Spring evaluation: TE preparedness grades

Junior tight end Kohl Kohl is a returning starter for Arizona State that is thin on experience and size. Here's our look at the three returning scholarship players' preparedness and potential.

1. Kody Kohl (junior) -- A consummate teammate, Kohl seemingly relishes the opportunity to make a key block as much as he does catch a touchdown. He's been a Sun Devil fan his whole life and had an easy time deciding to commit to the program upon being offered a scholarship, and has had a predictably strong work ethic on the practice field throughout his career. In measurable ways, Kohl isn't an ideal tight end at this level, not as tall or lanky as would be prototypical, not as fleet of foot or otherwise athletic enough to be considered a high end prospect at the position.

But Kohl overcomes some of his shortcomings simply by toughness and determination. He does have a strong base and good posture as a blocker both in-line and in space, and does a good job of using his feet to get in position for blocks. His balance and leverage as a blocker tends to be quite good for being undersized and not especially quick. Kohl's weight has fluctuated quite a bit while at ASU. He was leaner this spring after saying he felt he got too heavy in the past. There's a trade off associated with that and finding the right middle point is crucial. Too light and he is going to have a harder time sustaining blocks and not being as potent in the run game. Too heavy and he'll not be as rangy as a receiver, which will limit what ASU can do with him and perhaps the overall capability of the offense given that other returning options aren't as full service as Kohl.

As a pass catcher, Kohl has to maximize his average mobility by being more of a precise route runner. He's been challenged in this regard by ASU tight ends coach Chip Long and it's something players spend endless practice hours on during the spring and fall. If he can have better footwork and use his body in more of a coordinated fashion, he can extend his range and be more of a receiving threat than he has been in the past. There have been times Kohl had been literally a split second shy of getting his head around on near-area targets in time to make plays on the football and that can be remedied to some degree by getting to the spot a hair more quickly. Preparedness Grade: 3 / Potential Grade: 3.5

2. Grant Martinez (sophomore) -- There is no more prototypical a tight end prospect on the ASU roster than Martinez, though entering his third year at the school he's still far from being able to fully realize that potential. Coming off surgery ASU was cautious with Martinez in the spring and he was a non-participant for the most part as a result, so we weren't able to see if he's evolved from December bowl practices.

There are currently two main limiting factors for Martinez, and they are related: size and blocking ability. Though he has an impressive frame, with very good length and a wide upper leg/hip structure that would indicate the ability to add size, he was probably 15-20 pounds shy of a weight that would allow him to really take advantage of his natural ability at the position. Listed by ASU at 222 pounds -- and perhaps that's a bit less than he weighed in the spring -- Martinez, at 6-foot-5, has the frame to support 250 pounds, and really should at least be 240 pounds if he's going to maximize his potential at the position. ASU tends to want its players to bulk up into the spring, and then to lean out and get better conditioned in the summer, but for Martinez, he'll want to really gain more size.

Without question, Martinez is capable of being a receiving tight end in the ASU offense. He has a great catch radius, with impressive hands and the ability to adjust very well to the football in the air and go up and get it. He now has a much better grasp of all the alignments at a position that is very mentally demanding, and so he's able to play more freely. But Martinez's blocking, especially in-line, though improved, still is a long way from being reliable when going up against high end Pac-12 competition. There were times in December bowl practices when he won reps and looked good, and then stretches in which he was blown off the football and even off his feet. He needs to get stronger, bigger, and more proficient as a blocker if he's going to play as big of a role as he would like to, and is in the long run capable of.Preparedness Grade: 2 / Potential Grade: 3.5

3. Raymond Epps (sophomore) -- It's a very good thing for Epps and ASU that he was available to enroll in the spring and has three years of eligibility remaining because it was a major adjustment to FCS level football and he has a long way to go in order to be a reliable option for the Sun Devils. From a physical standpoint, Epps looks more like a big wide receiver -- the position he played in high school -- than a tight end prospect. If he weighs more than 220 pounds it would be a surprise. So he's going to have to really get a lot bigger.

In every practice the Sun Devils have a team tempo 11-on-11 period which is run at breakneck speed and one of the things coaches are most interested in is seeing how effectively their players get lined up from play to play in what is a very chaotic and mentally challenging environment. The tight end/3-back position is one of the most challenging because of how many different alignments the players have to operate from and Epps was one of the team's biggest missed alignment offenders in the spring. He would be on the wrong side of the field, or split at the wrong location, etc., even when the ball was snapped. What that means is he's thinking more about where he needs to be before the play's even begun and less about what he needs to do once it has begun.

The good news for Epps is that he's got very good range for a tight end prospect and is more of a big play threat than ASU's had at the position in a long time. He's someone who can access the seam vertically and stress defenses in a different kind of way when he's fully operational. It's just that he's a long way from being there in any reliably predictive way, and we won't can't know what his rate of improvement will be in terms of assimilation and adding strength. It's just something to monitor, but looks to be unlikely to be incorporated in a way that allows him to be a full service player this year. Epps also needs a lot more polishing from a technical standpoint as a blocker. He's got some ability but is just quite raw. Preparedness Grade: 1 / Potential Grade: 3.5

Preparedness/Potential Grade Key 5: All-American level performer

4: First/second team all-league level performer

3: Mid-level Pac-12 performer

2: Fringe Pac-12 performer

1: Non-Pac-12 level performer

Editor's note: Players are ranked in terms of overall current preparedness and not based on potential.

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