Arizona State's coaching change includes a philosophical shift on offense to a two-back approach centered around an aggressive determination to run the ball more than the previous regime.
The downhill running approach, which is intended to then open up play action passing and benefit from shifting of skill players pre-snap, requires the frequent use of a blocking h-back type player, which is referred to as the three back in this scheme.
Options at the three-back -- or move back -- include tight end types, like junior college transfer Darwin Rogers, and junior Max Smith, bigger running back types such as sophomore Marcus Washington, and even more skilled speed athletes, like incoming recruit D.J. Foster.
The role will sometimes see a player move out of the backfield into the slot and become a receiver, but most often it'll probably include lead blocking for the traditional running back, which ASU labels the four-back.
"I think we'll probably be on the field about 65-70 percent of the time," said Rodgers, when asked how much of a role the tight end type player will have in the position. "It's all about trying to be physical and block up front to open up holes to run through.
"It's a big time position, a main position in our offense. You've got to execute a lot of plays and read a lot of key things on the defense. It's a big job so you've got to get in shape to play this position and be athletic and know what you're doing. You've got to have smarts and execute well."
After the first day of practice, Washington, a 222 pound sophomore who is 20-plus pounds since arrived at the school, was moved to the position and has worked there ever since.
"There's no favorites," Washington said. "The coaches don't know what to expect, nobody knows what to expect. The coaches get to see how you work, what you're really all about. It's like stage one. I like that a lot."
Washington and Smith agree that the discipline and intensity the new staff brings to the program will pay huge dividends in the fall and beyond.
"It's a learning process but it's good, I like it a lot," Washington said. "I've gotten a lot more reps. I like the tempo. In practice we can't put our hands on our head, we can't put our hands on our hips but that's good because when other teams are tired we're still going to be rolling. Defenses will start not understanding where to go and what to do and we'll still come out on the field sprinting and other teams will be jogging."
For Smith, a player who didn't have much of a role in the previous offense because it didn't incorporate much use for tight ends, the change is welcome.
"I'm adjusting well," Smith said. "It's a lot like high school with coach Sanders here and it's nice having him on board. In the last three years if you couldn't tell we weren't very disciplined and got away with a lot of stuff, it's not happening anymore here.
"(Tight ends) Coach (Chip) Long is honestly becoming one of my best friends I talk to him all the time. He is a great guy. He is very inspiring. He does get down on us but I look at it as if he wasn't yelling at and getting down on us then that means he doesn't want us to get better. But he is a great guy he knows exactly what he is talking about. And I'm excited to work with him for the next two years.
Sun Devil coach Todd Graham has been increasingly pleased with what he's seen in practice in terms of the
"Let me tell you, wow," Graham said. "Finally getting it. That's what I'd tell you, last two days. From Day 1 to that is light years. Actually getting to the right depth on routes, starting to get some rhythm in our passing game, flying around and flying on defense, starting to execute at the quarterback position.
"I'm not gong to lie to you, it's frustrating at times but I'm really proud of them working hard. They're starting to want to run off the field instead of me making them run off the field. A lot of progress there and we've got to continue to get better but I think they're starting to get it."
Redshirt freshmanIsreal Marshall has made an impression on Graham from the start of spring ball to the mid-way point as a WILL linebacker.
"Fundamentally getting better. He's thin, lean, playing inside linebacker, being physical and getting downhill and being physical; key reading, play recognition. In all those areas he's caught my eye, really progressing and getting better. We want guys who can run. We don't want plugging linebackers, we want guys who can run and he's one of the most improved guys I think on our team defensively."
Graham said the last two days are the first practices where the routes have looked as they're supposed on on offense. One player, in particular has caught the coach's eye.
(Senior) Jamal Miles as been unbelievable. He's actually about average at running the pass routes now. When he learns how to master that he will be unbelievable. He's a very athletic guy, a very explosive guy."