TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State coach Todd Graham called out his wide receivers early in fall camp to step up and was pleased with the group’s strong showing at Camp Tontozona.
Graham singled out the receivers again this week, this time citing a lack of leadership, particularly from the group’s veterans.
“We’ve got to have some guys step up at wide receiver,” Graham said Tuesday. “We’ve got to get better at that position. That seems to be the one that lacks the most leadership.”
Graham spoke in more detail about his dissatisfaction with the receivers following Wednesday’s practice. Graham said the receivers are not practicing the way he expects.
“You don’t just go through practice,” Graham said. “You don’t just run a route. You don’t just block a guy. You do it the very best you can do it with the most spectacular effort and the most spectacular attitude every time. And we’ve got people out here doing that, so that’s what I challenged them to do.”
Graham said there were runs in last week’s 45-14 win over Illinois that should have gone for touchdowns but did not because wide receivers failed to block as they could have.
The greater problem, though, is the leadership. The group lost four key receivers from a year ago to graduation, and only Jamal Miles returned with significant experience. Graham said he has challenged Miles specifically.
“He’s the guy that should step up,” Graham said. “He’s the one that should be doing it. Guys that have experience and returning starters are the ones that should do that.”
Miles’ ability to be the unit’s leader is complicated given his Week 1 suspension for failing to meet team standards in an incident last spring. There’s more experience in the group though, including senior Rashad Ross and junior Kyle Middlebrooks.
Ross agreed it is on players like himself and Miles to take ownership of the receiving corps, lifting some of the burden off receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander.
“We need to start making everybody accountable,” Ross said. “We haven’t in the past, but starting today I think it will change.
“Coach Alexander got on our case, telling everybody we need to step up. He said for us to win this game (against Missouri on Saturday) the receivers need to do something.”
Ross said its up to the veteran receivers to start working harder to push the rest of the unit. That’s exactly what Graham is looking for.
“We don’t need a cheerleader,” Graham said. “We need somebody that does everything right and displays toughness.”
According to reports out of Missouri, fewer than 500 tickets remained for Saturday’s game at the start of the week. Chances are Memorial Stadium will be packed and loud when ASU takes the field.
In preparing for its first road test of the season, crowd noise has been played at full volume during practices all week, and Graham said Wednesday it caused a couple false starts — something the Sun Devils are trying to eliminate now.
The greater challenge has been replicating the dynamic Missouri offense, particularly junior quarterback James Franklin, a dual threat who threw for 21 touchdowns and rushed for 15 last season.
“It’s obviously very difficult for our scout team to simulate what (the Tigers) do,” Graham said. “(Franklin) is a really good runner, but he’s a lot more dangerous throwing the football, so we really need that simulated better.”
If there’s one thing the Sun Devil defense might exploit Saturday it’s Missouri’s banged up offensive line. Since early August, the Tigers have lost five offensive linemen to injuries, including three starters.
The latest loss was senior left tackle Elvis Fisher, who suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament last week and is out indefinitely. The injury forced junior right tackle Justin Britt to move to the left side, where he played all last year while Fisher was out with a knee injury.
Missouri’s depth chart now lists sophomore center Mitch Morse at right tackle and redshirt freshman Brad McNulty at center. McNulty was previously the backup. Missouri also has a freshman, Evan Boehm, at left guard.
The depleted and inexperienced line could allow ASU’s attacking defense to put greater pressure on Franklin and limit Missouri’s rushing attack.