Sun Devils getting tight end roles sorted out

Junior Kody Kohl leads a tight end/3-back position group that is otherwise relatively unsettled at this stage of Arizona State's preseason camp.

PAYSON, ARIZ. – Early in the Arizona State practice at Rumsey Park Tuesday the first team offense tried to score against the first team defense in a goal line simulation.

Senior quarterback Mike Bercovici rolled out to his right, looked for junior tight end Kody Kohl who was running toward the back pylon.

As soon as Kohl broke off into his route, he tripped, fell down and the ASU defense lost track of him. Kohl quickly jumped back up, resumed his route and Bercovici tossed the ball to him for a touchdown.

Last season, it could have been easy for defenses, fans, coaches or even his quarterback to forget about Kohl with the other offensive weapons on ASU like wide receiver Jalen Strong and running backs senior D.J. Foster and sophomore Demario Richard.

This season Kohl should not be an afterthought. The junior is quicker, stronger, smarter and is poised to have impactful season as the main tight end.

“I’m real excited about Kody,” ASU tight ends coach Chip Long said Wednesday. “He had a great spring and he carried it over in the summer. He did a great job in the weight room. He’s got his strength back. Last year, a lot of people didn’t realize with his shoulder, that he didn’t have full gain of strength and now he’s got it. (He’s got) a year under his belt so he’s extremely confident, playing a really high level and his speed has increased about three times.”

Kohl finished the 2014 season fourth on the team with 16 catches for 167 yards and four receiving touchdowns.

The Sun Devils finished their first practice in Payson and at this point in the fall preseason Kohl has solidified himself as the top tight end.

Kohl has also taken on a leadership role and has helped the new tight ends adjust the next level.

Kohl got the first string reps Tuesday at both the in-line tight end and h-back spots. Bercovici has liked what he has seen from his starting tight end in camp.

“Kody’s extremely dynamic, not just in the pass game but in the run game and that’s what’s huge for that 3-back position especially,” Bercovici said. “We’re putting a lot on him because he can do so much. He can split out wide and he can give corners problems and he can really give safeties problems. So what we’re able to do with him is going to be pretty special. But, he’s just a hard worker and that’s what makes him good.”

When the tight ends were working individually with Long Tuesday, they focused a lot on the pass game especially route running.

Long and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell would continually remind Kohl and the tight ends to run flatter and tighter routes.

Coming into this season, Long said Kohl focused on running crisper routes. The tight ends coach said Kohl has shown signs of improvement in that area because he is more familiar with the Sun Devil offense.

“His savvy and his experience reading man and zones, just having a knack for getting open, plus just working, coming back down in a stem in a better angle is helping him so much,” Long said. “His chemistry with [Bercovici] is coming along which is exciting.”

Below Kohl, the depth chart is not as predictable.

The Sun Devils have a lot of physically talented, yet inexperienced players behind Kohl.

Sophomore Grant Martinez has the most experience but he hurt his left ankle Monday and was at practice Tuesday in a walking boot and crutches.

Behind Martinez are three newcomers, junior college transfer sophomore Raymond Epps and true freshmen Tommy Hudson and Jay Jay Wilson.

Wilson wore a white jersey, worked with the defense and did not spend any time with the tight ends again Tuesday. True freshman linebacker Nick Ralston wore a maroon jersey practiced with the tight ends primarily as a fullback lead blocker.

Both Epps and Hudson are dealing with the struggles of being a first year player. Epps and Hudson are facing different challenges but both said Long and Kohl are trying to help them improve.

When Kohl was not on the field, Epps received the majority of the second team reps at h-back and especially in-line tight end.

Since Epps is a redshirt junior college transfer, the window of opportunity for him to make an impact is smaller than Hudson’s. There was a reason Epps got a lot of reps at the in-line tight end spot. He said in junior college he rarely played the traditional tight end position.

“I played tight end kind of like the end of my first year at JUCO but, I was really split out a lot,” Epps said. “So I never really had my hand down so the footwork and everything probably was the hardest thing for me. But, I’m good with it now coach Long’s on me every day.”

Coming off the bus, Hudson does not look like a true freshman, standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 250 pounds. On the field, his youth shows. Hudson got some limited reps playing the in-line tight end spot. After practice he admitted he has been challenged adjusting to college football from high school.

Hudson said he is trying to learn the intricate details of playing tight end which were not a focus at the high school level.

He said no little mistake goes unnoticed by his coaches or teammates.

“Kody Kohl and coach Long they’ve been really good supporters,” Hudson said. “They’re really on me all the time making sure I’m doing the right thing. If I mess up a little thing they’re on me right away making sure I’m doing it perfect.”

Epps also said Kohl has also given him attention.

“He’s a leader,” Epps said. “He knows what he’s doing. I like that a lot. He helps us a lot. He’s like a second coach basically.”

Kohl, Norvell and Berovici all want Epps and Hudson to be ready to play at the college level as soon as possible. Since Norvell came to ASU, it has been no secret that he loves using the tight end and also wants to have as many big bodied pass catchers on the field as possible.

Norvell has drawn up many plays for the Sun Devils in the past with two tight ends on the field in a multitude of formations.

Bercovici said Tuesday the Sun Devil offense needs a solid dual tight end set to create mismatches for defenses.

“Our [two-tight end] personnel is huge,” Bercovici said. “A couple 3-backs need to step up and what not but, Kody’s a leader in that group. The way we can get two receivers out on the edge, we’re pretty dynamic in what we can do. We can run all of our offense in [two tight end] personnel and it’s really about just guys stepping up, just rising to the challenge because that’s been a huge personnel for us and what we can do with that in the run game, you’re going to have to man up those guys on the outside and that’s not going to be fun.”

Kohl was not available for interviews after practice Tuesday.

Notes

  • True freshman defensive lineman Joseph Wicker received the first team reps at the Devil backer position Tuesday. Wicker worked primarily as true defensive end devil with is hand in the ground with the defense running a 4-man defensive line front.

  • Senior linebacker and starting WILL linebacker Antonio Longino wore a green jersey again Tuesday. He spent the entire practice separated from the team working individually with other injured players at Muscle Beach.

    Sophomore linebacker D.J. Calhoun took the first team WILL linebacker reps in Longino's place.

    True freshman linebacker Khaylan Thomas took the second team WILL linebacker reps after Calhoun. Sophomore Christian Sam took the second team reps at the SAM linebacker position and did a solid job coming down hill and filling gaps.

  • Senior guard Christian Westerman was out of a green no-contact jersey Wednesday but wasn't participating in 11-on-11 action.

  • True freshman running back Jason Lewis had his first practice in pads after being cleared Monday. Standing at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, Lewis was the largest, most impressive teenager on the field Tuesday.

  • When the offensive lined up in its goal line formation, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Sam Jones came on the field to play tight end to be an extra blocker.

  • ASU Athletic Director Ray Anderson was in attendance watching Tuesday’s practice.

  • Sophomore defensive back DeAndre Scott started to get the reputation as a head hunter on defense. During a goal line drill early in practice, Scott lowered his should, jolted redshirt freshman quarterback Manny Wilkins and stopped Wilkins from scoring a touchdown.

  • The big play of the day came from Demario Richard when he busted through the left side of the line for approximately an 80-yard touchdown run. Richard obviously had solid blocking on the play but took a correct angle towards the back pile on to avoid the defensive backs who were trying to chase him down.

    A couple plays later, Richard walked off the field. He appeared to have banged up his ribs on a different play.

  • Fellow sophomore running back Kalen Ballage followed up Richard’s big run with one of his own. Ballage ran over a tackle from senior safety Jordan Simone to run for a touchdown.

  • Junior linebacker Laiu Moeakiola did not participate in practice again today. Therefore, sophomore linebacker Marcus Ball took the first team reps at Spur.

  • Junior wide receiver Frederick Gammage stayed out of practice again Tuesday wearing a green jersey.

  • True freshman tight end Jay Jay Wilson practiced with the defense but did not participate in 11-on-11 drills.

  • True freshman wide receiver Terrell Chatman was in a regular team jersey but not participate much in practice. He appears to have been slowed by a hamstring issue.

  • Junior defensive lineman Deonte Reynolds was not present at practice Tuesday and has not joined the team yet.


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