Season Preview WR's and TE's

Over the next couple of weeks, Devils Digest will preview the Sun Devils' 2009 squad by position. In our second preview section, Joe Healey examines the ASU Wide Receivers and Tight Ends units.

Wide Receiver (listed alphabetically)

82 Allante Battle RS-Fr. 5-9 202 Phoenix, Ariz. (Desert Vista HS)

7 Jarrid Bryant Fr. 6-4 185 Salisbury, Conn. (Salisbury Prep)

80 J.J. Holliday Fr. 6-0 165 Tucson, Ariz. (Santa Rita HS)

13 Chris McGaha RS-Sr. 6-1 199 Phoenix, Ariz. (Moon Valley HS)

-- Aaron Pflugrad Jr. 5-10 172 Eugene, Ore. (Sheldon HS)

9 A.J. Pickens RS-Fr. 5-10 172 Chino, Ariz. (Don Lugo HS)

8 Gerell Robinson So. 6-4 230 Phoenix, Ariz. (Hamilton HS)

86 T.J. Simpson RS-So. 6-1 189 Peoria, Ariz. (Peoria HS)

2 Brandon Smith RS-Sr. 6-2 195 Bakersfield, Calif. (West HS)

5 Kerry Taylor Jr. 6-0 197 Chandler, Ariz. (Hamilton HS)

6 Kyle Williams Sr. 5-10 186 Scottsdale, Ariz. (Chaparral HS)

Although ASU's wide receivers lineup isn't found among the top units in the multitude of preseason position group rankings found in preview magazines and publications, the Sun Devils' group is as talented as the Pac-10 Conference has to offer. While battling through injuries, individual and team inconsistency and developmental needs in 2008, ASU's 2009 unit has the potential to offer a vast artillery for the passing pleasure of Sun Devil quarterbacks.

Consistency at the receiver positions will be paramount to the offensive potency for ASU this year as question marks exist at virtually every other position, requiring stability from Sun Devil wide outs. With only three receivers returning to have caught more than 10 passes on the year in 2008, the physical and athletic potential is in dire need of being equated in terms of field productivity during the 2009 season.

During the 2007 season, football fans were hard-pressed to find a more sure-handed, reliable receiver than Chris McGaha, who routinely made jumping, stretching, diving, acrobatic catches on deep balls, third-downs , on sideline routes and across the middle of the field, totaling team-highs of 61 receptions for 830 yards. Able to play every game of 2008 but hampered by physical limitations, the Phoenix product has his statistics nearly split in half, catching 35 passes for 501 yards. ASU's active career leader with 112 receptions for 1,569 yards in 38 games with 30 starts, McGaha looks to return to his 2007 form and provide ASU's first-year quarterback a highly useful sense of reliability at the receiver position.

When Kyle Williams (pictured) is ‘on', there are few names on the Sun Devil roster more exciting to watch than the former Arizona High School Player of the Year. One of the nation's premier punt returners and ASU's top ‘home-run' threat at the receiver position, Williams has the capability to strike lightning on opposing secondaries, but Sun Devil fans yearn for more as the only strike against him is a lack of consistent contribution in the box score. Able to go the distance each time he touches the pigskin, Williams has caught 10 career touchdown passes on only 52 total receptions, with 811 career receiving yards while also averaging nearly 11 yards on punt returns for his career. In his final year at ASU, Williams will be called upon to lead on the field and in the scorebook.

If looking for style points, junior Kerry Taylor pictured) certainly made his presence known with his YouTube highlight clip from spring practice in which he caught a pass behind his back at his hips in a one-on-one drill against cornerback LeQuan Lewis. Applauded for his work ethic between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Taylor ignited an incredible start to the 2008 season but cooled off in conjunction with the entire ASU offense, collecting over one-third of his productivity in the first two games of the season, catching nine of his 27 passes and collecting 185 of his 405 total receiving yards in games against NAU and Stanford, while also catching two of his three touchdown receptions in that pair of contests as well. An eye-opening blend of speed, style and substance, Taylor will be prominent among ASU's three receiver sets in 2009 after starting six of 12 games played last year.

The state of Arizona's top collegiate prospect in 2008, rated as the nation's No. 78 overall national recruit by Scout.com, Gerell Robinson (pictured) starred in many capacities during his prep career, playing quarterback and defensive back in addition to wide receiver before his arrival to ASU. Second to few in terms of his raw physical talents, Robinson still was in need of technical refinement despite avoiding a redshirt season in 2008. Although many onlookers unfittingly deem Robinson as disappointing thus far, his first full offseason on campus at ASU has been labeled an excellent one, and hopes and expectations remain larger than the former Hamilton Husky's frame, one of the largest for a receiver in the Pac-10 Conference at 6-4, 230 pounds. The tallest of ASU's receivers and 30 pounds heavier than the closest wide receiver on the roster, Robinson intends to begin to make his mark at ASU this year.

A recipient of lofty comparisons to former Sun Devil Rudy Burgess, statistically one of college football's top all-time all-purpose threats, A.J. Pickens (Pickens) has earned high reviews from coaches and critics for his play since joining the team last fall. A potential heir apparent to senior Kyle Williams both in the offensive lineup and on special teams, Pickens was rated as the No. 86 wide receiver prospect in the nation in 2008 by Scout.com after totaling 3,234 all-purpose yards at Chino (Calif.) Don Lugo High School. Though his most electric playing days likely will be in the years after 2009, Pickens exited the spring as the top alternative to Williams at slot receiver and may be ASU's primary kickoff returner, so needless to say the coaching staff willingly plans to put the ball in the hands of this exciting rookie.

Perhaps no player on the Sun Devil roster is harder to figure out than Brandon Smith (pictured); few athletes on the squad match his athleticism and if he could do in live action what he has often done in practice, he could be an All-Pac-10 caliber receiver. In his early ASU years he drew comparisons to Sun Devil legend Derek Hagan, capped off by a starting effort in the 2006 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl in which he caught a touchdown pass. Unfortunately from that point Smith has essentially fallen off the offensive map, appearing in only one contest over the 2007-08 seasons, despite routinely impressing in both spring and fall preseason camps. With virtually no slack left on his rope, it's literally ‘now-or-never' for Smith, who has all the needed physical tools to be a pass-catching threat.

Sophomore T.J. Simpson worked his way onto the field last year among a talented, veteran receiving corps, catching two passes for 12 yards and a touchdown in 11 games of action. Well-rounded in terms of size, speed and technical skills, Simpson figures to be a solid reserve again this season while he also prepares to be one of the more seasoned receivers in 2010 after the departure of the three seniors on the depth chart this year.

One of the most talented overall high school athletes during his days at Phoenix's Desert Vista High School, Allante Battle became a Sun Devil by way of a track and field scholarship and redshirted with the football team in 2008. While Battle possesses top-level speed and agility and was a flashy game breaker at the prep level that averaged an amazing 26.4 yards on 35 career receptions with 22 all-purpose touchdowns, his track and field commitments forced him to miss spring practice, creating a new type of hurdle for Battle to clear as he competes with classmate A.J. Pickens as a reserve slot receiver behind senior Kyle Williams. Despite his split attention between track and football, his elite athletic acumen should allow him to contribute on special teams as he acclimates to ASU's schematic intricacies.

True freshmen Jarrid Bryant and J.J. Holliday recently arrived on campus to begin their collegiate careers and although both players flew considerably under the radar from a recruiting perspective, each boasts intriguing athletic upside to bring to ASU's aerial attack. While neither player is likely to contribute in live action in 2009, both provide excellent future potential.

Bryant, who attended Salisbury (Conn.) Prep but began his high school career at Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School alongside several current Sun Devil underclassmen, has an excellent basketball resume and has the height to be a formidable target, perhaps of a similar physical mold to recently departed end zone target Michael   Jones.

Escaping Tucson for greener pastures in Tempe is Holliday, a dynamic and electric playmaker that was arguably the most accomplished wide receiver in the state during the past two seasons, catching 109 passes for 2,351 yards and 30 touchdowns during his junior and senior years, earning him All-Arizona honors. Noted as the first prep player from Tucson to sign with ASU since offensive lineman Stephen Berg of Canyon del Oro High School in 2002, Holliday caught ASU's attention after running a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the 2008 Under Armour/Scout.com Phoenix Combine in May of last year.

Recently joining the team is Aaron Pflugrad, one of two FBS scholarship offseason transfers to be added to the Sun Devil roster. The son of former Sun Devil assistant coach Robin Pflugrad, Aaron Pflugrad was set to potentially be a starter in the Oregon Duck offense this year after an excellent spring game in which he caught six passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns, but switched schools largely due to differences in the coaching staff under new Oregon skipper Chip Kelly. A third-year player with a redshirt year available, Pflugrad has collected 23 career receptions for 247 yards and one touchdown while also serving as one of Oregon's top punt returners. In accordance with NCAA transfer rules, Pflugrad will watch the 2009 season from the Sun Devil sidelines and then join the ASU offense in 2010 with two years of eligibility.

Tight End (listed alphabetically)

87 Christopher Coyle Fr. 6-3 235 Westlake Village, Calif. (Oaks Christian HS)

88 Steven Figueroa RS-Fr. 6-4 251 Tempe, Ariz. (Desert Vista HS)

89 Dan Knapp RS-So. 6-5 258 Reno, Nev. (Reno HS)

83 Stanley Malamala Sr. 6-3 267 Lahaina, Hawaii (Lahainaluna HS/Golden West College)

85 Max Smith Fr. 6-2 258 Scottsdale, Ariz. (Saguaro HS)

84 Jovon Williams RS-Sr. 6-4 225 Covina, Calif. (Charter Oak HS)

Since the departure of All-American Zach Miller following the 2006 season, the tight end spot has degraded from the position of strength it generally was for the previous coaching regime. The past two years have seen platoon units split playing time, and while both seasons showcased surprising senior performances by Tyrice Thompson in 2007 and Andrew Pettes the following season, there remains ample room for improvement to classify the position as an offensive strength.

Looking to continue the trend set by Thompson and Pettes before him, senior Jovon Williams (pictured) hopes to be the next to arise from a non-contributing role into more impactful duty. Physically gifted and determined to improve, Williams has primarily been a special teams player with only four receptions to his credit in three years of eligibility at ASU. Williams hopes his solid spring can catapult him to more substantial live repetitions as a senior; if not, he'll likely be one of a group at the position to earn time in 2009.

Primarily a blocking tight end in his first year at ASU after joining the 2008 as a late signee from Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif., Stanley Malamala submitted a remarkable spring in both protection and pass-catching roles. The bulkiest Sun Devil tight end, hovering near 270 pounds, Malamala likely will participate among ASU's two- and three-tight end sets and perhaps a more prominent role if his position mates are unable to capitalize on playing opportunities.

One of the most encouraging offensive athletes but discouraged by early injuries, Dan Knapp showcased a glimpse of his deep skill set early last year before a season-ending injury, starting two of six games played on the year. Although he missed spring drills, the Reno, Nev., product is expected to be at full strength when the season begins. Perhaps the most talented tight end on the roster at this point, if healthy Knapp has every ability to overtake the top spot of the depth chart.

The most prominent true tight end in the state of Arizona among the 2008 recruiting class, Steven Figueroa, much like Knapp, has suffered multiple injuries in his early Sun Devil days, as he missed time on the scout team as a redshirt in 2008 and also was held out of practice due to injuries at the conclusion of spring drills this year. Likely to return to health to start 2009, the former No. 28 national tight end prospect by Scout.com will begin his college career in reserve duty and prepare to help replace the two seniors among the projected top-three tight ends after the 2009 season.

ASU's two tight end signees from the 2009 class provide versatility to the position group, as Christopher Coyle of Westlake Village, Calif., was one of the standout receiving tight end prospects last year, while local product Max Smith of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro High School has a college-ready physique and is a tough, aggressive addition to the position.

A participant in the illustrious U.S. Army All-American Game a year ago, Coyle was listed as the No. 19 tight end prospect by Scout.com after totaling a team-high 25 receptions for 461 yards and six touchdowns for one of the country's most prestigious prep programs, Oaks Christian High School. Likely a redshirt candidate for 2009, Coyle will be a match-up threat for Sun Devil fans to keep an eye on in the future.

Despite light recruitment, it has been mentioned that Smith may be able to earn action on the field as a true freshman, largely because of his physical nature of play and blocking capabilities from the tight end position. Not simply an undersized offensive lineman, Smith caught 14 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns as a senior for Saguaro High, Arizona's 4A-I State Champions all three years of Smith's varsity career. Possibly an athlete of the mold of Wes Evans in 2008, who was featured as a backfield blocker in addition to traditional tight end duties, Smith will compete in upcoming practices either to see immediate action or redshirt and develop for future use.

Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and a guest contributor to Devils Digest. He is also a feature writer each month in Maroon and Gold Illustrated and has contributed to ASU media guides, press releases and other official athletic publications. He can be contacted by email at josephwhealey@hotmail.com.


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