This is the fifth in a series of position analyses for the 2015 Arizona State football team. Coming Friday, a look at the secondary.
TEMPE, Ariz. — When a coach tells you he’s taking a by-committee approach to filling a key role on a team, it usually means he doesn’t have a guy to fill that role. Arizona State wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander insists that’s not the case with his search for a big-play receiver.
“I’m seeing tremendous depth and I’m seeing tremendous speed,” Alexander said. “I honestly say it will be a shared job. I’m not worried about our explosiveness because we’ve got a lot of explosive people. We just want to spread the ball around. We want to keep the defense on their heels.”
That may happen out of necessity or it may happen by design, but the Sun Devils would clearly be a lot better if Jaelen Strong hadn’t departed for the NFL a year early and Cameron Smith hadn’t undergone season-ending knee surgery in March. Strong led the team last season with 1,165 yards and 10 TDs. Smith was third on the team with 596 yards and finished first in yards per catch at 14.5 among players who averaged at least one catch per game.
D.J. Foster’s switch to the slot has elevated hopes for the group, but this is still one of the biggest question marks on offense. Foster finished second on the team last season with 62 catches for 688 yards. UCLA transfer Devin Lucien has shown an ability to get open deep in camp and junior college signing Tim White has impressed in a number of areas, but the Sun Devils have not played a game yet.
“It’s an ever-changing field with football,” Alexander said. “That’s just the way it is. When someone leaves, someone has to jump into that role.”
WIDE RECEIVER STARTERS
Devin Lucien, Gary Chambers, D.J. Foster: Ellis Jefferson is currently listed ahead of Lucien on the depth chart, but Lucien is the deep-ball threat the Sun Devils want in their offense. Coach Todd Graham has mused about having him on the field at the same time as Tim White and running back De’Chavon Hayes to give defenses a trio of fast players to manage.
“Devin can get behind the defense and catch the ball down the field,” Alexander said. “From Day 1, that’s what he’s shown us so we’re looking forward to seeing it in action.”
Foster has a long history of making plays at ASU. He led the team in rushing last season (1081 yards) and finished second in receiving. If he and Lucien can emerge as clear No. 1 and No. 2 threats, the Devils should be all right.
Chambers made some big plays, but his best asset at the Y position is his ability to block downfield. ASU wants to be a run-oriented offense and Chambers is the best blocking receiver of the group.
BACKUPS/IN THE MIX
Ellis Jefferson, Terrell Chatman, Eric Lauderdale, Frederick Gammage, Tim White: Jefferson, a redshirt sophomore, is still getting his feet wet but he has a good career ahead of him and should get more opportunities this season if he doesn’t start over Lucien.
White is an intriguing player. He was a late signing but has shown good hands, speed and precise routes throughout camp. He missed eight days with a hand injury suffered in the team’s training camp scrimmage at Camp Tontozona, but he is back on the field with a light wrap and Graham believes he will be back for the season opener.
Chatman, Lauderdale and Gammage are depth players.
TIGHT END STARTER
Kody Kohl: Kohl caught 16 balls for 167 yards and four TDs last season. If he can continue to emerge as a pass-catching threat, he could relieve pressure on quarterback Mike Bercovici as a safety valve underneath and on seam routes. The Sun Devils plans t feature him more in their offense this season.