Transfer paperwork confined Jaelen Strong to the sidelines first three days of camp, but the ASU athletic department finally cleared the redshirt sophomore wide receiver to make his practice debut Friday.
The Sun Devils were eagerly anticipating his arrival for a good reason.
Strong said coach Todd Graham, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell and receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander all told him he could become the best receiver in the Pac-12 this season.
A three-star junior college recruit according to Rivals.com, the 6-foot-4-inch wide receiver caught 67 passes for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns at Pierce Community College (Calif.) in 2012 and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds according to Scout.com.
“I knew everything was going to work out so I always had the mindset (that) I’m going to be out there sooner or later,” Strong said.
Strong wasn’t wearing pads and was unable to participate in many of the offensive unit’s activities during ASU’s fourth day of fall camp. To make up for lost time, he and coach Alexander stayed after practice for nearly 30 minutes walking through the offensive motions.
“He’s a great learner,” Alexander said. “He’s grasped the offense, it’s just the matter of how we understand things (and) the rhythm of which we do things, which is extremely fast because of our tempo and we want to be faster than anyone in the country.”
Strong said he had trouble adjusting to ASU’s “high octane” offense.
For now, the team plans to limit Strong and the team’s other transfers — junior wide receiver Joe Morris and redshirt junior defensive back Damarious Randall — until they properly transition onto the team.
Graham stressed the fact that the transfers don’t have a lot of time to get ready, but Alexander thinks Strong and Morris will require little time to adjust.
“We’re going to accelerate the process, get them ready and those guys will feel confident, full of energy and very eager to learn,” Alexander said.
Strong’s arrival comes at a time when the receiving corps’ true freshmen —Ellis Jefferson, Ronald Lewis and Cameron Smith — have been receiving much praise from Graham and challenging the veteran wide receivers for reps. Graham said the freshmen add depth and bring the team closer to filling the “missing pieces” that it had at the wide receiver position.
While redshirt senior Kevin Ozier is the undisputed leader of the receivers, the freshmen have been challenging redshirt senior Alonzo Agwuenu, sophomore Richard Smith, redshirt sophomore Gary Chambers and redshirt freshman Frederick Gammage for playing time.
The young breakout receivers have surprised some observers, but Alexander said he isn’t shocked and that he expects Strong and Morris to do the same.
“That’s what you do in recruiting,” Alexander said. “We look at guys who have the ability to come in and play right away. Those guys are smart guys so they understand our offense already and soon, their talents.”
Depth chart continues to shuffle
With ASU’s season opener just under one month away, the coaching staff is still testing players at different positions.
Graham said the only three positions on defense that are solid are at boundary corner, bandit safety and defensive tackle. More adjustments became noticeable at Friday’s practice.
At linebacker, redshirt freshman Carlos Mendoza wore a green no-contact jersey for his right knee, which allowed redshirt sophomore Antonio Longino to see more reps.
Longino, a newcomer, was a standout Friday and quickly gained Graham’s attention.
“He’s a guy (that) the first two days in shorts, we were like, ‘Man, Jiminy Christmas, he seems like a fish out of water,’ and then with pads on he’s running around striking people,” Graham said.
After performing well at practice on Thursday, redshirt freshman Salamo Fiso practiced at the Sam linebacker spot with the first and second teams and is competing with senior Steffon Martin for the starting position. Freshman Chans Cox continues to experiment at the Sam and Devil linebacker positions.
There was a slight change on the offensive line as redshirt junior Jamil Douglas practiced Friday at left guard. Douglas started all 13 games at guard last season but officially moved to right tackle during the spring. Redshirt junior Tyler Sulka saw time at right tackle with the first team.
- Along with Mendoza, Morris, Randall and redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Mo Latu also practiced Friday with green no-contact jerseys for the first time this fall. Senior wide receiver Kyle Middlebrooks has been wearing one since spring camp for a knee injury.
- Junior linebacker Eriquel Florence did not practice and is the last incoming transfer whose paperwork is yet to be cleared.
- Graham wore a digital camouflage ASU shirt that read, “Grinder” on the back. Redshirt senior cornerback Osahon Irabor, one of the team’s leaders, also wore the shirt under his jersey and pads.
- ASU is expected to practice in full pads Saturday morning at 8:30 A.M. The practice will be open to the public. The team’s annual media day is scheduled at noon following practice.
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