What a difference a year—and a new offensive scheme—makes.
Under the leadership of former offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, the Arizona State offense put up impressive numbers in 2010 and 2011 in several categories.
Tight end production was not one of them.
During those two seasons under Mazzone, Sun Devil tight ends combined for eight catches for 76 yards and one touchdown.
Compare that to what ASU's newest star did in one game against Illinois—10 catches, 131 yards and two touchdowns—and you can see that the tight end position is firmly back in Tempe.
The scheme of offensive coordinator Mike Norvell heavily features the position he calls the 3-back. This variant of the tight end is called upon to be versatile in both their alignments and their responsibilities. But simply having a greater role is only part of the reason that "Tight End U" has returned.
Chris Coyle spent his first three years in Tempe as an oversized wide receiver and special teams contributor. Despite good athleticism for 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame and soft hands, Coyle was nevertheless buried behind a loaded depth chart at that position. His six catches for 76 yards in 2011 represented the grand total of his career production over that span.
But after Todd Graham and Norvell arrived, that all changed.
Seeing first-hand the kind of versatile threat Coyle's size, athleticism, and receiving skills could pose, Norvell shifted Coyle to the 3-back position, and history was soon made.
Coyle passed the likes of Todd Heap and Zach Miller en route to setting the ASU single-season school record for receptions by a tight end with 57. As quarterback Taylor Kelly's favorite target, Coyle's 696 receiving yards led the team, and he added five touchdowns as well.
His success was all the more remarkable given that the Sun Devil wide receivers struggled throughout the year to present any kind of downfield threat, allowing defenses to key on Coyle as the clear No. 1 receiving target.
It may not be any easier this fall.
Heading into the 2013 season, what moderate production the wide receivers had in 2012 is gone, having departed with Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles. Taking their place will be some returning veterans the team hopes take a major leap forward, as well as five newcomers signed in the new recruiting class. That will once again place the "go to" label firmly on the shoulders of Coyle, at least for the early portion of the season while the newcomers develop.
The strength of the offense in 2013 will be the dynamic backfield of Marion Grice and D.J. Foster. In order for them to reach peak efficiency, it will be key for Coyle to once again provide a field-stretching presence to prevent defenses from keying against the lethal running back tandem and provide balance to what could be a top-tier attack.
Given what he was able to do last season, it would be unwise to bet against a repeat performance.