ASU’s pass-catcher competition includes ‘deep wideout and tight end positions’

Mar 21, 2023, 7:25 PM

Arizona State wide receiver Javen Jacobs during 2023 spring ball in Tempe, Arizona. (Sun Devil Athl...

Arizona State wide receiver Javen Jacobs during 2023 spring ball in Tempe, Arizona. (Sun Devil Athletics Photo)

(Sun Devil Athletics Photo)

TEMPE — The Arizona State Sun Devils have a plethora of talent on the offensive side of the football when it comes to pass catchers.

With the likes of returnees such as wide receivers Elijhah Badger, Gio Sanders and Javen Jacobs to go along with transfers Melquan Stovall, Xavier Guillory and Troy Omeire, there is no shortage when it comes to ASU’s X and Z positions.

“They’re flying around. I think we’re deep, think we got a lot of guys who can make an impact at the wideout core — same with tight ends,” head coach Kenny Dillingham said after the first full-pad spring ball practice on Tuesday. “I think when you talk about our wideouts and tight end positions, those are two really, really talented positions for us.”

And then when you add in that tight end group of Jalin Conyers, Messiah Swinson and Bryce Pierre, who all stand 6-foot-4 or taller, the combination of size and speed will be on full display under Dillingham’s and offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin’s new system.

“I think we got some athletic guys, and a good thing is we got some athletic guys with some size,” passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Ra’Shaad Samples said. “We got some big guys who can run and the next thing you do is go challenge them to make 50-50 plays, challenge them to work technique and route stems and understand conceptually how to play this game at a high level.”

But with more players than positions available on the field come game time, it will come down to who understands the X’s and O’s in the new offensive scheme. And that’s not to say that not all of these guys can play or won’t see playing time — they will — but in a system in which a lot of the concepts are based on the ability to read a defense, only the most cerebral players will earn the trust of their coaches and quarterbacks.

“We’ve installed a lot. We’ve thrown a lot at these guys to make them think and to make them want it,” Dillingham said. “If you don’t prepare on your own, you have no chance. And that’s really what we’re looking for is (which) guys know that. If they come out here without studying at home, they have no chance and guys who don’t, expose themselves. The guys that want it, rise up.”

Two of those guys named by Samples on Tuesday were Guillory and Jacobs, who are both among the competition for a starting wideout spot in Arizona State’s offense.

When it comes to Guillory, he followed his former Idaho State head coach Charlie Ragle, who is now ASU’s assistant head coach and special teams coordinator. The coach knew the wideout’s work ethic would be a perfect fit in Tempe.

“He’s a film junkie. He wants to watch film all day,” Samples said. “He’s constantly texting me clips of his one-on-ones of his practice clips asking, ‘How can I do this better? How can I run this route better?’ So when you got a guy like X who’s just really a football junkie — the guy loves ball and he really loves it — I think you just see what happens when nobody’s around which is a whole bunch of work.”

Then there is Jacobs, a product of Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, who has made it his goal to be a starter in his upcoming sophomore season. And of all the returning receivers for ASU, he has been one of the bigger standouts among the younger classmen, albeit only four practices into spring ball.

“He’s come a long way in a short amount of time when it comes to route technique, when it comes to understanding what he’s doing, when it comes to understanding spatially how we want to space the field, how we want to attack vertically,” Samples said. “(He needs to) continue just focusing on being consistent. If that guy can be consistent, he’s gonna be a special player for us down the line.”

And above all else, competition breeds competition, which is the mantra Dillingham has instilled into every single one of his assistant coaches and players.

That will not only make the wide receivers and tight ends room better, but it will also pay dividends on the defensive side of the ball, as the likes of defensive backs Ro Torrence and Jordan Clark go up against Badger and Conyers every day in practice in what is a true game-rep for a group of guys who aspire to play in the NFL.

“I think all the guys in the room are really doing their homework and challenge each other and it’s good,” Samples said. “When you have a village of guys who challenge each other to learn, not just come out here, play the game and make plays but learn the playbook and learn exactly what they’re supposed to be doing … it becomes infectious to the room and I think the whole room has taken on the challenge of learning it and mastering the playbook and mastering their craft.”

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