ASU football’s RBs prosper as receivers

Freshman running back D.J. Foster breaks through the hole at the line of scrimmage in ASU’s 45-43 loss to UCLA on Oct. 27. (Photo by Sam Rosenbaum)

ASU’s leading receivers this season aren’t even listed as “wide receivers” on the roster.

The three players putting up the biggest receiving stats this season are two running backs and a tight end. Junior tight end Chris Coyle leads the team in yards, with freshman running back D.J. Foster following closely. Junior running back Marion Grice leads the team in touchdown catches.

This does not surprise coach Todd Graham.

“We’ve always utilized our backs,” Graham said. “It’s been us just being adaptive to the guys we got. I think coach (Mike) Norvell has done a nice job of doing that.”

Graham said throughout his coaching career his staff has targeted the running backs in the pass game, and the tight end’s productivity has always been a staple in the system.

Foster has accumulated 454 receiving yards so far this season. He is only 19 yards behind Coyle for the team lead in yardage.

Foster has shown he can catch coming out of the backfield and has also made an impact out of the receiver slot.

The true freshman hasn’t even had a full offseason to bulk up. Standing at 5-feet-11 and 183 pounds, Foster is not an ideal run-between-the-tackles back.

This isn’t new to Foster, as he had similar responsibilities in high school.

“Earlier when I was young, when I was a sophomore, when I didn’t have the weight, I did both a little bit,” Foster said. “Just like now, I’m still gaining size so I’m doing receiver and running back.”

Last week, Coyle and the running backs had success against UCLA. Foster’s 100 receiving yards and Grice’s two receiving touchdowns helped the Sun Devils score 43 points.

The running backs now look forward to next week, hoping to catch No. 11 Oregon State off guard with their receiving abilities.

“It’ll definitely put them on their toes,” Foster said. “It could be raining, so we don’t know if we are going to be running a lot or passing. So we’ll just keep them on their toes and have more weapons out there on the field.”

 

From Tackle to Tight End

Some fans may have not noticed, but redshirt sophomore tackle Tyler Sulka changed numbers against UCLA.

The backup tackle ditched his No. 54 jersey for the No. 88 to make him an eligible receiver. Sulka was used exclusively as a tight end in the loss to UCLA.

Graham said earlier that week that they would utilize Sulka’s blocking. Against UCLA, Norvell created the package with Sulka as a tight end.

“I thought it was pretty sweet,” Sulka said. “I thought it was a great change. It’s really exciting to play with something different that I’ve never played before. I’ve never played tight end.”

Sulka said he enjoyed running the different routes that came with the package.

The package had some success against UCLA, especially running the ball. Sulka thinks that it could also be useful against the Beavers.

“I thought it was maybe just for a game plan for UCLA,” Sulka said. “Now that the other games come on (and) how well it worked, I think that we will continue using it.”

Whether Sulka will be ready for Saturday is a different question. He said he rolled his ankle against UCLA. Right now, it is up to the trainers if he can play Saturday.

 

Reach the reporter at ehubbard@asu.edu