Eve Craig/SunDevilSource

ASU receivers adjusting to Billy Napier's diverse playbook

According to Arizona State's wide receivers, new offensive coordinator Billy Napier has introduced a thicker playbook with more diverse passing concepts this offseason.

The difference between the market on the corner down the street and the superstore in the shopping center a few miles up the road is vast.

At the market, what you see is what you get. If your needs are basic and your shopping list is straightforward, there's no reason the local mom and pop setup can't get the job done.

At the superstore, there's no limit to the number of options you have. If your shopping list is long, detailed and still taking shape, it's probably best to buckle up and make the commitment to enter the land of opportunity.

At Arizona State, the Sun Devils are beginning to experience the difference between the market and the superstore, and it's coming in the form of a new offensive scheme.

If 2016 offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey's playbook was the market, then his replacement, former Alabama assistant Billy Napier, has treated the Sun Devils' players to a superstore experience.

“It’s a lot different," senior wide receiver Ryan Jenkins said of Napier's playbook. "Coach Lindsey’s offense was a lot more simplified, not to say this in a negative way, but a lot more dumbed down in the terminology and the concepts. This offense just has a lot more formations and pass concepts, this offense just goes way deeper into the passing game.”

After spending five of the last six seasons working at Alabama under head coach Nick Saban, Napier has crafted an offensive playbook that draws from the concepts used by former Crimson Tide coordinators Jim McElwain, Doug Nussmeier and Lane Kiffin. 

Though ASU head coach Todd Graham hired Napier to run a no-huddle, up-tempo, 11-personnel, spread offense, Napier's background is loaded with pro-style influences.

And so far, the Sun Devils' wide receivers have been one of the primary position groups to experience the philosophical differences between Lindsey and Napier's offensive approaches.

While Lindsey's version of ASU's offense featured Air Raid concepts intended to capitalize on quick-hitting, run-replacement plays in the passing game, so far, Napier has introduced longer-developing, pro-style concepts to the Sun Devils with the goal of making the program's scheme more diverse.

“It’s going well, it’s all a transition for the quarterbacks as well, just installing the offense," sophomore receiver Ryan Newsome said. "It’s a lot of concepts, a lot of plays, the playbook is about this thick but it allows us to be diverse, it allows us to stretch the defense out, but obviously we’ve got different kinds of personnel in depending on who’s in at quarterback.”

One of the most significant early changes to the Sun Devils' scheme on display at ASU's spring practices is the varying spacing and alignments of receivers. 

During 11-on-air tempo drills open to the media, the Sun Devils' receivers have constantly flipped sides, used motions to change their alignments and worked in more diverse formations.

“We flip a lot and we do a lot of interchangeable formations and motions and stuff and it’s just a very intricate offense," sophomore Kyle Williams said. "It’s going to be great when we get it all together.”

Early in the spring, Newsome and fellow slot receiver, junior Jalen Harvey, worked on lining up a yard outside and offset behind ASU's tight ends and tackles, which indicates the Sun Devils' slot receivers will be used more frequently as perimeter blockers. The slot/wingback alignments for ASU's slot receivers also allow Napier to craft a more complex route tree to take advantage of using players like Harvey and Newsome and their ability to slip out of the backfield into various patterns.

Even though it's Harvey and Newsome competing for reps at the slot receiver position, which ASU calls its H-receiver, Williams said the Sun Devils are preparing for situations in which their outside receivers will play inside and their inside receivers will play on the outside. This represents a stark contrast from 2016, when Lindsey kept his outside receivers on the same side of the field regardless of the play call, and rarely asked ASU's slot receivers to play on the outside.

“In this offense we’re really interchangeable," Williams said. "The inside plays outside, outside plays inside so you really don’t have a position, you just play a true wide receiver position on this team.”

During skill development periods, Napier and first-year wide receivers' coach Rob Likens have introduced new routes for the Sun Devils' wideouts to learn and master, including a wide variety of double move routes designed to help stretch opposing defenses.

With burners like Williams, Newsome and Z-receiver John Humphrey Jr. on the field, the Sun Devils do have a number of athletes capable of using their speed to beat defenses over the top, but Humphrey and Newsome both said Napier is looking at using them in different capacities.

While Humphrey said he loves running routes with vertical stems, he also likes the quick game concepts and screen plays Napier is introducing that will get the ball in his hands quickly and allow him to outrun defenders in one-on-one situations.

“I like how coach Napier, he knows how to get every receiver the ball," Humphrey said. "He knows the right concepts on certain downs and in certain situations and stuff, that’s what I really like about this offense.”

As the ASU offense continues to take shape this spring and into fall camp, Napier and Likens will adapt the scheme to fit the strengths of the personnel that will be used most extensively.

At this point, the Sun Devils are still rotating three healthy quarterbacks in team periods and working with a deep group of wide receivers, so Napier has been aggressive about drilling a range of concepts during offensive installation to ensure every player has a basic understanding of his playbook.

Eventually, the Sun Devils may focus in on certain aisles in Napier's superstore of a playbook, but for now, Likens said his goal is to make sure his receivers understand all of the different possibilities at their disposal.

“It’s a little tough at times but they’re (receivers) getting it," Likens said of ASU's playbook. "I had to get it first so I had to get it too, but I went through that process and it’s starting to click for me now and I can see that with the players as well.”

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