With Nelson's move, Coach Long talks about state of ASU's tight ends

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With Nelson seeing time on defense too, who will step up at tight end? By Ronald Martinez With Nelson seeing time on defense too, who will step up at tight end? By Ronald Martinez
By Brad Denny By Brad Denny

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State lost last season's first team All-Pac-12 tight end when Chris Coyle left, but they still felt very confident at the position thanks to the return of ultra-athletic De'Marieya Nelson. A senior, Nelson's potential led to him earning a spot on the Mackey Award watch list.

Early in fall camp, however, Nelson's skillset made him a top candidate to replace Carl Bradford's departed Devilbacker position on defense. So far, Nelson has impressed, with Devilbacker coach Paul Randolph considering Nelson to be atop the depth chart

Nelson will still factor into the offensive gameplan, but how much? Can the rest of the tight end group, who collectively have yet to catch a pass in a NCAA game, step up? Is there a breakout star in the mix?

I chatted with ASU tight ends coach to get these answers and more.

Coming into camp, De'Marieya Nelson was the projected starter and on the Mackey Award watch list. Now it looks like he'll be moving over to defense at Devilbacker. What are your thoughts on the transition?

Long: "I think it's good for De'Marieya. He's such a good athlete and a good player, he's already proven what he can do on the offensive side. It just helps him that much more to prove what he can do on the defensive side for himself and as a possible future pro in this game. I'm super happy for him. I love De'Marieya. I recruited him. We'll have a good package for him on offense. He's been with me for a long time. It's good to see him over there helping the defense and being a major leader over there. He's really helping those guys learn the level of play we expect every day. It's going to help a younger group.

So what offensive packages are you envisioning for him?

Long: "He'll do a lot of the stuff he did last year when he and Chris Coyle were out there at the same time. We have two really good freshmen coming in, so that is one thing he might not have to do. He also can do it in an emergency situation. It's going to be a lot of two tight ends flexed out, motioning him and creating all kinds of services. He did it all last year."

How has the first week of fall camp gone for the tight ends?

Long: "It's gone well. It's a young group. I'm really, really pleased with the emergence of Kody Kohl. He's really taken on that leadership role and sees himself as 'the guy' now. I think he's going to surprise a lot of people. He's so physical, really athletic. He just needs to keep playing and getting that experience and the speed and the nuances it takes to play that position."

How has the rest of the group performed?

Long: "Grant Martinez is another young man who had a great summer. He got himself in shape and is stronger. He is playing really well. Brendan Landman is going to play for us. Dan Vear is another guy who came in. He might be able to see some playing time. He still has a ways to go, but there is no question he has some ability. (Defensive lineman) Demetrius Cherry has come over and helped us a little bit in our goal line packages, which has been nice."

With Nelson's move, how does that impact the gameplan or how you will utilize the tight ends in the offense?

Long: "We're going to do what we always do. It's going to be a major portion of this offense. One guy goes down, another guy has to step up. Luckily, De'Marieya can be over there and still be a part of it. With him being on defense, it's going to make that group that much more explosive."

Have you begun to slot guys for different roles, or is that process still playing itself out?

Long: "It's going to be a situation that works itself out. There's no doubt that right now, Kody is the guy. We have to find out what he does well and start gearing stuff towards that."

So he'd be the starter if ASU played today?

Long: "Yeah, there's no question. That shows you how excited I am about him. Find out what certain guys can do, and put them in position to make those plays. Coach Norvell does a great job adapting his system around our personnel. It's a work in progress. The ability of these guys to come out and work every day this week has been very, very pleasing."

Kody has told me he is aiming to break Chris Coyle's tight end receiving record. Do you think that is possible in 2014?

Long: "I want my players to dream big. That's why they come here to play tight end, with how we feature that position. There's no where in the country that utilizes the tight end like we do. I want him to dream big. I want him to break all of Chris' records. If you ask Chris, he'd tell you the same thing. It excites me that he is that confident. I can't wait to see them do it."

With two weeks left until the opener, what are you most wanting to see from the tight ends through the remainder of camp?

Long: "Just improvement in all aspects of the game, our physicality every single day. Our growth in the offense, our understanding of all the nuances. Learning how to play the game at this speed. it's a young group, but they are good learners. They are coming on fast. They have to keep coming on. We ask a lot of those guys, but they have to keep coming on, learning the offense, and play fast."