TEMPE, Ariz. - Prior to the season, running back was considered one of the Sun Devils' stronger position groups. Marion Grice and DJ Foster were both coming off stellar 2012 campaigns plus the re-emergence of Deantre Lewis gave ASU a solid backfield despite the graduation of Cameron Marshall.
Early on, Grice separated himself from the group, becoming the team's featured ball carrier. However, he may not be in that role this week.
Grice's game status is a closely-guarded secret around ASU. With practices closed to the media for the first time all season, there is no way of knowing just how healthy the Sun Devils' leading rusher is or will be by Saturday when ASU hosts rival UA.
Grice limped off the field late in the fourth quarter at UCLA with what was described as a lower leg injury. He's considered day-to-day.
"Deantre and DJ are both ready," running backs coach Bo Graham said. "We prepared for this all season, so if it's a situation where Marion can't go, then our guys are ready to roll. We've been cross-training them the whole time, so mentally it's really nothing new; maybe a little less route running and a little more in the backfield. But other than that, nothing has changed."
Neither Foster nor Lewis have seen much time at running back. In fact Foster, who has eight rush attempts combined in the past three games, has been a bigger contributor at receiver. Lewis, meanwhile, has had very few chances to contribute all season.
"Fresh legs? Yeah, we should have some fresh legs," Lewis said smiling after practice Tuesday. "Me and DJ, we're going to work hard this week to help our offense out."
Losing Grice would be a huge blow. ASU would miss his scoring (a team-high 20 touchdowns; 14 rushing, six receiving), his clutch ability (he leads the team in third down conversions, plus has a team-high 66 first down conversions overall) and his leadership.
His absence would also be felt in pass protection, according to Graham.
"Marion has been our primary protector. He's been very consistent in that," he said. "If we have someone else in the backfield, they just haven't done that a whole lot as far as experience, but in practice they've gotten those reps. They know the rules. They just have to apply that on game day and we should be good."
Lewis (49 carries for 269 yards) has been looking for more touches and more playing time. He may just get his wish this week.
"I'm really anxious," he said. "I've been waiting since basically freshman year in order to get the ball almost every down. I'm just really excited."
Regardless if it's Lewis, Foster or perhaps even RJ Robinson, the shoes they would be filling are big.
"It's time for one of those other guys to get back there and be as consistent as (Grice)," Graham said. "These guys just have to accept the challenge and rise to the occasion and get some of the same production."