August 24, 2013

Close competition continues for 5-receiver spot

Todd Graham 08/24/13 from Chris Karpman on Vimeo.


Arizona State's receivers are literally judged by how well they handle what's thrown at them.

But position coach DelVaughn Alexander wants his players competing for the starting 5-receiver spot to know that whether or not they start is largely out of their hands.

If a player is worried about trying to grab the job away from others it could be an unproductive distraction that allows the goal to slip away.

"All I want them to do is play as hard as they can, as fast as they can, as smart as they can and control what they can control," Alexander said. "That's what I'm trying to let them know is that they can't control any decision that we make as a staff but they can control their effort and their attitude every single day."

Two starting wide receiver sports are currently under control.

Sophomore wide receiver Richard Smith was recently named the offense's most improved player by coach Todd Graham. He's got a lock on the 2-receiver position.

When sophomore Jaelen Strong finally competed in his first practice after transferring from the junior college ranks as the offense's highest profile addition, he immediately took first team reps at 9-receiver.

Finding the right player to start at the 5-receiver spot is the biggest remaining puzzle facing Alexander and his fellow coaches.

Right now the position seems very undetermined with senior Kevin Ozier, freshman Ellis Jefferson and sophomore Gary Chambers all taking first-team reps in the last week. The position could become more uncertain before it becomes less so, as junior college transfer Joe Morris (foot) appears days away from being cleared to practice for the first time.

"It's competitive," Alexander said. "Those guys have done a great job. It starts with the leadership with Kevin, it starts with somebody experienced with Gary and then you got the two new guys. So there's a whole new dynamic than there was a year ago and they're pushing each other."

During Saturday's practice, Jefferson got the first team reps during the first team period. A day earlier, it was Ozier. For the first week of camp solid, it was Chambers.

Jefferson was a big surprise during the first week of fall camp. He caught everyone's attention with some strong catches over the middle.

Jefferson's 6-foot-4 and 200 pound frame helps him at the 5-receiver -- which typically lines up in the slot -- because he runs a lot of routes over the middle and takes on rerouting hits from large linebackers and safeties. He's also called upon to block frequently on the perimeter, which he should excel at given his size.

Coaches were impressed with Jefferson's fearless routes early in camp. Oddly enough Jefferson said running through traffic was a challenge for him.

"I played outside receiver in high school," Jefferson said. "They put me at inside receiver so now I need to work on the adjustments with the linebackers hitting me and everything so I need to get better at that."

Because of Jefferson's impressive first week he has never fallen out of the two deep spot on the depth chart. As camp has progressed he has gotten more and more first team reps.

Alexander said Jefferson brings a spark to the offense when he comes in.

"He's been in and out with the first group and he provides a lot of energy," Alexander said. "That's what he does, he provides energy, he's long, he can do a lot of good things and he's shown a lot of good things early and throughout camp."

Jefferson's early splash contributed to Chambers moving down the depth chart, but he's clearly shown he's remains very much in the running for the job.

In the early practices Chambers struggled to sustain blocks on the outside during quick screen and run plays and was chastised by Alexander for not consistently hitting his route depths.

The more practices Chambers got under his belt though, the more his blocking improved. During the last week he had some really nice cracks on the cornerback so Richard Smith could slip under and take a wide receiver screen for a couple yards.

Chambers said he worked a lot on the fundamentals of blocking during and after practice with Alexander and it has helped him make better blocks. But at the end of the day blocking is an attitude.

"It's definitely a mentality," Chambers said. "There's a right way and a wrong way to do everything but in the end I got to make my blocks. So as long as I make it, coach will get on me about how it was later so I can fix it and try to make it more often but in the end I just got to go out there and block those guys."

Coaches like to say competition makes everyone better. At a minimum, it appears to be creating more depth.

With the improvement of Ozier and Chambers and the addition of Jefferson and Morris, there are more options at the position compared to last year.

As a result, all of the aforementioned players could get game reps early to prove their worth.

"With the receivers, there's a set starters right now but we're going to take shots this year so if we run a long play, a deep pass, a receiver is going to come out and a backup is going to go in," Ozier said. "All the receivers don't really look at the backup as being a backup. It's just like okay I'm ready to go in at any time now."

Field safety still in flux

All week, senior defensive back Robert Nelson has worked with the first-team at field safety after true freshman Marcus Ball was sidelined for an estimated 3-to-5 weeks.

But if the Sun Devils played tomorrow, Nelson probably wouldn't get the starting nod. That honor would likely go to redshirt freshman Laiu Moeakiola, who has most often worked with the second-team.

"Laiu (Moeakiola's) really had several good days," Graham said. "I have a lot of confidence in him. If we played today, I'm not sure Laiu wouldn't start at free safety. That probably what we'd do. The key is dependability."

Nelson has received reps at field corner again late this week, Graham said, and junior college transfer Damarious Randall probably won't be ready to play in the opener.

True freshman James Johnson can't be counted out either. Graham said he'd like to redshirt Johnson, but doesn't know if he'll be able to given the lack of healthy depth at the position.

Notes

  • Graham has been very pleased with his first full-cycle recruiting class to this point in camp. Highly touted freshman Chans Cox has firmed up the backup devil backer position behind junior Carl Bradford, and true freshmen linebackers Viliami Latu and A.J. Latu could be playing a lot by mid-season, Graham said.

  • Junior college transfer Eriquel Florence attended practice for the first time Saturday and has been cleared academically. Graham said the interior linebacker would likely have a four-to-five practice acclimation period to get conditioned. Florence would ASU a 100 percent percent enrollment rate with the 2013 signing class.

  • Sophomore Antonio Longino and redshirt freshman Carlos Mendoza both had their best day at spur on Friday, Graham said and they plan to leave Longino there. Overall, the linebacking corps has a lot of depth according to Graham, but only one standout, senior Chris Young. "We've got a lot of 2s and we need some more 1s," Graham said.

  • Morris, freshman receiver Cameron Smith and Randall all were wearing green no contact jerseys Saturday. Morris and Smith continued to run routes during individual periods. Morris stayed after practice to work one-on-one with Alexander on routes. While running his routes he looked to be going about 75 percent speed.

  • Senior tight end Darwin Rogers was back at practice Saturday after missing most of this week with a "ding." He stretched with the injured players, did not wear his helmet most of the practice and did not participate in drills.



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