Player Capsule: Jalen Bates
Position: Defensive End
Weight: 265 pounds
2016 season quick review: Bates played in two games before suffering a non-contact knee injury in warm ups at Washington.
SunDevilSource.com analysis: This will be an important season to determine if the progress Bates was making last year was stunted by the knee injury that took him out of action late last season and forced him to miss spring football.
Bates was behind every down end junior Joseph Wicker on the depth chart last season, which made playing time had to come by as Wicker is one of the best players on the defense. It's only going to become harder this season because not only is Wicker coming off a year in which he earned second-team all-league honors, Bates is now also battling junior newcomer Doug Subtyl, who was an elite pass rusher at the junior college level.
There was potential for Bates to emerge as a third-down weapon with Wicker shifting inside to tackle, but now he's got to fend off Subtyl for such a role, and do so coming off a knee injury that kept him off the field in the spring. Missing that developmental opportunity was aggravated because the Sun Devils had a new defensive line coach, Michael Slater.
Even with all of this working against Bates, there's a lot to like about his potential. Among the guys who have been on the roster for two or more seasons without much playing time, Bates is among the most promising. He's extremely long-limbed on an angular 6-foot-4 frame, with enormous hands that required ASU to special order size 4x gloves. He covers tremendous ground with his long, aggressive strides getting off the football, and has quite a bit of suddenness for his size.
Bates looks the part of an NFL-styled Buck outside linebacker/rush end more than anyone ASU's recruited out of high school under Todd Graham. He might actually operate better out of a two-point stance than a three-point stance, and ASU may experiment with it on passing downs because playing with two down linemen is something new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett tinkered with at Baylor.
There's even some potential for Bates to play as a bigger Devil backer, but that's not going to happen this year as long as senior Koron Crump is on the field. Perhaps in 2018 he gets a look in this role. On the flip side, Bates has a big frame and can easily support 275 pounds in the long run, and be a versatile 3-4 or 4-3 strong-side end projecting beyond college.
Right now, Bates is a lot further along as a pass rusher than he is against the run, and that's holding him back from more playing opportunity. He has such long strides and a hyper-focus on getting to the quarterback that he can be manipulated in the run game, run directly at, and is an execution risk from a containment standpoint. This shouldn't always be the case, however, as his size and length should eventually benefit him in this regard. But he just needs more situational understand and split-second run recognition and the ability to adapt on the fly. It comes down to knowing when and how to chop his footwork and not get his shoulders turned away, and not letting linemen use his momentum against him as easily.
Where Bates excels is using his length and very good explosiveness to win the edge as a pass rusher and he converts well to the pocket for a guy of his size, even though he needs to work on being able to drop his center of gravity to do so even more effectively. He's a candidate to out-run the pocket and be pushed behind the play as a result. But when he wins reps he does so with violent impact at the quarterback, and there's a very high ceiling here that he's working toward in the long term. He uses his length well at times hand displacement of the setting offensive tackle. Added flexibility work and strength training is going to help unlock a lot of his potential, the rest will come with time and experience.
Projected depth chart status: Playing time could be hard to come by for Bates unless he's able to beat out Subtyl for third-down opportunities with Wicker shifting inside to play tackle.