Tight ends regain relevance in ASU offense

TEMPE, Ariz. — When Arizona State tight ends walk into their meeting room at Sun Devil Stadium, they are met by images of Todd Heap and Zach Miller. Both were All-America tight ends at ASU and now serve as symbol of what the team wants its tight ends to become, though that’s a change from recent history.

Under first-year head coach Todd Graham, ASU wants to revive its tight end tradition, restoring it as a staple of the Sun Devil offense.

“This was Tight End U for a while,” tight ends coach Chip Long said. “We want to get it back to that.”

The Heap (1998-2000) and Miller (2004-2006) eras were the glory days of ASU tight ends, the position still played a prominent role in the offense as recently as five seasons ago. In 2007, Dennis Erickson’s first season as coach, Brent Miller (Zach’s brother) and Tyrice Thompson combined for 45 receptions and four touchdowns. The next year, it was 30 receptions and three touchdowns. In the three seasons since, tight ends combined for 10 total receptions and no touchdowns.

There was simply no use for tight ends in former offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s system. That’s not the case with Long, himself a tight end at North Alabama from 2002-05.

Long called tight ends the “No. 1 feature” in ASU’s new offense. Though running backs might be carrying the ball more and get the headlines, tight ends will have a hand in nearly every offensive play.

“They’re going to have a huge part in it,” Long said. “We expect them to be able to execute all three phases they have to be able to do — run blocking, pass protection and pass receiving.

“This offense is perfect (for tight ends). I wish I ‘d played in it when I played.”

Tight ends — ‘3-backs’ as coaches often call them — will require versatility enough to line up all over the field: In a traditional tight end spot, the backfield and the slot.

Even though the added responsibilities have made for a learning curve, the tight ends, as might be expected, are excited by the prospect of a larger role.

Junior Chris Coyle, the only ASU tight end with a reception at the Division I level, feels it is a long time coming.

“I’ve been waiting for the last three years for an opportunity like this,” Coyle said. “It’s finally come around. We’re just so excited to be incorporated into the offense again. We’re excited to hopefully make our own mark on history and bring the tight end back to this university.”

Coyle has made a strong impression with the new coaching staff and has a firm hold on the starting job. During his two seasons at ASU, he has lined up as a fullback, tight end and slot receiver.

“This is a mixture of all of that,” Coyle said. “It’s kind of an opportunity to bring all those different skills I’ve learned together. I think it’s a perfect fit for me.”

Long said the coaching staff has high expectations for the junior this season. There’s more to be excited about beyond him, too. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Washington, still listed as a running back, has moved to tight end and is battling with junior Darwin Rogers, a junior college transfer, for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

Washington described his play as “bad” when he first made the switch. “The coaches have said I’ve gotten better, but I’ve still got a lot to work on,” he said.

Rogers was a quarterback in high school before moving on to Arizona Western. Like Washington, he’s faced some adjustment, particularly with traditional blocking duties of a tight end.

“There’s a learning curve, but they’re all coming around,” Long said. “They’re all so much further ahead than they were in the spring, and they keep getting better and better.”

Rogers is listed 6-feet-4 and 243 pounds while Washington comes in at 6-0 and 224 pounds. That kind of size, Long said, allows them to play the physical style coaches want.

While expecting the position to produce another All-American right away might be a stretch, the group has at least bought into the idea of making the position relevant in Tempe once again.

“I think we could bring that back,” Rogers said. “We want to put tight ends back on the map here at ASU.”

KICKING DUTIES SETTLED

Graham confirmed for the first time in fall camp Tuesday that redshirt sophomore Alex Garoutte will be the team’s starting kicker. From early on, Graham said Garoutte had competition from walk-on juniors Dillon Jackson and Jon Mora. Mora seemed to push Garoutte most in field-goal duties, but Graham maintained the job was Garroute’s to lose.
 
Garoutte apparently held off the competition well enough to keep his job. Mora will be the backup on field goals, and Jackson will be next in line on kickoff duties.

HEALTH WATCH

Graham, while light on specifics, offered a few injury updates Tuesday. Most notably, Graham said senior defensive tackle Corey Adams and junior receiver Kyle Middlebrooks could be unavailable for the season opener Aug. 30 against Northern Arizona.

Adams has dealt with a back issue most of fall camp.

“I thought (Adams) would be back by now,” Graham said. “We’re hopeful to get him back, but right now I’m kind of skeptical whether he’ll be back the first game or not.”

Middlebrooks had shoulder surgery in the offseason and wore a green “no contact” jersey in fall camp until Monday.

Other injury notes:

— Senior running back Cameron Marshall, who has been essentially shut down for a week with an undisclosed injury, has begun doing increased running exercises.

— Freshman linebacker Carlos Mendoza took part in contact drills for the first time in fall camp Tuesday.

— Redshirt sophomore running back Deantre Lewis participated in contact drills for the first time in a week. His initial injury was not disclosed.

— Redshirt senior running back James Morrison wore a no-contact jersey Tuesday after straining a muscle in the weight room Monday. Graham said the injury was not serious.