ASU football 2014 season preview: Skill positions

Junior running back D.J. Foster participates in drills

Junior running back D.J. Foster participates in drills at ASU football’s first spring practice on March 18 at the Kajikawa Football Practice Fields in Tempe. (Photo by Evan Webeck)

Running back

Here lies ASU’s deepest position. Everybody knows junior D.J. Foster, but the backs behind him on the depth chart have equally bright futures. True freshmen Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage have impressed coaches and the media alike. Running backs coach Bo Graham said to expect to see everyone from Foster to Ballage to redshirt senior Deantre Lewis get considerable playing time.

This will be Foster’s first season as the Sun Devils’ feature back. He wanted to get his weight up to 210 pounds — as of the release of the last updated roster, on Aug. 20, Foster is at 205 pounds. One way Richard might see the field is his well-rounded skill set. Like Foster, Richard has lined up all over the field — in the slot, the backfield and in motion. Unlike Foster, Richard has impressed coaches right away with his pass-blocking ability. For many running backs, that’s what keeps them off the field. If Richard is already proving himself in that capacity, it should bode well for him to play extensively this season.

With the depth at running back, it could allow ASU to keep Foster moving around, playing a lot as a slot receiver. The plan in the spring was for Foster to be the guy, but that was before the coaching staff had gotten a good look at Ballage or Richard.

2014 depth chart:

Tailback:

1. D.J. Foster

2. Demario Richard

Running back:

1. Kalen Ballage OR Deantre Lewis

Wide receiver

It’s all Jaelen Strong everything at receiver for the Sun Devils. While redshirt junior Gary Chambers, sophomore Cameron Smith and redshirt freshman Ronald Lewis have looked the part of supporting receivers, ASU will be hard pressed to find a second threat through the air to complement Strong.

Because of this, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell plans to use just about the entire depth chart at receiver. He’s not looking for one guy to step up, rather a group of them to take some of the heat away from Strong.

“I don’t think it’s just one guy; I think it’s got to be five or six guys,” Norvell said. “I don’t want to just have three starting receivers. I want to have six, seven guys that we can play that we all consider starters.”

ASU brought in a talented duo of freshman receivers in its 2014 recruiting class: Tyler Whiley and Jalen Harvey. Only one will stay with the offense, though. The coaching staff moved Whiley to cornerback, where he has been working his way up the depth chart. Harvey, meanwhile, has looked impressive during fall camp. Neither is listed in ASU’s two-deep depth chart, though, so it remains to be seen how much playing time either gets.

A name many expected to be playing opposite Strong is junior college transfer Eric Lauderdale. The junior receiver has sparingly been taking second-team snaps. His size is apparent but he has looked a little slow compared to the rest of the group.

2014 depth chart:

WR 1:

1. Jaelen Strong

2. Ellis Jefferson

WR 2:

1. Gary Chambers

2. Fred Gammage

WR 3:

1. Cameron Smith

2. Ronald Lewis

3. Eric Lauderdale

Tight end

Tight end is one of ASU’s only question marks on offense after the loss of Chris Coyle. However, another phonetic name is coming to the forefront for the Sun Devils. Expect Kody Kohl to get the majority of playing time at tight end, with De’Marieya Nelson also getting significant playing time. The coaching staff expects big things from each, though Nelson will be splitting his time with both defense and special teams, too.

Tight ends coach Chip Long didn’t give either the title of “best hands on the team.” That goes to redshirt freshman Grant Martinez, whose 6-foot-4, 220-pound body could be a big threat in the red zone. Long said he expects Nelson and Kohl to share the field “quite a bit” of the time in two-tight-end sets.

2014 depth chart:

1. Kody Kohl OR De’Marieya Nelson

2. Grant Martinez

3. Dan Vear

 

Reach the reporter at ewebeck@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @EvanWebeck