ASU football still in good, if unproven, hands at wide receiver

Posted: Updated:
Gary Chambers (Rick Scuteri/AP) Gary Chambers (Rick Scuteri/AP)
Ellis Jefferson celebrates with quarterback Mike Bercovici after scoring a touchdown ( Ellis Jefferson celebrates with quarterback Mike Bercovici after scoring a touchdown (
Frederick Gammage (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Frederick Gammage (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
D.J. Foster (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) D.J. Foster (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz -- Another day of spring practice, another dose of bad news for Arizona State.

A day after receiving word that 5-star linebacker Davon Durant was suspended indefinitely following his arrest on domestic violence charges, Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham announced that junior wide receiver Cam Smith would miss the 2015 season following knee surgery.

"Cam had a very, very unique to his knee that just wouldn't get better, so we elected to do surgery," Graham said after Tuesday's practice. "He'll be out for the season. He'll redshirt. It was a big blow for us."

Graham wouldn't specify the exact nature of the injury, but did say recovery would take about seven to eight months.

"It was a very unusual injury to the knee. It wasn't an ACL," Graham said. "It was one of those acute things that happened."

Smith played through the injury a year ago, but after consultation with multiple doctors, the decision for surgery was made.

Last season, the speedy Smith emerged as a potent downfield threat for the Sun Devils. He caught 41 passes for 596 yards and six touchdowns, including a career day against Washington State. With No. 1 wide receiver Jaelen Strong sidelined in the home finale, Smith torched the Cougars for 131 yards and two touchdowns.

With Smith now out of the lineup, ASU loses a dangerous weapon that was expected to step up and help fill Strong's void. 

Strong opted to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft, where he is poised to become a first round pick.  As the clear No. 1 target over the past two years, Strong totaled 157 catches, 2,287 yards and 17 touchdowns in his career, establishing himself as one of the school's all-time greats.

Replacing him—and now Smith—won't be easy. In 2014, that duo accounted for 43 percent of the team's total receptions and just under 50 percent of the receiving yardage.

The news about Smith casts even more questions about the outlook out wide for the Sun Devils, but there are plenty of players poised to provide answers.

D.J. Foster

It's not often that a player rushes for over 1,000 yards in a season, opts to come back for his senior year, and then changes positions. However, that's exactly the case for Foster, and it's now shaping up to be a possible life-saver for the ASU offense.

Last December, when Foster made his decision to stay for his senior year, he also announced he would be changing positions. After rushing for 1,081 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014, Foster will be making the change to wide receiver, in part due to the team's depth at running back and in part to maximize his pro prospects.

"I know I'm more of a slot receiver, and I'm perfectly OK with that," Foster said. "It's time to make the transition." 

As any ASU fan knows, catching passes is second nature to Foster. Since his arrival in Tempe, he's seen significant time at receiver, catching 163 passes in his career (already 5th all-time in ASU history), including 62 for 688 yards last year (both marks second on the team behind Strong). Foster is an explosive player with the ball, and has shown reliable hands through his career.

After seeing most of his action in the slot over his first three years, Foster has been working at the team's 9, or flanker, wide receiver position during spring practice.

"That was one of the reasons we're playing D.J. at the 9, because that is where Cameron would have played," Graham said. "He's going to be really good. We're teaching him that 9-man. Then he'll know every receiver position and every running back position. Now we can move him anywhere we want to on the field."

Over the offseason and into spring practice, Foster is putting in the work to make the transition a success.

"Study as much as I can. Watch as much tape and get in my playbook as much as I can," Foster said of his preparations. "That's one of the things that's tough being a senior learning like a freshman again. It's very humbling, but I definitely have the hunger for it. I'm excited, and my teammates do a great job in helping me out with that."

Foster now projects to be only the team's No. 1 receiving option, and already has a great rapport with new starting quarterback Mike Bercovici. The pair are long-time roommates, and Foster caught 21 passes for 266 yards from Bercovici last year, second only to Strong's 30.

Frederick Gammage

After Foster, the returning production at the position takes a significant drop, but there are no shortage of talented options.

Gammage made 16 catches a year ago, the most among the returning receivers. The former walk-on and Brophy star played in all 13 games a year ago, including four starts.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder is a shifty target who can make plays from the slot position. While not a downfield threat (career 7.2 yards per catch), Gammage has steadily improved over his career, and he has the ability to remain a consistent contributor on underneath routes.

Ellis Jefferson

Jefferson is one of the most intriguing options to step into the spotlight in 2015.

The redshirt sophomore saw action in 13 games last season, catching 11 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns. On a promising note, of his 11 receptions, 10 came from Bercovici during the latter's limited playing time.

Jefferson served as the team's No. 2 at the X (or split end) receiver spot last year behind Strong. Like Strong, Jefferson is a big-bodied target (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) with a large catching radius. In practice, he has shown excellent hands and improved speed, although the consistency on game day remains a work in progress.

Bercovici has shown an inclination for make downfield throws, and Jefferson's size and leaping ability could make him a potent target. Another strong spring showing could earn him a prominent role come fall.

Gary Chambers

After four years of work, Chambers finally broke through last season. He played in all 13 games (five starts) and made the first reception of his Sun Devil career, an eight-yard touchdown in the season opener.

On the season, he notched 10 catches for 204 yards and two scores. Chambers has good size (6-foot-4), and showed an ability to get open downfield (six catches of 20+ yards) to pick up yards in chunks (team-high 20.4 yards per catch). 

Chambers provides a steady veteran option for the offense, and now has an opportunity to end his career as a major contributor. 

Tyler Whiley

A homegrown talent from Chaparral High School, Whiley was a consensus 4-star member of ASU's 2014 class. Due to the team's depth last season, he redshirted and also saw extensive practice time as a defensive back.

Now back at wide receiver, Whiley has the coaching staff excited by his potential. 

Whiley brings a high football IQ and a stout work ethic to the team. On the field, Whiley (6-foot, 190) has the speed and explosiveness to thrive in the offense at several of the receiver spots.

Jalen Harvey

Like Whiley, Harvey redshirted last year and also saw time on the defensive side of the ball in practice.

Harvey (6-foot, 200 pounds) brings a physical presence to the field, so much so that he practiced at SPUR linebacker late last season. Now back at wide receiver for spring, Harvey will vie for reps on offense. He also has the ability to contribute on special teams, both on coverage and as a punt returner.

Eric Lauderdale

Lauderdale came to ASU with high hopes and expectations. Like Strong, he was a heralded 4-star junior college transfer. Unlike Strong, Lauderdale failed to acclimate himself to the rigors of major college football and redshirted in 2014.

Lauderdale has an enticing size (6-foot-2) and speed combination, but will need to prove that his commitment and focus are up to the team's standards. 

If he can shake off the struggles from 2014, Lauderdale could quickly move up the depth chart and become one of Bercovici's top targets.

Terrell Chatman

ASU was hotly pursuing several top wide receivers in the 2015 recruiting class, but failed to land top prospects like Christian Kirk, Trent Irwin, and Cordell Broadus. Shut out on National Signing Day, ASU did manage to snag an intriguing prospect two days later.

Terrell Chatman was a one-time commit to Miami, but after some extra time to ponder his decision, opted to become a Sun Devil.

Chatman is a tall (6-foot-4), sure-handed target with a knack for make the spectacular catch. He's not a burner and will need to add bulk and sharpen his routes, but with the team's need at the position, a strong fall camp could see him in the lineup as a true freshman.