PAYSON, Arizona — As Camp Tontozona continues, the 2014 ASU football season also gets closer, day by day. As it does, so does the day junior D.J. Foster officially becomes the feature back for the Sun Devils.
Foster spent his first two season riding the coattails of Marion Grice and Cameron Marshall, contributing in his own right, but almost never asked to handle the duties of a full-time running back in the backfield. Foster acted as more of an “offensive weapon” than typical running back, as Grice and Marshall did more of the regular running back duties.
While the main reason was because of his strengths catching the ball and being a dynamic runner, his weakness in pass protection was also holding him back. With Foster primed for a breakout year, there’s still the one attribute of his game he’s working on the hardest.
“I’d say (pass blocking) is one of the things I need to most improve,” Foster said. “I think me as a run blocker and pass blocker is getting better.”
As has been the case throughout all of ASU’s practices, running backs coach Bo Graham worked extensively on blocking drills with the Sun Devil ball carriers. Graham stressed the importance of picking up the skill, but also said it offers a nice change of pace to the backs during a typically fast-paced, intense practice session.
“We run around quite a bit during the rest of practice,” Graham said. “So working on the pass pro technique, not only does it take (pressure) off their legs, but we’re working on something that is very, very important to our offense.”
While Foster, who has worked in the weight room and increased his weight close to his goal of 210 pounds, is expected to take the majority of the snaps in the backfield, ASU lines up in two-running-back sets much of the time, making it imperative for the other running backs to have a just as complete of a skill set.
“The focus is becoming a complete back,” Graham said. “Running the ball, catching the ball and then pass protection.”
The running back Graham pointed out to surprising him the most was true freshman Demario Richard. At 17, Richard is one of the youngest players on the roster, but Graham expects both him and fellow freshman Kalen Ballage to see plenty of time on the field this season.
Jaxon Hood returns
The Sun Devils gained a big piece on defense Thursday when defensive tackle Jaxon Hood joined the team after missing time the past few weeks because of “some personal things he had to take care of,” as coach Todd Graham put it.
Hood walked onto the field at Camp Tontozona sporting a mohawk and his No. 92 jersey, though he didn’t wear pads. He won’t get the opportunity to practice in pads before the Camp T scrimmage, as ASU will practice in helmets only for tonight’s practice and Friday’s.
“(Hood provides) some much, much needed experience on that defensive line,” Graham said. “So it’s great to have him back in our program. … We don’t have a lot of depth inside. He’s not as excited as I am to see him.”
The 6-foot, 300-pound junior practiced with the second-string defense during walkthroughs, but Graham said it was just to get him comfortable with the system again. Hood hadn’t worked out in close to four weeks, so ASU just has to “get him in shape and bring him along slowly,” Graham said.
Hood was named a freshman All-American after the 2012 season and has started 25 games in his first two seasons in Tempe.
Graham comments on Chip Sarafin
Graham met the media for the first time since redshirt senior offensive lineman Chip Sarafin publicly announced he is gay. He stressed that ASU football is a brotherhood and that everyone was accepting of Sarafin. He came out to the team more than a year ago, and the Sun Devils won 10 games last season knowingly having a gay teammate.
“We’re a brotherhood, and we talk about Sun Devil brotherhood, and we’re all about relationships built on respect,” he said. “That’s respecting each other’s differences, whether it be cultural, whether it be religious beliefs, or whatever that might be. I’m really proud of our guys. It’s not something that’s a surprise to us. Obviously our guys were very aware of that, and we’re proud of Chip (Sarafin) just like we’re proud of all the rest of our guys, and it’s an honor to coach these guys.”
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