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ASU Football: Todd Graham believes receivers will be better than ever

The Sun Devils go into the 2016 season armed with what Todd Graham called the deepest receiving corps they've ever had.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Todd Graham has more than just high expectations.

He believes that one aspect of his team just may be the best it has been since he has been at the helm of this ASU program.

And it's not even fall yet.

"I think our receiving core overall will be the best we've had since I've been here and that's me saying that even with Jaelen Strong leaving," Graham said. "I feel really good, we have so many talented guys this year. I think Gump's (De'Chavon Hayes) a guy we can use as an inside slot guy, move him in and out of the backfield, I think Ellis Jefferson's had a really good spring, I think Gary (Chambers) is coming off his best year. Fred Gammage is also back practicing now so I think we'll be the most explosive we've ever been next year offensively."

This kind of declarative confidence is rare at such an early stage in the preparation for a season. However, if one were to examine the depth of this group of players, it is clear that ASU has versatile talent that may be able to field a dangerous group of receivers.

Gary Chambers, a 6-foot-4, redshirt senior wide receiver, is one of the veteran leaders at his position. Chambers said the biggest strength is the players' ability to shift around and still function at a high level.

"Every wide receiver position on the field is just talented and it's a lot of raw talent," Chambers said.  "We can switch positions so that somebody can come play my position and I can go to the boundary and somebody can come from the boundary and go to the field so being comfortable out there is huge and we are definitely the deepest this year."

ASU formulates a balanced equation at the receiver position. They possess both the stretch-the-field, speed receivers, such as Gump and Foster, as well as the good-hands, possession receivers, such as Jefferson and Gammage.

The third group is those who feel confident doing both, like Chambers. He said having Foster in the slot this season will cause the opponent defenses some trouble in coming up with a game plan that can defend the multiple weapons that will be coming at them all at once.

"He's a really dynamic part of our offense and he can do anything but it definitely helps us spread the field," Chambers said. "The defense definitely is going to take heat from him being out there and it just makes us better as a whole."

Redshirt junior Eric Lauderdale and redshirt freshman Tyler Whiley both look to have potential as well, standing out at practice with good execution on routes and the ability to come down with the long ball and break tackles to get into the end zone.

But good hands and acrobatic catches are not the only things that characterize a good receiving corps. Strong's downfield blocking and piling up the yards after catch are two vital aspects that go hand in hand in getting the football past the pylons.

"We make (yards after catch) a big focus," Chambers said. "When we catch the ball, we make sure we get up field. If you catch it and fall, we pop up and finish. Speed, physicality and finish is something we make real big here. We try to finish every single play regardless of how far or close of a catch it is and we make sure we practice going north and south."

Chambers said good blocking is something that the Sun Devils have been keying in on during practice.

"I take pride in my blocking abilities," Chambers said. "Ellis Jefferson is doing really well blocking and Fred Gammage, he's out there rocking really hard. D.J., he's physical and that's a big aspect to our wide receiving corps so everyone is trying to make that a big part of what we do."

One thing the Sun Devils don't have to worry about is adjusting to quarterback Mike Bercovici's ball. Chambers said the team had plenty of practice catching Bercovici's balls last season, as the former backup signal-caller alternated snaps with former quarterback Taylor Kelly, and even took over for a good portion of the year when Kelly was out with a broken foot.

Chambers said Bercovici does a good job feeding the receivers with the power balls that leave fingers feeling numb, while also having the finesse to put just the right amount of touch on the ball.

At this point, Chambers said the one thing that could put an already talented group of receivers over the edge for the upcoming season is knowledge.

"Knowledge is power and the more knowledge we have the more we can play fast," Chambers said. "I think that's the biggest thing is playing fast because talent-wise we all have great ability, but when stuff starts cranking you have to start thinking your game slows down.

"The better off we are with our plays and routes and the better we can read defenses the better off we will be by the time fall gets here, and we'll be able to play at a high level. "