TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State’s football leaders come pre-programmed these days. When faced with critical questions about their 2-2 start, the players seem trained to circle the wagons, repeat the company line, acknowledge past mistakes but promise sunnier days ahead.
When senior receiver D.J. Foster was asked about his involvement, or lack thereof in the offense this season, he deflected the question by insisting he doesn’t get frustrated. He said he is not discouraged by the present state of Sun Devil football because ASU has rebounded from these doldrums before.
“A lot of guys that were around for those games, they know what it’s like and they know what it takes to come out here and clear your mind; to come out here and continue to have a new focus and a new energy,” he said. “It’s a long, long season, especially in the Pac-12 South. A lot of stuff can happen so you’re never out of it. You have to continue to fight every day.”
Foster isn’t as forgotten a man in this offense as the exaggerators suggest. His 43 touches are second to running back Demario Richard’s 80 and his 22 receptions rank 37th nationally. After the season he had in 2014, however, and given the fact that this is his senior season, most outsiders expected a whole lot more.
Last season through four games, Foster had 79 touches for 747 yards and six touchdowns. This season, he has 300 total yards and one TD. Some of that decline can be traced to his shift from running back to wide receiver this season. While the yards per touch may be greater at receiver, the amount of touches is likely going to lessen.
Still, there is no denying that Foster hasn’t touched the ball as much as the Sun Devils would like. Coach Todd Graham said it must become a priority.
“When there are opportunities to throw to D.J. we like to throw to D.J. so that’s something we’re going to continue to do; continue to try to find ways to get him the football and make sure we have an opportunity for him to impact the game,” offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said.
It has proven more difficult for a couple reasons. First, ASU lost wide receiver Jaelen Strong to the NFL in the spring. When Strong was here, along with deep threat Cameron Smith who is injured and out for the season, the Devils receiving corps drew more attention away from Foster and he was regularly covered by an inside linebacker — clearly a mismatch given Foster’s speed and elusiveness.
Part of Foster’s ineffectiveness is on Foster, too. He hasn’t gained separation from his coverage on many plays, so he hasn’t presented quarterback Mike Bercovici with a clear target.
Sun Devil fans have pointed to that as a proof Foster never should have shifted to receiver. It’s probably true but there’s a glaring problem inherent in that argument. If Foster were to move back to running back where he is undoubtedly more effective, the Sun Devils’ best three offensive playmakers (Richard and running back Kalen Ballage are the others) would play the same position.
Do fans really want to see carries taken away from Richard, who is 22nd in the nation in rushing yards? And where would that move leave an already ineffective receiving corps that is inexplicably short on talent in a passing-oriented program?
“Our whole offense, we can elevate our game,” Foster said. “As a team, we’ve still got a lot of work — a lot of stuff to clean up but as an offense we definitely haven’t even tapped into our potential.
“Just getting open, the receivers definitely have to take a lot more pride in that during the week and we have to work hard as a receiving corps to make it easier on Berco and our line by getting open and getting off our routes.”
Foster may be frustrated with the way his Sun Devil career is winding down, but he’s not showing a hint of it to the outside world.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to go play and we’ve got to stick together,” he said.