April 2, 2014

Jefferson making presence felt

Play after play in spring ball, redshirt freshman wide receiver Ellis Jefferson has proven he's not afraid to make the grabs in traffic.

Seemingly always having to reach up and snatch the ball with a sea of white jerseys surrounding his body, 6-foot-4, 209 pound Jefferson has been a standout in practices so far.

"I just got to play ball because I know it's not going to be easy when the game comes," Jefferson said, "There's going to be some really good cornerbacks. The Pac-12 has some of the best cornerbacks out here in the NCAA so I got to be prepared for it. It's just a sacrifice playing receiver. You know you're going to get hit so might as well be ready for it."

After coming out of the gate strong in the beginning of fall camp last year, Jefferson soon tapered off with the start of school and increasing demands on time and then suffered a nagging groin injury. ASU wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander said about four games into the season coaches made the official decision to redshirt Jefferson.

"It sucked at first redshirting, but after the fact, knowing that I was redshirting, knowing that I could still win awards as a freshman, be considered still as a freshman, it's a positive I guess," Jefferson said. "I've learned more so I've just gained another year so I'm really experience."

So far during spring practices, coaches have moved Jefferson from the 5-reciever spot in the slot to the boundary 9-receiver position where he's worked behind junior Jaelen Strong. However, Jefferson said coaches told him the move wasn't necessarily permanent and he could switch back at any time.

"[His performance has] been strong," ASU offensive coordinator Mike Novell said. "He's had a couple days that were maybe not to the level of what our expectations are. But every day that we challenge him he comes back and answers. He's a guy you can see we've moved him around. He's a guy we're taking different looks at. He knows he can play any one of two or three positions. Really trying to find a place that he has a great deal of comfort, we can get great match ups with him and be able to still move him around. He's really shined in some critical moments and I'm obviously excited about his development and what he can get to."

Jefferson said he likes the move to the outside because he feels like he gets more opportunities to catch balls playing on the boundary side. He also played outside receiver in high school during his senior year.

"I feel way more comfortable at that position," Jefferson said. "Even though I'm behind Jaelen (Strong), he's teaching me a lot. I'm learning a lot. I'm learning a lot more coverage-wise on the outside rather than the inside so it's just teachable moments right now. I think I'll get playing time."

In addition to the switch of position, Jefferson has also gone through a physical transformation from last year to now. Hitting the weight room with ASU strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold, Jefferson has put on some good weight from the beginning of last season, but also looks very lean.

"Coach Griz has been helping me out a lot and I think that's where my athletic ability has gotten way better," Jefferson said.

In addition to the help of Griswold for his physical stature, Jefferson said he has really been looking up to Strong for advice on his play on the field this year.

Jefferson said the receiving group as a whole has really come together this year and the players watch film as a group, even without the coaches present. It's a bond that translates onto the field where the receivers all correct one another and try to help each other as much as they can, he said.

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