There seems to be a certain nostalgia amongst Arizona State football fans that make the Sun Devil faithful crave a dominant tight end. It has been 15 years since Zach Miller left for the NFL draft, the last Sun Devil tight end to be a dominant force in the run and passing game.
Offensive coordinator Zak Hill is entering his second season calling plays for the ASU offense, and a full slate could stimulate bigger performances from the tight end group in 2021. Hill is known to utilize 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back) in most offensive sets. He also included two tight ends on the field (12 or 22 personnel) in over a third of snaps in 2019 at Boise State.
Most composite statistics for ASU from 2020 should be taken with a grain of salt, as they include just four games of work. When looking at the future of the position, it’s best not to even look at the tight end stats from last year.
The position group as a whole caught a total of just five passes, including the production from redshirt junior Case Hatch, who takes most of his snaps from the fullback/H-back position. Those catches went for a total of 127 yards, with 74 coming on one touchdown reception from senior Curtis Hodges against UArizona.
That is just under 32 yards per game, which is not a daunting stat, but there is definitely room for upward growth.
There is a small cloud of darkness that hangs over the room, as the university put tight ends coach Adam Breneman on paid administrative leave as part of the investigation into alleged recruiting violations within the program. Juston Wood, an offensive analyst and former quality-control coach at Boise State under Hill, will take over in the meantime.
More importantly, the tight end group last year deserves some credit for the Sun Devils’ success in the running game. ASU was dominant on the ground, leading the Pac-12 with 264 rushing yards per game. If the offense continues its run-first approach, the tight end group will have a massive role setting the edge all season long.
With the departure of Nolan Matthews last year, the starting spot on the line is Hodges’s to lose. Hodges boasts an attractive 6-foot-7, 250 pound frame that is bound to attract professional scouts with added reps. He caught the lone touchdown pass for the group last season, and is able to succeed both at the line of scrimmage and out-wide in receiver sets.
Hatch, a returning captain from 2020, is a fan and coach favorite in Tempe. The former-linebacker turned fullback will have a variety of roles in the offense, primarily as a lead blocker. His rock-solid hands and skills on special teams make Hatch one of the most versatile players in the program, and he will mostly see snaps in the backfield or as an off-the-line tight end.
The newest addition to the group is Oklahoma transfer Jalin Conyers. Conyers, the eighth-ranked tight end in the 2020 class according to Rivals, did not have a reception for the Sooners in 2020. He stands at an impressive 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, but does not have a ton of experience on the offensive line, as he worked as a wideout tight end at Oklahoma.
Regardless, Conyers is a massive downfield target for Jayden Daniels, and his set of skills could be the perfect mesh for an explosive season, and the resurgence of the position in Tempe for the first time in almost two decades.
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