Junior tight end Kody Kohl was the only healthy veteran coming into the spring ready to play, with sophomore tight end Grant Martinez coming back from minor off-season surgery and sophomore tight end Raymond Epps still learning the ropes during his first spring as a Sun Devil.
“It’s like that every year,” ASU tight ends coach Chip Long said. “I can start off with [a lot of players] and I can end up with two to three. Those are like the chosen few and those that you roll with so they all kind of learn their role. I get a good feel for them and move them around. Different guys do different things really well so it’s my job to put them in a position to make it happen.”
ASU head coach Todd Graham voiced his concerns about the tight ends group as a whole after Sunday’s practice, largely because of the lack of scholarship players practicing. Martinez was a non-participant in all team periods as he rehabs, so his absence also proved limiting the group, which usually had walk-on Dan Veer with the second-team.
“Tight-end wise I think that’s probably where I’m not very pleased right now,” Graham said. “I think Kody (Kohl) is solid. Obviously you can tell Raymond (Epps) hasn’t practiced. We got to get him a whole bunch better.”
With a number of question marks surrounding the group’s productivity heading into the fall in advance of the arrival of highly regarded reinforcements Jaason Lewis, Tommy Hudson and Jay Jay Wilson -- all high school players who were heavily recruited -- the one solid checkmark remains next to Kohl’s name.
“He (Kohl) has had a prenominal spring,” Long said. “Probably the most consistent player we’ve had on offense and one thing is a challenge is route work and footwork. He’s a great run blocker, but he’s got to add this other element to his game. Really this last week and last two weeks, you really see it coming on. It’s really exciting, making plays, being really confident out there, knowing how to work off leverage and all that.”
Kohl didn’t participate last spring due to a shoulder injury, but this spring has come in and become a reliable target.
Last season, Kohl had the fourth-most receiving yards, 167 yards, on the team and was the No. 1 tight end. Former ASU tight end De’Marieya Nelson battled with injuries during the season and Kohl was the one to step up.
This season, Kohl said eyes are on him to perform.
“It’s hard because I feel like everybody is relying on me which I like the pressure, but at the same time, it’s not hard because you do get more reps,” Kohl said. “You get tired too but that’s what makes you the best. You got to be the best in your group if you can be.”
When it comes to working on his route running, Kohl said he works on cone drills with his hips and getting low on a daily basis. Kohl said he runs the routes at full speed, but he has the tendency not to concentrate as well on them as he does blocking.
“When it comes to blocking it just takes balance and hitting them first and I like to hit so I try to get the initial hit so after that it’s just trying to stay balanced and not let them go,” Kohl said.
Kohl said he has built his body into much better shape than when he got here as a freshman. He said he started at 225 pounds, gained too much weight and went up to 255 pounds and now is back at his ideal weight of 230 pounds.
Learning from Kohl is Epps, a junior college transfer from Arizona Western who has had alignment issues when ASU is going at full pace in its no huddle offense, and some drops in full team situations.
“Kody is a great mentor,” Epps said. “He helps me a lot on and off the field he keeps me in to it even sometimes when I’m not into it, he keeps me up and makes sure I’m on the right path.”
Though he had a challenged spring as he continues to acclimate to the system, Epps said he feels like this Sun Devil offense is a perfect fit for him because of the formations they run and how he can be used in a versatile way.
“It’s pretty challenging, but everyday you got to keep studying and working and I have a great coach,” Epps said. “He (Long) showed me everything. We study every day, he stay on me 24/7. It’s pretty hard to get acclimated, but if you really want it, you going to get it.”
Epps said he works with Long every day on steps and his footwork. He admitted he didn’t know anything on his first day, but since then he has seen improvement and said Long has really pushed him and stayed on him to keep progressing.
“He is hit with a sledgehammer everyday,” Long said. “It’s one thing when you can’t breathe out there and you have to remember where you’re lining up, what foot I’m going to step with.”
“I chose a great place to come,” Epps said. “I’ve learned new things every day. They work me to death but I love it, I need it. I feel like I have a lot to work on.”