August 1, 2006

Camp Preview: Tight Ends

The 2005 version of the Sun Devils had one of the top tight end groups in the country. Will that continue to be the case this season with Lee Burghgraef having graduated and Jamaal Lewis likely to spend most of his game snaps at one of the receiver positions? ASUDevils.com takes an in-depth look at the tight ends heading into spring football, a group that features Rivals.com preseason All-American junior Zach Miller.

As a true freshman, Miller started all 12 games and finished the year with 56 catches for 552 yards and six touchdowns, earning second-team All-American honors from Rivals.com. Not only did Miller break the ASU record for catches by a tight end in a season (previously held by Todd Heap, who had 55 catches in 1999), he actually broke the freshman record for catches by a receiver, previously held by John Jefferson and Derek Hagan.

Miller's productivity decreased a bit as a sophomore, primarily due to injuries. He had off-season shoulder surgery that required a long rehab period and left lingering questions about the structural soundness of the shoulder as he entered his sophomore season. Wearing a restrictive harness, he had three catches for 26 yards and a touchdown in the opener versus Temple and then two catches for 23 yards against LSU before a high ankle sprain took him out of action for the next two games.

When he came back, Miller took an adjustment game against USC where he perhaps still wasn't completely healthy and had no catches, before everything finally seemed to get back to a semblance of normalcy the following week versus Oregon. He had seven catches for 71 yards and one touchdown against the Ducks.

While he had just five catches for 49 yards and one touchdown through the first five games of the season, Miller averaged 4.7 catches and 61 yards per game the rest of the season, numbers that were much more indicative of the type of player that he is. Miller finished with 38 catches for 476 yards and four touchdowns, but shoulder and ankle problems were the overriding storyline of his sophomore season.

With those injuries seemingly behind him now, Miller -- nicknamed "The Truth" by teammates -- enters fall camp at 6-foot-5 and 259 pounds, and he appears to be one of the more likely candidates to replace Hagan as the team's go-to receiver. Miller is the total package as a receiver, with great size, fantastic hands, and the ability to get separated from linebackers and even safeties in space due to his speed. But he's not a one-dimensional talent.

"In my opinion, Zach Miller is one of the best blocking tight ends in the nation," ASU coach Dirk Koetter said. "He gets a ton of credit for his acrobatic catches, but when you watch cut-ups you see what a tremendous blocker he is."

Miller ranks first in the country over the last two seasons in receptions (94) among all tight ends and he's second in receiving yards (1,028) and touchdowns (11). He is already tied for first on the career ASU list in touchdowns and is second in receptions and fourth in receiving yards. By the end of this season, Miller should hold essentially every noteworthy career record at the position.

Zach's older brother [/db]Brent Miller[/db], a 6-foot-5, 238 pound junior is the likely first-team replacement for Burghgraef at the H-Back position in the team's dual-tight end system. Brent Miller caught seven balls for 111 yards and two touchdowns last season and he's a very cerebral player who, like his brother, has great hands and is capable of getting downfield. He'll also potentially be an important red zone target in certain situations for the Sun Devils.

Sophomore Florida transfer Dane Guthrie, a 6-foot-3, 253-pounder, sat out last season and figures to challenge Brent Miller for the first-team designation at H-Back. Guthrie is extremely well put together physically and coming out of high school he was ranked as the No. 15 tight end prospect in his class by Rivals.com. He's now had a year to adjust to the system and it will be interesting to see how that translates to his performance in camp.

Backing up Zach Miller is 6-foot-4, 255 pound sophomore Andrew Pettes, a player many considered to be the second best tight end prospect in the west coming out of high school, when they were in the same in-state graduating class. Pettes as the No. 12 ranked tight end in the class (same class as Guthrie).

Two other scholarship players at the position are redshirt freshman Jovon Williams, a 6-foot-3, 214-pounder who has earned a reputation as a consummate teammate, and incoming freshman Lance Evbuomwan, who is only 17 years old and already is 6-foot-4 and 256 pounds.

What we'll be watching in fall camp:

Can Zach Miller stay healthy through the month of August and enter the season in great shape physically?

Zach Miller is impressively put together, but will he show greater durability?

At a critical H-Back position that is one-third fullback, one-third tight end and one-third wide receiver, can Brent Miller replace Burghgraef without missing a beat?

Who is going to step up as a key reserve at this position group? ASU needs Pettes and/or Guthrie to be a capable back-up and preferably both.

Will Jamaal Lewis line up primarily at wide receiver, or will he continue to be used as a tight end in certain situations as a vertical threat?

Williams seems a bit light at 214 pounds. Is that a false perception or does he need to get bigger and stronger?

Evbuomwan looks like an absolutely freak of a physical specimen in our film viewings. Will that translate to camp and is he god enough to see the field this season?

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