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August 10, 2012As Sun Devil fans get used to a new offense, defense and way of life under Todd Graham, they will also be reintroduced to the tight end position as the new look ASU offense hopes to produce tight ends that rival Todd Heap and Zach Miller.
"A quarterback's best friend is a tight end," sophomore quarterback Mike Bercovici said. "It's so nice to have them incorporated into our offense. I would say they are primarily our first look on the majority of our pass plays. It's definitely nice to have a big body guy with great hands you can trust."
Considering ASU tight ends caught a total of eight passes in the past two seasons, seeing them become a focal point in the offense will be a drastic change, but a change junior Chris Coyle has been anxious for.
"I've been waiting for the past couple of years for my chance to do what I was recruited here to do," Coyle said. "I was pretty close to leaving. I didn't see a light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm so happy that I stayed. I never wanted to leave this Sun Devil nation. I love it here and am so happy that I will finally get my chance."
While the Sun Devils will line up Coyle and junior Darwin Rogers next to the tackle as traditional tight ends, there will be times when they are featured in the slot and in the backfield.
"They're going to line up anywhere and everywhere," tight ends coach Chip Long said. "We ask our tight end, 3-back to do a lot and we expect a lot out of them."
Since Coyle has lined up at fullback, slot receiver and tight end during his tenure in Tempe, he does not really have a preference of where he lines up. However, he did mention that coming out of the backfield and "blowing someone up" is always a good feeling. It's not what you'd expect to hear from a player who missed spring football following shoulder surgery and was only recently cleared for full contact, but probably a good sign of his confidence in his health.
Rogers is athletic enough to line up anywhere the coaches ask him but is not as familiar with the position as Coyle since he was a quarterback in high school. Since he is still learning the position Rodgers prefers to line up in either the backfield or the slot.
"Mainly I like to do routes at receiver," Rogers said. "You can read the defense (better) and see what coverage they are in. When we are in the backfield in twins you can read the defense and see if the backer is coming."
While Rodgers can certainly improve at recognizing coverage from both the tight end and 3-back positions, he is not alone in development as all players in the position group are being asked to do things they are not accustomed to.
"They all have a long way to go with understanding the integrity of a defense, reading coverage and reading the safety spin," Long said. "They're getting a lot better at it and that's coming through hard work, film study and being a sponge in the meeting room."
Learning new roles and new ways to play a position is never easy, but Long's past provides the players a sense of trust.
Prior to his coaching career Long played tight end and receiver for North Alabama. In 2005 he earned All-America, first team All-South Region and first-team All-Gulf South Conference recognition. Long was also recognized as the tight end for the Gulf South Conference All-Decade Team in 2010.
Senior James Morrison, Rogers and others have received reps with the tight end group in camp and may play important roles during games, but Coyle may be most poised to flourish.
"I wouldn't be surprised if a guy like Chris leads our team in receptions," Bercovici said.
Long is also expecting big things from the California native and has been impressed with his offseason work ethic.
"Chris, from the moment I've gotten here has changed his entire life around, he's outworked just about anybody to get himself into position to where he is now," Long said. "He just absolutely killed himself in the summer and has put himself in a position to have a fantastic season."
No one is expecting Coyle to become a consensus All-American like Miller in 2006 or shatter records like Heap, but if he is able to restore a bit of the tight end tradition the Sun Devils have recently lost, he feels he would please the fan base.
"I think these fans have been wanting a tight end back for a long time," Coyle said. "I think the Sun Devil fans are ready for a tight end to come back and do big things."
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