September 18, 2013

Young receivers getting healthier; should play

When true freshman Cameron Smith practiced fully Tuesday, the Arizona State wide receiving corps was complete for the first time since August 10, when Smith suffered a hamstring injury.

On his second snap with the second team offense in the 11-on-11 tempo period of practice, Smith showed a little bit of what he could do when he beat sophomore cornerback Rashad Wadood to the inside for a completion.

The pace ASU practices at is tough for any player much less a freshman who only had a full week of adjustment to college football in camp before being sidelined for five weeks.

"He's been practicing slowly," wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander said. "He's just been so limited so it's hard. He's shown some good signs, so now it's just a matter of him being mentally strong enough to go into the game and feel confident about his health."

Despite ASU dropping no fewer than four passes Saturday against Wisconsin, including three by sophomore Richard Smith, Alexander said he is confident not only in his starters, but reserves like Smith and others.

Having a fully healthy group could help provide other options and allow ASU to have fresh players ready to go if others are tired by the no-huddle pace the team plays at.

"I really feel confident that I can throw any guy in there," Alexander said. "When one guy is tired, I can have full confidence in another guy that I throw in there in that he will execute the plan."

As a freshman, Smith brings something to ASU that isn't necessarily rampant among the wide receiving core.

"He is a big time deep threat," head coach Todd Graham said. "He's just had a little bit of a slow go with that hamstring. We need him out there. As soon as he can get out there he's going to be playing because there's no doubt he can be a big deep threat for us."

Smith isn't the only freshman wide receiver who was very promising and looking to get solid reps before getting hurt.

At the beginning of camp, freshman Ellis Jefferson started off strong but then ended up being nagged by a muscle strain. At one point Graham said Jefferson would be the only freshman to play in the opener on offense, but the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder hasn't seen action through two games.

"I don't think so," Todd Graham said, when asked if redshirting Jefferson is a possibility. "He's had a little of a groin deal and I think he'll play when he's fully healthy. They kind of, they were really doing great and then they kind of had a tweak, a muscle strain deal. They can get a little bit overwhelmed once school starts. That gets them a little bit, but both those guys I think will play. I don't think they will redshirt."

Among all the wide receivers, sophomore transfer Jaelen Strong appears to have made the most significant strides in his game since arriving at camp. He's caught 12 balls through two games, including two back-shoulder grabs on the go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin.

He, along with other young receivers, have plenty of room for improvement however.

Alexander has a clear mindset of what exactly it's going to take for that to happen.

"In everything we do, we always first fight for consistency," Alexander said. "There's two halves to each football game, and there are always some catches that you wish you could have back from a receiver standpoint. What you always want to do though is constantly take steps toward your identity for the future."

Extra starter

If Arizona State ever needs a backup to step up at the linebacker position, it won't have to look much farther than Salamo Fiso, whom head coach Todd Graham has referred to as its "fifth starter" at the position.

Fiso has been consistently been competing for the starting SAM linebacker spot with senior Steffon Martin. Linebackers coach Paul Randolph sees it as one of the more exciting competitions within the linebacker group.

"Oh absolutely," Randolph said. "They know it too. They are competing their tails off in practice and they rotate constantly and are always working. The best thing about the competition is they both work and help each other. So they understand that it takes both of them to be what we want in that SAM linebacker position. They're competing but they're also working and helping each other so I think that's a testament to the type of teammates and players that we have on this team. The character is high first and foremost, and they want to see the team win. But to me it's a great competition and they are still having it out."

A required element of playing the SAM linebacker position is being able to help stop the inside run, and coaches have confidence in Fiso despite his youth and inexperience.

"No doubt it helps us by putting him in there," Randolph said. "He's a really good run defender and that's one of his strong points so naturally he helps us if he's in there playing against teams like Wisconsin, Stanford and the likes that are a power football team."


  • Senior linebacker Chris Young was out of the Pat Tillman jersey that he was in last week. Senior safety Alden Darby and senior cornerback Osahon Irabor remained in Tillman jerseys.

  • The only starter on defense who stayed on the field when the second team took the field during the team tempo 11-on-11 period was redshirt freshman field safety Viliami Moeakiola. Junior Damarious Randall, who played limited reps Saturday for the first time, didn't participate in the segment.

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