A wide receiver group with a lot of moving parts and different personnel options became even more competitive Sunday when Arizona State coaches experimented with junior De'Chavon Hayes in a new role in practice.
Hayes worked at the 5-receiver slot role for the first time as a Sun Devil in the morning session, ahead of senior Gary Chambers with the first-team.
"It felt good," Hayes said following the session. "Coach (Mike) Norvell is finding ways to get me in a 1-on-1 situation with the [defensive back] and I feel like when I'm in that situation I feel I can make a lot of things happen, especially with my speed and my versatility."
Hayes redshirted last season after playing at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsylvania, using the time to better learn the playbook and add additional size and strength. He's now listed at 190 pounds, eight more than in 2014.
"When I was here a year ago I was just going through the motions," Hayes said." I was just lining up, not knowing the plays, just basically playing off talent. Knowing what I know now, it comes easy to me. It just comes naturally to me. When they call the play I just line up and am playing at a fast place."
Though he's practiced essentially as a receiver in the near slot role in two-back formations, ASU still considers that a running back position in its personnel groups. So while Hayes has had experience in practice running routes and catching the ball previously, he's never been in wide receiver meetings or worked with the position group in practice.
If Sunday's experience is well reviewed by ASU coaches, there's a real possibility he sees an expanded role that allows him to split time between the two groups and deepen ASU's receiver corps. It's a unit ASU Norvell is already pretty encouraged by.
"The thing I'm excited about is hands down it's going to be the best depth we've had at wide receiver," Norvell said. "I think potential-wise, could be the best group we have at wide receiver. The versatility of the guys, when you look at [Hayes], obviously the backs we have, the backs can jump out and do a lot of things. Whoever jumps out and makes plays and stays consistent is going to play.
"It's like I said when I got here. I want to play six receivers. That's what I want to do. We've only been able to play maybe three or four to this point. If we can go five or six deep, we can keep guys fresher and make more plays and that's going to to nothing but help us."
Leading up to Sunday, Chambers -- a returning starter -- was trying to stave off third-year sophomore Ellis Jefferson at the 5-receiver position. Now there's seemingly a third legitimate option in the fold.
ASU's perimeter receivers also are subject to a lot of competition. Senior D.J. Foster has moved from running back to wide receiver and figures to be a starter at one of the spots, and senior UCLA-transfer Devin Lucien is a strong candidate as well given his significant experience in the Pac-12. Then there's redshirt junior Eric Lauderdale, a highly touted 2014 class addition, 2015 junior college newcomer Tim White, and two redshirt freshmen, Jalen Harvey and Tyler Whiley.
With junior Fred Gammage in a green non-contact jersey Sunday, Harvey got some second team reps.
How it all shakes out is tough to project, but wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander feels like he'll have a better overall group from top to bottom, if things continue as he expects.
"It's deep and it's talented but it's just getting started," Alexander said. "There's not a lot mentally they're really having to deal with yet, but there's a lot of talent and a lot of competition. The guys have proven that they're in great shape, that we're mentally farther along than we've been in the past. That's something that jumps out.
"We're at a state now where we've got a lot of guys and we can play a lot of guys. They're buying into what we're doing and we'd like to be able to play more guys and have everyone operating at their best level as far as keeping guys fresh and competitive."
Hayes believes they'll be plenty of opportunity for him to show off his versatility and improved understanding of ASU's scheme, regardless of where he lines up.
"I've just got to stay focused, stay mentally sharp, stay healthy, stay in the playbook and make sure everybody around me has got the same goal and same mentality.
"My goal is I just want to put the team in situations to win ball games. I tell myself all the time, I want to lead the national in all-purpose yards. I want to make sure my team is on the same page and we all have that goal of getting the national championship."