Sun Devils striving for improvement at tight end in 2016

With its top tight ends returning from last season, Arizona State has stability at the position. The real question though is whether or not it will be better as a group, starting with its lone senior.

Arizona State senior tight end Kody Kohl admits to all the mistakes he made in 2015.

From the dropped passes, to the footing mishaps, Kohl knows them all, but he’s in no hurry to put them in the past.

“I kind of use it as a fuel,” Kohl said. “I learn from those mistakes so if I forget them, I’ll make them again. I don’t want to forget them. I want to prevent them from happening again and move on.

“I think I could have done better (last season), but I had a fun season and I’m just looking to make up for all the mistakes I had and turn them into positives.”

Though Kohl showed statistical improvement from the 2014 season when he caught 16 catches for 167 yards, he was still fourth in receiving in 2015 for ASU with 32 catches for 368 yards and four touchdowns.

Trailing former ASU wide receivers Devin Lucien, D.J. Foster and current junior wide receiver Tim White in receiving yards, Kohl’s season didn’t live up to the expectations ASU head coach Todd Graham had set early in the 2015 season when he stated Kohl would be a “big impact on the offense.”

While his productivity was up, there were several dropped touchdown opportunities and other missed connections that not only linger with Kohl, but also ASU fans looking for more success from the position.

Now in 2016, Kohl – as well as the rest of the tight ends group – is looking to recover from a lackluster 2015 season.

Graham said Monday Kohl has proved to be a leader of the tight ends group and has seen improvements from junior Raymond Epps, sophomore JayJay Wilson, redshirt freshman Thomas Hudson and freshman Jared Bubak.

“I really like [the tight ends group],” Graham said. “I think we’re built to be more multiple with multiple tight ends with broad blocking surfaces so I feel good about that group. Kody has done a great job of leading them. Raymond has been impressive, Jay Jay has been impressive. Tommy Hudson is going to be guy who really helps us there and then at our tackle position, we might have some of those tackles that will be tackle tight end guys.”

Graham also stated while the group doesn’t have a star tight end such as former ASU tight end Chris Coyle, they’re close to matching his potential as a whole.

“I mean, Chris Coyle, pretty good tight end so do we have anybody to the level where he is at?” Graham said Monday. “I don’t know. Close. It is deeper and wider. We’re bigger and just real impressed with that and I really think that’s getting closer to where we want it.”

In 2012, Coyle led ASU in receiving yards with 57 catches for 696 yards and five touchdowns in Graham's first year in Tempe. Ever since then, no ASU tight end has been No. 1 in receiving for a season nor exceeded 423 yards – the mark Coyle set in his final year at ASU in 2013.

Graham said Monday he really wants to have a specific in-line tight end who can be physical in the blocking game and make controlled catches down the field. Additionally, making sure the team has a solid three-back is crucial as well so that it can utilize two tight end formations as much as it would like to.

Trying to deliver on these goals and help get the players up to Graham’s standards after a disappointing 2015 season is ASU tight ends coach DelVaughn Alexander.

Alexander was ASU’s wide receivers coach for the past four years before he made the move to tight ends coach this season with the addition of Jay Norvell to ASU’s staff.

“For me the thing is just technique driven when it comes to the tight end position,” Alexander said in early March. “I want to make sure we get technique and fundamentally driven before spring ball is over. Are we going to be perfect? No. But I want to have a teaching progression and I want to see that progression from practice No. 1 to practice No. 15.”

Epps said he believes Alexander is “definitely a good coach,” and right now, he’s been preaching physicality, speed, and effort to the group.

As far as his individual improvements, Epps said he feels a lot stronger and faster after gaining some weight by going through winter workouts in the weight room. When he arrived out of Arizona Western Community College last spring, Epps looked more like a big wide receiver than a tight end. That's no longer the case.

“(I did it) just so I could be stronger, so I could play in the trenches, so I could play more positions and be versatile,” Epps said. “I feel like I could run a route as well as a receiver and block as good as a tackle.”

Also undergoing a bit of a physical transformation is Wilson. Though his weight hasn't changed as much, Wilson is leaner now at roughly 250 pounds, and looking more like the part of a dynamic Pac-12 tight end. 

Last year, Wilson started off on special teams and then worked at the Devil position on defense for a period of time. When that didn’t work out and former ASU linebacker Antonio Longino stepped into the role, Wilson was bumped back to the offensive side of the ball to work with the tight ends, which is where he started out in August and was initially recruited to play. 

“I was just happy I got to play as a true freshman, but me and coach Graham had a talk and he said wherever you can help the team the most that is where you will play and I said that’s fine,” Wilson said. “I started on special teams, we tried the Devil thing and a lot of stuff happened and I got moved to offense and just working from there and now coming back I have a position and I am finally working to master my craft and continue to do what I do.” 

Wilson said this year he feels very comfortable with the new coaches, especially ASU offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey who is helping a lot with film sessions and breaking down plays before the players see it on the field.

“I love football so I love doing it all,” Wilson said. “I don’t really have a comfort zone. If I’m on the field strapped up, I’m comfortable. I’m having fun and smiling. I love it. I bleed and die, I die for this.”

Under Lindsey, ASU’s offense has made some tweaks that could lead to an even faster tempo than last year. Kohl said he believes everyone is enjoying the pace in practice, and while he doesn’t want to say the plays are different, “the team’s attitudes are.”

“It’s quite an experience actually because I’ve only had one offense my whole entire time being here and then to learn a new one, and I mean it’s kind of similar, but it’s faster and stuff so it’s been quite a spring ball,” Kohl said.

For Hudson, this is his first spring ball and he sees the difference in how the coaches’ techniques and teaching methods are different from last fall to the spring – where it’s usually a more relaxed learning environment.

“He’s a great, great coach,” Hudson said regarding Alexander. “He really breaks down the plays, like the specifics. So like you understanding what to do and you’re not just memorizing plays and where to line up and where to go. He breaks it down so you can really learn the plays.”

Kohl said he didn’t have much of a relationship with Alexander when he was working with the wide receivers, but now hopes to build a relationship with him and work to achieve his goals.  

“He (Kohl) is a great teammate, a very smart player and it's one of those things, Kody and I can talk at a level different than Jared because Kody has been here before,” Alexander said. “At the same time, Kody has needs as a player too and I have to give him the same respect as far as coaching him and giving him the same information that I'm giving to a guy who is new to the position. The challenge is, and that's what good about coaching, I've got to step up my game to make sure that he elevates his."

Kohl said Alexander is similar to former ASU tight ends coach Chip Long, but believes Alexander is “more upbeat” and wants Kohl to be more vocal and speak out more on and off the field.

“At first I was kind of unsure about him (Alexander), but now I completely respect him and I’m excited to see what his and my relationship can make out of this season,” Kohl said. “I’m starting to really love him.” 

Notes

-- Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Emanuel Dayries, junior linebacker Christian Sam, senior linebacker Laiu Moeakiola and freshman offensive lineman Marshal Nate were all in green non-contact jerseys and working on Muscle Beach, as they have been since the start of spring football. 

-- Junior defensive back Chad Adams worked at cornerback today instead of safety during team periods. Sophomore defensive back Kareem Orr worked at cornerback and safety today during team periods. Todd Graham said this is part of the process of dual-training players so they can more seamlessly fill into different spots if need be. 

-- Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Bo Wallace is still not with the team and has missed all four spring practices. 


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