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August 6, 2010

Miles gives Sun Devils big play capability

Former ASU running back Keegan Herring, was often raved about by coaches who used a bit of baseball terminology to describe the ball carrier's biggest asset.

"A home-run hitter," ASU coach Dennis Erickson often called Herring.

Since his departure following the 2008 season, though, the Sun Devils have had difficulty belting the proverbial long ball, lacking playmakers who are threat to break off huge chunks of yardage at any point in a game.

But sophomore Jamal Miles, who like Herring played his prep football at Peoria High, may be stepping into those big-play shoes.

An all-state running back in high school, Miles transitioned to wide receiver during his freshman season, with the coaching staff searching for the best way to utilize the athlete's impressive speed -- Miles was a state sprinting champion -- and playmaking ability. Now, Miles is splitting time between the backfield and several receiver positions, and the coaches are excited about the opportunity the sophomore has to make plays in several capacities on offense.

"The thing we really lacked the last few years is a big-play guy," Erickson said. "Whether it was in the running game or the passing game, where you can hit one for 60 [yards] and not have to hit your head against the wall all the time. We have that now. Not just with [Miles] but with a lot of those guys in the run and pass game."

Miles carried out of the backfield and lined up as a receiver during ASU's spring game and April, and he said he is excited about the opportunity to play various roles on offense.

"I like switching between running back and receiver because it gives me the opportunity to get the ball more," Miles said. "I want to get the ball as much as I can."

The coaching staff seems eager to put the ball in Miles' hands as well. As a freshman, Miles became the team's primary kick returner and finished third on the team with 682 total yards.

While he hopes to retain his post on special teams, Miles said he worked tirelessly in the offseason in an effort to contribute in other facets of the game.

His improvement has been evident thus far in fall camp -- as much as it can be before the pads get put on next week -- with Miles juking his way to a number of big runs that earned "oohs" and "aahs" from teammates on both sides of the ball.

"I've been working on my speed and being more physical so I can run through the tackles," Miles said. "I just want to help contribute to this team and get us to the Rose Bowl."

Heavy praise

Omar Bolden has been impossible to ignore in the early stages of fall camp. The cornerback has been playing with an added energy he said has come as the result of being pinned on the sidelines with a knee injury most of last season.

At one stage of practice Thursday, sophomore wide receiver T.J. Simpson looked to be in the clear to make a big play after taking the ball on a reverse, but Bolden closed in a hurry from the other side of the field to stuff the play before it could gain ground.

He's also been blanketing receivers during one-on-one drills, making free space and separation by his counterparts hard to come by.

"Omar is the best I've ever seen him and it's not even close," Erickson said. "He's a leader, but he's [also] healthy. He worked his rear end off like all of them did this summer. He looks good."

Smooth transition

While it's hard to make full evaluations until players tie up the pads and start increasing the confident, junior Dan Knapp appears to quickly becoming comfortable at left tackle after moving to that spot from tight end at the end of the spring.

Knapp has gained about 30 pounds since the beginning of the year, and his athleticism has paid dividends as he adjusts to his new position.

"He's strong, he's athletic and he can can protect," Erickson said. "The run blocking and all the things he did at tight end are the same. The new thing is pass protecting, and he's so athletic … if you watch him in one-on-one [drills] and some of those things, he's awfully good. I'm happy with what I've seen."

Burfict hurt

Sophomore linebacker Vontaze Burfict missed Thursday's practice with a sprained left ankle he suffered during warmups. Burfict spent much of the session with ice on the ankle, but Erickson said the injury is "not serious" and added that Burfict may miss a couple days of practice.


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