TEMPE, Ariz. — Senior Arizona State receiver Jamal Miles will be the first to admit he is having a disappointing season.
“It’s not where I expected it to be,” Miles said this week. “I expected a lot more, but right now I’m just being a team player and playing my role.”
Miles, who was expected to be the Sun Devils’ go-to receiver this season, has essentially fallen off the radar, leaving many questions to be asked about his decreased productivity.
As a slotback last season, Miles was second on the team with 60 receptions, good for 361 yards and six touchdowns. He added three more touchdowns and 1,020 yards as a kickoff and punt returner. He also had 237 rushing yards, and including an end-around touchdown pass, was responsible for 10 ASU scores. With three top receivers graduating, Miles looked like a big part of the 2012 offense, be it under Dennis Erickson or otherwise.
But he has just 179 yards receiving on 14 catches through six games (he was suspended for one) and 308 total return yards. He is yet to reach the end zone a receiver or returner.
“Some offenses are going to produce a lot of stats,” coach Todd Graham said. “I don’t really care about stats. I just care about winning, so I haven’t put much thought into that.”
Miles, who also saw time as a running back in Erickson’s offense, believes his diminished production is simply a product of the new offensive system.
“In this system I’m used a little bit different,” Miles said. “I’m more of a true wideout. It’s not so much putting me in space or anything like that. It’s a little different.”
Perhaps Miles is right. Maybe former offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s system and the prominence of the swing pass were a better fit for his skill set. Rather than catching passes in traffic, Miles could just catch the ball in the open and head downfield — somewhat like a kick return.
Graham’s offensive system doesn’t call for many swing passes and utilizes running backs and tight ends more, but receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander does not believe Miles’ has been forgotten.
“I think there’s probably been games where we’re even on run and pass,” Alexander said. “With that balance the opportunities are spread around pretty good. It’s been unfortunate that it hasn’t been him that’s shown up, but we’ve got a lot of season left.
“I couldn’t put my finger on it. He’s a starter here at Arizona State, I think the opportunities are there, and he’s just been unlucky in terms of the ball spinning his way.”
ASU’s two leading receivers are junior Chris Coyle, a tight end, and freshman D.J. Foster, a running back. Among the true wide receivers — a group that has been called out more than once by the coaching staff for lack of production — Rashad Ross leads the team with 258 yards.
“I think everybody wants the ball more,” Miles said. “And I think every receiver right now, we’re not getting the ball as much as we’d like, but we just have to be patient and keep working.
“I just haven’t had the ball thrown my way many times. Right now, I’ll just keep working hard in practice and hope to see more balls thrown my way in games.”
The dropoff in the return game is ever harder to figure. It wouldn’t be surprising if teams were intentionally avoiding Miles, a second-team All-Pac-12 return specialist last year, but that hasn’t been the case. Part of the problem might be decreased opportunities. Because ASU’s defense has limited opponents’ scoring — only two opponents have scored 20 points or more — kickoff return opportunities have been fewer. Miles has 10 kick returns for 211 total yards, and 13 punt returns for 97 yards.
Miles has fumbled away two returns, perhaps trying too hard to make something happen, and appears to have lost the coaching staff’s confidence in favor of Ross, who had a 100-yard touchdown return against Colorado and handled all six kickoff returns against Oregon.
“As far returning some (kickoffs) for touchdowns, no, I haven’t met my expectations,” Miles said. “I’d like to get a couple more returns, get a couple more opportunities to return some punts and kickoffs.”
Miles remains the primary punt returner and hopes to use the final five games to make good on the high expectations he had at the start of the year.
“I share some of those feelings that it’s probably been disappointing to him, but we’ve got a lot of season left,” Alexander said. “I think it’s important that we focus on what we have left versus what has already passed.”