Bill Slane

Jaelen Strong making his presence known early

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Through his first two games as a Sun Devil, JUCO-transfer Jaelen Strong has quickly made an impact on the field and appears to be on the page with quarterback Taylor Kelly. Being able to create plays in traffic like Strong was able to do Saturday will be a huge boost for the Sun Devil offense as the get deeper into the season.

Jaelen Strong came into Tempe with a lot of promise. Some thought that he had the potential to be one of the better Sun Devil receivers the team has seen in a very long time. Honestly though, he didn’t impress much in practices. He dropped some balls in traffic, which he also has done in the first two games, and just didn’t flash the kind of potential that some thought he brought to the team.

He had a solid first game against Sacramento State, hauling in six catches for 58 yards and a beautiful touchdown catch from Kelly. It was a nice way to start his Sun Devil career, but it still lacked something that most people expected from him. Even through the first half of the game against the Badgers was not anything to write home about for Strong. It was in the second half where Strong proved he was the real deal, particularly in the final quarter when it mattered most.

Strong didn’t have a touchdown grab on Saturday, but he did just about everything else for the team. He ended his night with another six catches this time for 104 yards. The numbers however don’t do what Strong did for the Devils justice.

On the Sun Devils’ first drive of the final quarter, Jaelen had back-to-back catches of over 15 yards. The drive ultimately ended in a Marion Grice touchdown run that gave the Sun Devils a one-point lead. On the Devils’ following possession, Strong had another catch this time for 20 yards preceding another Marion Grice rushing score that gave the Devils an eight-point advantage.

What is even more impressive than the catches in big time spots, is the kinds of catches they were. All of those grabs were back shoulder catches in traffic on the sideline. Being able to make those kinds of plays says a lot for the offense. First, it says that Strong and his quarterback Taylor Kelly are working on the same page. Those plays cannot be made unless the quarterback and the receiver are both aware of what is going on and can rely on each other. Secondly, it shows that Strong is ready to do what he was brought in to Tempe to do, make big plays when the Devils need big plays to be made.

One person who isn’t surprised by Strong’s production early in the season is head coach Todd Graham.

“I sure did [see Jaelen making this kind of impact], I thought he was special. Watching his film, he was as good as I’ve seen on film at what he does […] he’s only going to get better every week. That has really helped us, to give us an element outside that is physical,” coach Graham said in a press conference on Monday.

Coach Graham also pointed out that Strong has been making an impact on the field even when the ball is not being thrown his way.

“One of the things I don’t know if you notice, obviously the 100 yards receiving everybody notices that, but his blocking and how physical he is [stands out],” Graham said.

Coach Graham also mentioned Kevin Ozier as a physical player and a leader that Jaelen should and is trying to model himself after.

Coach Graham seems very pleased with Jaelen Strong, as he also mentioned that he has the potential to be a “big time receiver for us,” and he has good reason to be pleased. Jaelen Strong is the kind of receiver that Sun Devil fans have probably been longing for a while now. He is the kind of player, along with the other weapons on offense, that will help the Sun Devils achieve the high goals that they have set for themselves for this season. 

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