Video by Evan Webeck | Sports Reporter
Tight end has both historically and recently been a position of strength for ASU football. From 1998 to 2000, the Sun Devils had Todd Heap, and then from 2004 to 2006, there was Zach Miller. After being the man the last two seasons, Chris Coyle is now graduated.
Now, taking the stage: Kody Kohl.
The redshirt sophomore is coming into his own during fall practice, and he is leaving an impression with the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell is excited to utilize his athleticism and flexibility within the offense. Tight ends coach Chip Long loves the way he has stepped up as a leader, replacing Coyle in the role.
Kohl has begun to take the majority of first-team snaps at Camp Tontozona, typically lining up in the H-back position that made Coyle such a dangerous weapon out of the backfield.
“Kody’s had a great fall camp. Right now, he’s the starter,” Long said. “He’s getting better and better everyday. I’m so happy with him, and he’s only going to keep getting better.”
Kohl only recently was able to show his skills, as he injured his shoulder at the beginning of bowl practices last winter, forcing him to miss spring practice, too. Over the summer, though, Kohl got even better and put himself in the position to take over right where Coyle left off.
With redshirt senior De’Marieya Nelson expected to play on offense, defense and special teams this season, it’s of that much more important for Kohl and other tight ends such as redshirt freshman Grant Martinez (whom Long said has the best hands on the team) and freshman Brendan Landman come into the season ready to play.
“You always want to have as much depth as possible,” Long said. “You want to have about three or four guys that can play everything and move them all around.”
Nelson, who has already been wreaking havoc in the backfield when he’s lined up on defense, will play defense on third downs and save himself for offense the rest of the time.
Even if he plays the majority of snaps on the offensive side of the ball, that doesn’t mean Kohl’s playing time will be cut. The Sun Devils like to line up in “12” personnel, with two tight ends, two receivers and one running back, opening the door for Kohl and Nelson to share the field.
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“(Nelson) is going to need some rest on defense, because defense needs some help and he’s stepping up,” Kohl said. “They need me to step up and try to fill in his shoes (while he rests).”
Kohl has long been a favorite of Long’s. Even before he stepped on campus three years ago, Long knew he had something special in his future.
“He was extremely, extremely athletic out of high school and could do everything,” Long said. “It was just the maturation process.”
Three years in, and that process is nearing completion. Kohl admitted that this is the first season he’s been “all-in.” Last year, he was just “halfway-in.”
“I grew up a lot over this last year,” he said. “Last year, I was kind of by myself, and now, it’s all team for me.”
Much of that maturation process can be credited to Long, who took Kohl under his wing and coached him to the player he is today — and he stresses that Kohl isn’t done growing. “He’s getting better and better everyday. I’m so happy with him, and he’s only going to keep getting better,” Long said.
Kohl joined the program at the same time Long did, when coach Todd Graham took over in 2011. Since then, he’s figured out how much the coaching staff asks of them, especially of the tight ends. Now that he’s got it, “He doesn’t have that added anxiety,” Long said. “That’s been good for him, you can see how much more mature he is, taking charge of the group and putting a lot of pressure on his shoulders to preform.”
Although Kohl has mostly been lining up at Coyle’s H-back spot, they’re not the same player. Each has his own skillset and body type. Both are converted wide receivers, but it’s Kohl’s mindset that sets him apart.
“Chris did a great job run blocking for us,” Long said. “But you can feel Kody Kohl out there when he hits you and strikes you, and that’s just a little different.”
Kohl admitted Coyle is a better route runner and that he likely won’t be as productive in the passing game, but his enthusiasm about blocking is apparent. As he’s matured, it’s not about receiving numbers. Instead, he’s helping the team where his skills fit best: as a physical, blocking-first tight end.
While Long recognizes the traits Kohl pointed out, he still thinks Kohl will be a “major threat” in the passing game.
So, Kody, are you ready to be the next great Sun Devil tight end? Chip Long thinks so.
“The sky’s the limit for him,” Long said. “We expect big things out of him.”
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