Eight receptions. 76 yards. One touchdown. Hey, good game dude.
Those numbers would make for a pretty good single-game performance for a player. However, that is the combined production from ASU's tight end position--in fact, all by Trevor Kohl--over the last two years. In former offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's spread offense, the tight end was rarely a thought beyond bringing extra muscle in the blocking game.
The tight ends of the UCLA Bruins will now have to deal with such limited production, as Mazzone has moved to Westwood, with Mike Norvell taking over the offense under Todd Graham. This will be the sixth straight season on Graham's staff for Norvell, which means that taking a look back may help shed some light on what to expect from the position going forward.
Most recently at Pitt in 2011, the tight end position did not post number that much better than Kohl. Of the Panthers' 263 receptions, 17 came from the tight ends, for just 173 yards and one score. During the final two years at Tulsa (2009 and 2010), true tight ends totaled 10 receptions for 122 yards.
Those totals don't bode well for ASU's new tight end, Darwin Rogers. Coming over as a juco transfer from Arizona Western, Rogers didn't factor too much into passing game for the Matadors, but he is a solid blocker and has good physical tools, standing 6'4" and having 4.6 speed at 240 pounds. Rogers had a solid spring and has a nice grip on the starting tight end job. With his tools, a new starting quarterback and more blocking-oriented players behind him, Rogers should be able to post a reception count in the upper teens and maybe the low twenties.
While the tight end position should see a mild-to-moderate lift, the really interesting aspect will be at H-back, if history is any indication.
The H-back is a hybrid position, combining aspects of tight end, fullback and wide receiver. Players often have similar size to tight ends, see plenty of blocking assignments, but are often in motion, either in or from the backfield or at the line, and sometimes will line up wide.
While at Tulsa, Norvell had an excellent player at this position--Charles Clay. A talented athlete with excellent size at 6'3", 235 pounds, Clay was exceedingly productive from the H-back spot. During his career at Tulsa, he ran for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns and hauled in 189 passes 2,544 yards and 28 scores. His versatility gave the Tulsa offense a dynamic element that would be in motion pre-snap and be a threat in a variety of ways.
The 2012 Sun Devils should be able to present similar threats thanks to two talented players.
Despite missing all of spring ball, junior Chris Coyle is listed on the post-spring depth chart as the starter at H-back. Like Clay, Coyle has great size at 6'3", 230 pounds. Coyle has played wide receiver and special teams during his first two years, but has the skillset to be a sure-handed threat downfield along the seams.
Should Norvell get the urge to run from the H-back spot, redshirt sophomore Marcus Washington may be the man. Washington moved to the position from running back this spring, and showed off some nice skills in the blocking and receiving games. At 5'11", 224 pounds, he doesn't have ideal size for the spot, but he plays hard and has been an effective runner when given the chance.
While talented, it seems unlikely that the combined production from the position will match that of Clay over his Tulsa career, but the versatility that Coyle, Washington and Rogers, should he slide over to H-back, present should be very intriguing to Sun Devil fans.
Many fans have heralded the return to a more run-first, smashmouth style, and there have been hopes that the tight end production will be resurrected as well. While hopes of Todd Heap and Zach Miller-type numbers simply aren't likely, the Sun Devils should be able to pose a threat from the spot for the first time several years.
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