TEMPE, Ariz. — Two days into Arizona State spring football practice and head coach Todd Graham has spent more time talking about the players not on the field than those that are in uniform.
Here’s the latest: junior wide receiver Cameron Smith, expected to help fill the void created by Jaelen Strong’s decision to enter the NFL Draft, will miss the entire upcoming season after undergoing knee surgery.
“It’s a big, big blow for us,” Graham said Tuesday. “Cam had a very, very unique injury to his knee that was one that just wouldn’t get better and so we elected to do surgery, so he’ll be out for the season.”
When asked more about the injury and the surgery specifically, Graham declined to go into details except to say Smith was looking at a seven-to-eight month recovery.
“It’s kind of complicated,” Graham said, citing student privacy laws. “It was a very unusual injury to the knee. It wasn’t an ACL. It wasn’t anything like that. It was just something that’s kind of an acute thing that happened and never could get it better.”
Smith was the Sun Devils’ third-leading receiver last season, catching 41 balls for 596 yards and six touchdowns. He missed the Sun Bowl because of the injury.
“He was limited a lot that last half of the season, practice-wise and touch and go on a lot of games,” Graham said. “He tried to work through it, work through it, work through it. It’s something he dealt with all year long. He got two or three different opinions and then we just thought — the best interest for him in the long term was to have surgery and to get it finished.”
If there’s good news it’s that Smith still has his redshirt year, so while he’s sidelined all of 2015, he will still have two more seasons of eligibility.
The bad news, of course, is losing another pass catcher.
Without Strong and now Smith, ASU will rely even more on senior D.J. Foster, who is transitioning from running back to full-time receiver. Other options include senior Gary Chambers (10 catches for 204 yards and two TDs last season), junior Frederick Gammage (16 for 127 yards and a touchdown) and sophomore Ellis Jefferson (11 for 144 yards and two touchdowns) as well as Eric Lauderdale, the former four-star recruit who last year signed with the Sun Devils out of junior college and redshirted.
Despite the rough off-the-field start to spring practice, Graham remains as excited and optimistic as ever.
“That’s football. That’s the way it is. This program is not about one or two guys,” he said, referring to Smith and indefinitely suspended linebacker Davon Durant. “This is life. You get hit in the mouth sometimes. But, no, the sky is not falling at all. This program is about a lot more than a couple of people. You can’t control all those things that happen.
“There’s no doom and gloom around here. We’re going to have the best football team we’ve ever had, period. I can guarantee you that. I’ve never had a higher belief in a group of young men than I have in these guys, so great days ahead.”