Most people at Camp Tontozona said they thought wide receiver Jaelen Strong had a great practice Friday, but the redshirt sophomore said he didn’t agree.
“I didn’t really have a good practice today,” Strong said. “I can’t be the reason for turnovers that could cost us the game.”
A pair of passes bounced off Strong’s hands and ended up being intercepted, but he redeemed himself later by catching a deep touchdown pass from redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly.
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said he is starting to see Strong as a big play threat, even though the receiver needs to work on his consistency.
“Jaelen is coming along,” Norvell said. ”He’s still getting acclimated to the tempo of what we’re doing, but you can see out there that he’s a big play potential. (He’s) just got to continue to work on his consistency.”
The 6-foot-4-inch, 205-pound Strong is still learning the playbook and is also just starting to develop some chemistry with Kelly.
If Strong continues to develop, he could be the kind of downfield threat the Sun Devils lacked last year, coach Todd Graham said.
“The kind of player that we want in our system that we have not had is a big physical receiver like that,” Graham said. “He’s a big, physical, imposing guy that can make things happen. You add that with D.J. Foster and Marion Grice and those guys, and we’ve got quite a few weapons.”
Last year, only one Sun Devil receiver, Rashad Ross, had more than 400 receiving yards.
Nelson, Lewis Impress
Strong wasn’t the only Sun Devil making big plays during the fourth practice at Camp Tontozona as redshirt junior tight end De’Marieya Nelson and redshirt junior running back Deantre Lewis contributed to the offense as well.
Nelson made several big catches including one for a touchdown early in practice and, at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, he can line up at tight end, slot receiver and running back and still be effective.
However, coach Norvell said Nelson must get into better shape in order to be able to play more.
“He’s a guy that you sit there and you watch and he’s got a great physical tools,” Norvell said. “He works his tail off, it’s just getting himself in shape to be able to play as many snaps as we’re going to play.”
Lewis played well also, making several big runs, and scoring a touchdown from about 40 yards out. It was the redshirt junior running back’s first day back after being limited by a minor ankle injury.
“Today I wanted to come out with a little fire so that way I don’t lose what I had when I came into camp,” Lewis said “It was basically me just capitalizing on everything and just pushing for it.”
Even though Grice and Foster are the feature backs in the Sun Devils’ offense, Norvell said he thinks Lewis is still an essential piece.
“We’re going to need Deantre Lewis to win football games this year,” Norvell said. “In this offense you have to have at least three backs to play and Deantre is definitely pushing those guys up in front of him and he’s going to be a great asset for us this season.”
- For the second straight day, five players donned the green no-contact jerseys: running backs Matthew Reidhead and Kyle Middlebrooks, wide receivers Cameron Smith and Joe Morris and safety Damarious Randall.
- Graham said the goal for Saturday’s scrimmage is to keep his players healthy. He said key starters will probably only play 20-25 plays.
- Graham also said some players are still valuing talent over fundamentals and discipline.
- Safety Alden Darby and quarterback Taylor Kelly have really emerged as vocal leaders.
- Quarterbacks were holding on to the ball too long in the pocket and taking “way too many sacks,” Graham said.
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