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August 17, 2013

Nelson gives Sun Devils versatile weapon

If you're camping in the woods it's very helpful to have something like a Swiss Army knife. It does many different things and that versatility comes in handy.

This week, ASU is in the woods at Camp Tontozona and it has found its Swiss army knife: junior tight end De'Marieya Nelson, a junior college transfer from San Joaquin Delta Community College in Stockton, Calif.

"He's a running back, tight end and fullback all in one," ASU coach Todd Graham said. "They're really hard to find."

In an offense where athleticism, technique, fundamentals, focus and good conditioning are essential, it's typically not easy for newcomers to adjust right away. However, Nelson seems to be progressing well.

While he still has a long way to get to where he needs to be, coaches and teammates have noticed his efforts and potential.

"He brings a different dynamic," tight ends coach Chip Long said. "When the ball is in his hands he can break tackles, he can burst at a different speed and is just a powerful, powerful, dynamic (player). His ability to play running back, that will help us a lot."

The 6-foot-3, 230 pound weapon is clearly not your average tight end. He brings a versatility that you normally do not see from the position, having extensively played Wildcat quarterback at the junior college level.

During camp, Nelson has been put in a plethora of positions including tight end, fullback, running back and even slot receiver in some reps. He's probably the fastest and most athletic of the tight ends, which allows him to adapt to each positions.

Nelson gave coaches, teammates and fans at Camp Tontozona a preview of what he could do with the ball in his hand on Friday. Lined up as the tight end, Nelson ran a curl route about eight yards deep over the middle. Snagging the ball out of the air, he quickly turned around, turned on the jets, broke one tackle, then proceeded to break another tackle about 20 yards downfield en route to a long touchdown reception.

Nelson has shown he can be another athletic receiving option for junior quarterback Taylor Kelly. But his teammates have also noticed that he has already improved his run blocking, adding another large athletic body to the running scheme.

"He brings a boost," senior tight end Darwin Rogers said. "He helps us, and makes plays for us as well. He brings a boost to the running game and also on power plays. He also is very good on spot blocks. De'Marieya is going to be useful for our offense coming up this season."

Nelson also has extensively worked at running back and Graham said he plans to use the big-bodied newcomer as the team's goal line and short yardage back.

On the other hand, there are of course some mental and physical aspects of the game Nelson needs to focus on. It's his first camp after all.

"He's just swimming right now," Long said. "Last couple days he's starting to get around. Starting to get his legs underneath him because he just isn't used to the tempo, the speed that our position has to go at, what we have to know and everything we have to do."

The first practice at Camp Tontozona was a rough one. It was the day after a scrimmage and he seemed tired, his cuts were slow, dropped balls that were easily catchable and missed some key blocks.

His overall game appeared to improve the following day and every subsequent practice leading to Saturday's scrimmage. But there are still some glaring inconsistencies during team drills, particularly with keeping focused and giving 100 percent effort every play.

"We have to get him where he's at a high level all the time," Long said. "Can't be up and down. He can't have an 80 yard run, then drop three out of the four next passes. That's just part of growing and being able to sustain that focus at a high, high level all the time."

Coaches realize Nelson's talent and his potential, which is why Long consistently stays on him, demanding improvement.

Nelson also realizes how much he needs to improve on his focus and condition if he wants to be a contributing and big part of this offense.

"My main goal or thing I need to improve on is just staying focused throughout the whole day and getting my technique down," Nelson said. "My biggest adjustment is probably the tempo and the discipline."

The fact that he realizes this is key.

The state of Arizona is naturally very hot. Combine that with the complexity and the up-tempo nature of ASU's offense, and it can be hard for even a veteran to stay focused consistently, let alone a junior college transfer who hasn't had hardly any experience in the system.

If Nelson can remain focused and get in better condition, there is so much that he has to offer to ASU's multi-faceted offense.

And he knows it.

"I think I bring a lot to the table because anywhere they (the coaches) put me I'm going to give them my all," Nelson said. "I wouldn't say I'm a bigger help at running back or tight end. It's just wherever they put me."

However offensive coordinator Mike Norvell decides to use Nelson, he'll have another versatile weapon in his arsenal.


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