August 28, 2008

Season Preview: TE

One of the biggest unknowns coming into ASU's camp this year was the tight end position, where five players that were on the team last season, including the top two starters, have moved on.

It's clear, there is no Zach Miller or Todd Heap on this roster. But the Sun Devils don't necessarily need that type of productivity to achieve a solid measure of success from the position.

They'll need good protection at the line of scrimmage and some capability to show downfield pass catching ability in the passing game in support of a strong group of wide receivers. Run support blocking will also be of vital importance.

It figured coming into camp the battle for playing time at the position will likely come down to Andrew Pettes, Jovon Williams Dan Knapp, and late junior college signee Stanley Malamala, with the Sun Devils often using double tight end formations with one tight end essentially playing the role of an extra receiver.

Pettes and Williams combined for just two catches and 16 receiving yards with one touchdown last season.

As it stands now, the likely starts in double tight end sets are Williams at the U-position (more of a receiving tight end) and Pettes at the Y-position (more of a traditional tight end). ASU will often be in three receiver sets, with Pettes being the primary tight end in that formation.

Williams is a terrific athlete, who gained at least 15 pounds in recent months and is now 6-4 and approximately 245 pounds. After putting together an excellent off-season, he has a chance to fill the downfield pass catching role held by Tyrice Thompson last season.

Pettes has lost over 20 pounds and is now more of a full service player instead of just a blocker. He's getting downfield better and can at least be a respectable pass catching target.

Knapp, 6-4, 255 pounds, proably has the best upside on the roster in terms of being a full service tight end. He struggled at times with being physical enough at the line of scrimmage and that element of his game is behind his ability as a pass catcher, where he is relatively impressive. If he's able to improve as a consistent blocker, he will likely become the team's next high quality player at the position.

Malamala, 6-4, 265 pounds, is primarily a blocker. He's not particularly athletic or dynamic as a route runner, though has decent hands and is capable of making short-yardage and red zone plays. Importantly though, Malamala is physical at the point of attack and willing to get his nose dirty.

The player who emerged in camp is senior Wes Evans, who moved from defensive end and has appeared to create a roll for himself as the team's lead blocker in goal line situations, playing almost like a fullback. Evans has gained significant size and strength, to 6-3 257 pounds, and he's even done a pretty decent job getting of the line and being a receiving target on certain types of routes.

Overall, this group is just average, but it can be serviceable. Look for early signs of Williams as a potential guy who can run the seam and stretch defenses and Knapp has a dynamic player who can see the field and make a broad impact if his blocking becomes more consistent. Evans can be a crowd favorite for his down and dirty work on the goal line.

Camp Grade: C+ More consistency is need in all facets and the players are going to each have to do a very good job in their narrow assigned roles in order for this group to be considered even a moderate success in the coming season.

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