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April 11, 2012The Greek writer Aesop once wrote that slow and steady wins the race. He must not have met Arizona State coach Todd Graham or had the fastest player in the Pac-12 in his receiving corps.
It's all about having a fast-paced tempo for ASU's wide receivers and offense as a whole under Graham's new leadership. After being presented with a steep learning curve during the first few spring practices, the wide receivers are starting to understand the expectations.
"They demand us to get lined up -- especially the offense -- after a play and get back to the ball," junior Kevin Ozier said. "Don't stand around looking for a signal; get lined up and then look to the sideline and get the signal.
"They're stricter, but it's a good thing. I think it's going to help us be more disciplined."
Having a receiving corps that graduated four key senior representing more than half of the team's total receptions and touchdowns last season is a huge challenge in and of itself, but on top of that, the offense will have a new offense and first-year quarterback. It's a reality that has receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander starting by building a true foundation with his players from a skill standpoint.
"He's teaching us fundamentals and trying to make us better receivers, make sure we're getting our depths on our routes," senior wide receiver Jamal Miles said. "Getting our alignments and getting set quick; that's the most important thing because our offense is moving so fast we just need to get set. If we get set, the defense is off guard and we run our plays. That's how we're going to hit them."
One area ASU's receivers have been working on fundamentally is pass and run blocking. Graham's offensive system relies heavily on running the football, so blocking skills will be an essential quality receivers need to possess.
"All we're doing is working on that technique," Alexander said. "I think if I can put them in a position to block, and then they use the fundamentals and the skills that we teach them, then they'll be successful at it."
According to Miles, receivers' routes and the offense's passing philosophy will be different than prior seasons.
"There's a lot more deep routes," Miles said. "We're taking a lot more chances down field, that's the biggest difference in our offense right now.
"For me, it's a lot different because I wasn't doing too many vertical routes. I was more of sideline to sideline, so it's kind of a challenge for me doing more routes I haven't really done."
Graham has commended Miles' versatility this offseason and said he's been a silver lining on the offense, as evidenced by Tuesday's practice performance, during which he had a receiving touchdown in traffic, scored on a 25 yard reverse and had an 80 yard touchdown where he reversed field and was virtually untouched.
"Jamal is special," Graham said. "I think he is really progressing well. I think it's been slow with a lot of the other guys. I mean I think Kevin Ozier is starting to get the hang of it, the tempo of it. I think ( senior Rashad) Ross has struggled with the tempo of it. It's just getting better running routes and understanding that you have to be able to block and you have to be able to run routes. But I would say Jamal by far and way has been the bright spot in that group, and then I think it's been a slow steady improvement with the other ones."
For ASU's wide receivers, according to Ozier, one thing is for certain: nothing is guaranteed.
"We're going to have to work for everything," Ozier said. "If you want to start you've got to earn it. Nothing's going to be given to us."
Offense impresses Graham
Tuesday's practice seemed to consist of more instructional drills focusing on technique in individual position work.
Graham commended the offensive line's performance during the offseason once again after Tuesday's practice, but also said it still has a long way to go before the start of the season.
"The bright spot has been our offensive line," he said. "I think our offensive line is nowhere near where we need to be, but from being able to run the football they've shown great signs. Their mentality, they want to run the football downhill."
Also, Graham said he continues to be enthused by senior running back James Morrison.
"I nicknamed him Tank," Graham said. "I mean, that guy brings it downhill. I've been impressed with him."