October 30, 2008

Receivers continue to work through injuries

Arizona State's offense hasn't measured up to its own expectations this season, and a number of things have been pointed to as contributing factors. Watching the team practice regularly, it's easy to see the health of the team's two top receivers is a legitimate issue.

Senior Mike Jones and junior Chris McGaha are excellent leaders-by-example. They aren't the type to register vocal complaints, but they've been visibly struggling through workouts off and on all year.

Jones' back has bothered him throughout his career, and at times in practice he'll make a great catch only to find himself almost unable to get up and return to the huddle.

McGaha will often run a tremendous route at full speed and make an impressive play on the football, only to get up and awkwardly scuttle his way back for another rep.

Many players wouldn't be suiting up on Saturdays in the same condition. But neither one of them has missed a game yet this season.

It's a reality that is perhaps underreported and even underappreciated as the team's five game losing streak has played out.

These are not excuse makers. But their situation has contributed to the trouble ASU has had making big plays on offense.

"There's no question they haven't been healthy," Sun Devil coach Dennis Erickson said. "People say 'Why aren't they playing well?' Well, they haven't been healthy. They're starting to get back and then Chris hurt his back in the game they other night…When you're not 100 percent, it doesn't make a difference who you are."

Jones has 36 catches for 477 yards through seven games this season. Those numbers have him on pace to surpass his totals from 2007, but Jones only has two touchdown catches compared with ten last year.

It is the big play component that is missing for ASU this season, and that is perhaps where the injuries to Jones and McGaha are felt most. It's where their speed and athleticism is needed at a level they physically haven't been able to consistently provide.

"We've just got to fight through it and play through injuries," Jones said. "It doesn't matter what it is, how much it hurts, come Saturday we have to be ready to play. If we were 100 percent it'd probably be a lot different but we're not right now."

To Erickson, the reality of his star receivers' injuries has led to an increased reliance in practice on others, and he is of the opinion that will eventually carry over to Saturdays and pay dividends.

"What I see is great improvement in right now is with our backup receivers," Erickson said. "And they've got to take it on the field, but in practice (it's apparent). T.J. (Simpson) for example, is catching the ball. Brandon Smith starting to get healthy, Gerell (Robinson) is getting better. Nate (Kimbrough), who is a senior, is starting to make plays.

"What's been created because of what's happened -- because we're not going to change our offense or our passing game -- when you call plays it makes you think about what's going on, but it has given those young guys a chance."

Williams update

Junior slot receiver and punt return specialist Kyle Williams did not practice for a second day in a row after suffering a concussion against Oregon on Saturday. He has not passed the required impact test needed to return to action.

"Right now he's doubtful whether he'll play," Erickson said of Williams. "I'll know more tomorrow at practice, whether he'll play or not. I'm planning on him not playing. We've got Kerry (Taylor), who's had a good year and we can move Nate in there. That's how it is."

If Williams does not play, Taylor or Kimbrough would return punts. Omar Bolden and Simpson would handle kickoff returns.

Extra points

  • Trevor Hankins will handle the punting duties for the second game, allowing Thomas Weber to focus exclusively on place kicking.

  • ASU's game at Washington on Nov. 8 will be televised by Fox Sports Arizona at 5 p.m. Arizona time.

  • Scout team defensive tackle Zeb Togiai has been out this week due to a concussion suffered in practice last week.

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