ASU Football Fall Camp: Q&A with RB coach Bo Graham

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Demario Richard (Steve Dykes Getty Images Sport) Demario Richard (Steve Dykes Getty Images Sport)
Kalen Ballage (AP Images) Kalen Ballage (AP Images)

It's not often that a team's backfield may be even more dangerous after losing a 1,000-yard from the previous season, but that may be the case with Arizona State.

After three years at running back, including a 2014 that saw him rush for 1,081 yards and nine touchdowns, D.J. Foster has moved to wide receiver. That places the top of the backfield depth chart in the capable hands and feet of true sophomores Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. Along with those two, the speedy De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes is eligible after redshirting last season, and walk-on Jacom Brimhall continues to impress during practices. Toss in bruising true freshman fullback Nick Ralston, and the Sun Devil backfield has no shortage of options.

I talked with ASU running back coach Bo Graham to get the details on how his guys are coming along and how he sees them being utilized this fall.

The first four practices are in the books. How are your guys looking so far?

Bo Graham: “I’m really impressed with our guys. We’re a young unit with a lot of potential. I think our guys, after a year with Griz (strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold) in the weight room, physically, they are much further along and mentally in the playbook, they are much further along.”

From the time of his fourth touchdown in the Sun Bowl against Duke to right now, where have you seen the most improvement in Demario?

BG: “Demario didn’t go through summer training last year. He showed up and had enough ability to work himself into the lineup. Now, the first thing that you notice is his physical gains. He’s bigger (up to 220 pounds) and stronger in his entire body. He’s smarter. I think he has a better knowledge of the offense and his role in it. The sky's the limit.”

Demario has stated that he is looking to step into more of a leadership role this year. How do you you think he's come along in that respect?

BG: “We’ve challenged him, because we have young guys in the group, He knows that that is something he has to do. With D.J. going to wide receiver and graduating two seniors last year, he’s taken that role. That is what it is all about: accountability. If he can take that role and run with it, then we can concentrate on things that are a little more important as coaches. We stress that with the whole team and Demario, Kalen, and those guys really stepped up.”

How is Demario prepared to be the top option in the backfield?

BG: “He can do a lot of things. He can line up all over the field. As far as his skillset, he doesn’t have a whole lot of weaknesses. He’s just got to polish those and continue to improve. I’m completely confident that he can do anything that we are asking him to do.”

After a stellar spring, what impresses you the most about the strides Kalen Ballage has made?

BG: “I think that last spring, Kalen was our most improved guy. I think he is running like he is 6-foot-3, 235. He’s running like a big man now. He’s trusting his speed. I think the game has slowed down for him. He went through summer training last year. Mentally and physically, he’s just much further along. He’s going to be a dominant force as well.”

With Kalen seeing so much time at Devilbacker on defense, how much concern is there that he may be spread too thin?

BG: “You just have to be smart with how you prepare. If he gets in there and rushes the passer, I think we have enough depth. But it’s also a priority for us to get him his touches. Offensively and in special teams, he’s going to have the ball in his hand. If he can help us on defense, we are an unselfish group. Whatever the team needs, that’s what we are going to do. I don’t think that will affect him. I think he will be just fine.”

When he is on offense, what role to you see him having?

BG: “The same ways that we’ve used backs in the past. He’s going to line up at every position. We’re going to move him around, and we’re going to be creative in how we get him into space.”

I spoke with Gump recently, and he said he anticipates having a role similar to what D.J. Foster had last year. How will you use a guy with Gump's explosiveness?

BG: “We’re going to utilize all guys. The best thing about our group is that we’re deep and we have a lot of talent, but no two guys are the same. We’re going to have Gump doing a lot of different things, move him around. With the athletes that we have, we’re going to create a lot of one-on-ones. You just pick your poison. We’re going to play our best 11. I think what we’re doing with Gump, he’ll be fine.”

In the spring, Nick Ralston played fullback in jumbo packages. Fullback hasn't been a position that has been used much in this offensive scheme, so how do you anticipate using Ralston this year?

BG: “I think the first thing Nick has to do is establish himself as a special teams guy. I think, last spring, he came in and really gained the respect of the guys up front with his physical presence in short yardage and goal line. I think he’ll be a short yardage, goal line-type back with the ability to get in the backfield in certain situations. He’s a great protector. He’s a big, physical runner. He provides a skillset that is different than those other guys. He’s more of a hammer. We’ve got speed, he’s power and strength.”

Jacom Brimhall continues to work hard and impress in practice. Do you think there is a place for him in the offense this year?

BG: “We traveled six running backs last year, and all six started on special teams. Four to five guys, depending on which week it was, played in the game. We have less guys than last year, so Brimhall is definitely going to have a role in our offense. You saw him today split out at wide receiver. He’s been in the backfield predominantly. Seeing what he can do against the first-team defense and second-team defense, it doesn’t matter, he makes plays. He’s a great competitor. He really embodies the things that we stand for as a program. He’s everything you want in a fourth or fifth guy.”

Over the next few weeks of fall camp, what are you wanting to see out of your guys?

BG: “The biggest thing is fundamentals. The next 12 days or so before we get into game planning, we’re going to Camp T, put the gloves on, and get the dirty work accomplished. Fundamentally, whether it’s pass protection, blocking in space, route running, just the finer details of things.”

This backfield seems to be brimming with potential. How good can they really be?

BG: “I’ve never felt more confident in our group in what our offense is asking us to do. I think the sky’s the limit. We’re going to take what the defense gives us, but there is no doubt in my mind, after a dominant spring and the way that we worked this summer, there’s no reason we can’t be one of the best groups that’s ever been at ASU.”

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