Each week from now until the first game of the 2013 Sun Devil football season, the ASU media relations department will release a position group summary for every spot on the Sun Devil roster. These will provide in-depth detail on the top returners, promising newcomers and all you could need to know about each position as we head into what should be another exciting season under Todd Graham.
The first batch of summaries will focus on the offensive side of the ball, and this week we review the 2013 Sun Devil Tight Ends and Wide Receivers.
by Jeremy Hawkes
Perhaps the biggest question marks raised by fans and media outlets alike about the 2013 Sun Devil football program is how well the receiving corps will fare this season. The concern might seem valid after a Spring that saw just four scholarship wide receivers practicing, but an influx of new and exceptional talent as well as a solid base at tight end should provide Taylor Kelly with the targets he needs to be successful in spreading the field this season.
One area that won’t likely be a cause for concern is the H-back position with senior record-setting tight end Chris Coyle back for his final season. Coyle put up one of the best seasons in tight end history at ASU in 2012 after finishing third in the nation in tight end receptions per game at 4.38.
His 57 receptions last season led the Sun Devils, as did his 696 receiving yards on the year. He took over the single-season tight end school record in receptions at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, bringing down four catches in the contest (Zach Miller previously held the record with 56). Coyle finished with five touchdowns on the year, one shy of the single-season tight end record set by Miller and Joe Petty.
Prior to last season, Coyle was a reserve that had just six career receptions in two seasons at ASU. Now, he is one of the top tight ends in the nation, finishing third among all FBS tight ends in receptions and fifth in receiving yards. He was recently named to the Mackey Award Watch list, given annually to the top tight end in the nation. Alongside UW’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Coyle one of just two returning FBS tight ends who finished in the nation’s top five in receptions, receiving yards and tight ends for a tight end last season.
Tight ends coach Chip Long praised Coyle for bouncing back from a slow start in the Spring to finish strong and for getting his body in the best shape of his career and says the next step for him is to become the best tight end in the country.
Darwin Rogers played a valuable part in the more traditional role as a blocking tight end last season but Long has noted he is leaps and bounds more improved this season from both a physical and mental standpoint. Rogers “worked his butt off” to become a better tight end over the offseason and Long firmly believes he has it in him to play an impact this season.
Redshirt frosh Kody Kohl has added 35 pounds to his muscle mass since the start of last offseason and Long has referred to him as “a weight-room warrior”. Kohl will likely see reps as a fullback this season as he slowly gets worked into the role as a tight end.
ASU will receive two impressive newcomers this season in the form of De’Marieya Nelson and Grant Martinez.
Nelson was regarded as a top-100 junior college transfer by ESPN after an impressive season at Stockton San Joaquin Delta College. A prep school running back standout, Nelson is a dynamic big man at 6-3, 230 that has the speed, size and versatility to make some big plays for the Sun Devils and his ability to serve as a rusher adds a new flavor to the H-back role.
Martinez is a local product out of Notre Dame Prep that was regarded as the top senior tight end recruit in the state and the Scout.com’s No. 51 tight end prospect in the nation and will certainly improve ASU’s depth at the position along with walk-on’s Alex Bykovskiy, Billy Davis and Chris Hughes.
After losing the team’s two leading wide receivers from last season in Rashad Ross (37 reception, 610 yards, 6 TDs) and Jamal Miles (37 receptions, 373 yards), the Sun Devils find themselves with a young and relatively inexperienced squad at the receiver position this season.
ASU returning receivers have just a combined 79 career receptions, the second-lowest total in the Pac-12 behind Stanford’s 62 (though an asterisk can be added to USC, which returns 217 receptions though 191 of those come courtesy of Marqise Lee). With that in mind, it is clear that some multiple young men will need to step up this season. On the plus side, the talent is certainly there for that to come to fruition.
Senior Kevin Ozier leads the way into the coming season after posting 21 receptions for 324 yards and five touchdowns last season. With nearly 25 percent of his touches going for scores, the sure-handed-former-walk-on-turned-scholarhip-player-under-Coach-Graham has the experience and the maturity to step into a role as a lead receiver this season.
Wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander praises Ozier for being smart and for his tough work ethic and says that he is someone that can be counted on to do the things he is supposed to do and that could pay off for a big season this year.
Rick Smith showed signs of his explosiveness during the spring, catching the attention of the media and the coaching staff. An explosive and elusive receiver, Smith should succeed in the role that had been filled by Miles the past couple seasons and he will also factor into the return game.
Smith played as a true freshman last year and while his numbers weren’t necessarily eye-popping, they were impressive you consider some other true freshman wide receivers in the past decade - some of which have gone on to professional careers. With 14 receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns, Smith posted the second-highest tally of receptions by a true freshman receiver since 2003 behind only Derek Hagan (32) and more touchdowns than any true freshman wide receiver in that time span (Kerry Taylor is the only true freshman receiver to have scored a touchdown prior to Smith in the past decade). With a list of true frosh receivers in the time that included Kyle Williams, Taylor, Jamal Miles, Gerrell Robinson and Kyle Middlebrooks, what Smith did in limited playing time can’t be scoffed at.
Alonzo Agwuenu should flashes of brilliance in the 2012 preseason but it didn’t quite pan on the field. Agwuenu finished his 2012 season with a flash, nabbing his first career touchdown in the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl and is someone Alexander hopes can show some consistency so that he can be a player in the coming season.
Gary Chambers worked his way into one of the team’s top-five receivers in the Spring and will be joined by converted running back Kyle Middlebrooks as two guys that can add depth to the team. The likes of Frederick Gammage, Blake Covey, Jordan Gaston, Daniel Groebner and Byron Thomas - all non-scholarship players – all had a chance to to earn practice reps during the offseason and improve upon the team’s depth as well.
The team will lean heavily on the newcomers this season however, with several having a chance to come right in and start right away. ASU signed five wide receivers during the offseason, including three high school products and two junior college transfers.
Jaelan Strong and Joseph Morris each come in having been teammates together at Pierce College in Los Angeles. Strong played just one season at Pierce, but amassed 67 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns on the year and was regarded as the No. 15 overall junior college prospect in the country by ESPN.
Head coach Todd Graham says that Strong is one of the most dymanic receivers he has seen on film and Alexander notes that he is a guy that brings it all as far as size, work ethic and speed.
Morris was rated as the No. 61 overall junior college recruit by ESPN and averaged 18 yards per reception as a freshman in 2011 and is someone that has Alexander excited because he is a big, tough receiver that can do some of the dirty work and contribute on special teams.
As far as the three freshmen, Alexander plans to throw them right into the fire with no initial plans to redshirt anyone. He hopes their football IQ and ethic will take over as they all compete for a select few spots on the field.
Ellis Jefferson helped lead his Guyer High School team to the 2012 Texas High School State Championships game, where he hauled in 176 receiving yards and two touchdowns. At 6-4, 200, Jefferson brings good size and quickness and in addition to being a smart route-runner.
Another Texas prep standout, Cameron Smith is a speed guy that is still self-disciplined and runs good routes that will help spread the field. A 4.40 40-yard-dasher, Smith had 1,071 receiving yards on 59 receptions and 15 touchdowns as a senior at Coppell High last year.
Ronald Lewis rounds out the 2013 signees and is a dymanic player that played quarterback as a junior at West Jefferson High before switching to receiver as a senior. Ranked as the No. 25 overall recruit out of Louisiana, Lewis can immediately step into a role on special teams and has Alexander excited for his ability to be a jack-of-all-trades.