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ASU Football: Receivers making big strides under Jay Norvell

The first-year wide receivers coach has already made a big difference in just a short time at Arizona State.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of the hiring of offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey this past winter, no addition to Todd Graham's coaching staff was bigger than getting Jay Norvell to leave his post at Texas and come west to the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Norvell has spent the last decade bouncing around the country in multiple capacities, serving as the offensive coordinator for Nebraska, UCLA, Oklahoma, and Texas before landing in Tempe as the Sun Devils receivers coach and passing game coordinator.

His newest task is to lead the turnaround of the maroon and gold's receiving corps, a group that under-performed for most of the 2015 season.

If everything goes according to plan, that turnaround will be spearheaded by a specific attention to detail.

"We are just trying to teach these guys to evaluate defenses and get themselves open," says Norvell. "When guys understand what defensive techniques they're facing, they can really translate that and get themselves in a better position to get open."

Arizona State returns just one of its top four pass-catchers from a year ago, losing the likes of Devin Lucien, D.J. Foster, and Gary Chambers to graduation.

Tim White, however, is back, and figures to be the primary target for whichever quarterback eventually wins the starting job. White finished 2015 with 57 receptions and eight touchdowns, but the wide receiver isn't just limiting himself to offense.

He spent a little time during Wednesday's practice playing corner, where he impressed Graham with his speed and range. It is unknown at the moment if White would ever see meaningful snaps on the defensive side of the ball in an actual game, but Graham left the possibility open.

"He has asked me every day this spring (to play corner)," Graham joked after Wednesday's practice session. "But that's something we have always looked at because of his athleticism and ball skills. It is not a major story."

It has been White and junior Ellis Jefferson who have impressed Norvell the most so far at wideout. Jefferson only appeared in seven games last season, but figures to be a focal point of the offensive gameplan this time around.

"White has done a fabulous job and Jefferson has been good when he's been healthy," said Norvell. "I have been impressed with a lot of the guys and the way they are working. I love the way they take the things we're asking of them in the film room out to the field."

The group of receivers has spent a lot of time in the film room this spring as they work to combine Lindsey's offense from Southern Miss with Norvell's spread schemes from Texas. Both coaches love to predicate their play-calls on what kind of defense the opponent throws at them, and so far the players have done a good job of reading their counterparts and adjusting accordingly.

This kind of offense has resulted in an advanced number of routes available to the wideouts, which are heavily dependent on whether or not the opposing linebackers bring pressure. So far, Norvell says that everyone has been very receptive of his and Lindsey's teachings.

"The kids have been really attentive and respectful," Norvell says. "We have a lot of different concepts we're carrying over, and there all kind of different ways we are going to attack people. We want to attack the defender, get off the line of scrimmage, and get open."

Just as the Sun Devils did last year, that attack will include some of those short swing passes to the team's running backs. Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage, and even De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes figure to be some of the primary targets for Arizona State's quarterback this fall.

"We are going to use the running backs as receivers," says Norvell. "We'll use all the eligible players. Those guys have a lot of different jobs, but we would like to utilize them as much as possible."

Hayes, who has splitting his time at both running back and corner recently, likes how his role in the offense is starting to come along.

"Norvell is doing a great job with us," Hayes said when asked about his time with the new coach. "He makes sure everyone has a chance to get out there and prove their skills."

While we don't yet know who will be under center for the Sun Devils in 2016, one thing is certain.

The eventual winner of the quarterback job will have a number of different options in the passing game, all of which seem to be progressing nicely under Norvell.