide receiver Kyle Williams, junior wide receiver Kerry Taylor and junior cornerback Omar Bolden were all dressed for Wednesday's practice, but none of the three saw any game in team segments of practice.
Erickson said Williams and Bolden are probable. Taylor's availability is uncertain.