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Arizona State Sun Devils

Arizona State's Graham praises performance of Strong, linebackers

rizona State's Jaelen Strong, right, makes a diving touchdown catch in front of Sacramento State's Joshua Armstrong during the first half in an NCAA college football game on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Arizona State football team lost two key contributors last year to graduation in wide receiver Rashad Ross and linebacker Brandon Magee. Head coach Todd Graham was given the task of finding replacements for those players and coming out of their first game, he thinks he might've done just that.

Jaelen Strong stepped up against Sacramento State, catching six passes for 58 yards and a score while also proving he has the size and hands to become a reliable third-down and red-zone target for quarterback Taylor Kelly. Strong, a junior college transfer, also impressed Graham.

"I thought he had a really solid first game," Graham said in his weekly press conference, adding that he's a fan of Strong's attitude. "Somewhere around the middle of the fourth quarter, he stopped me on the sideline and said ‘Coach, I just want to thank you for bringing me here and giving me this opportunity.' I have got a lot of respect for the character and the work ethic he has."

Graham went on to say that Strong will continue to grow and get better as he gets used to the pace of the offense.

On the other side of the ball, Graham seemed really happy with the performance of redshirt freshman LB Salamo Fiso.

"I really think Salamo is probably the guy that catches my eye more than anybody else at linebacker," Graham said. "As soon as he matures and learns what he is doing and masters what he is doing, he is a very good player."

Graham also praised senior LBs Chris Young, who was expected to fill Magee's role before the year, and Grandville Taylor, who Graham said continually impresses with his performance.

"He is a very physical person," Graham said of Taylor. "He is very smart, he doesn't make mistakes. He is a guy who really cares about doing things the right."

The linebacking corps will be tested against the Wisconsin running game, which is averaging 390 yards per game.

The teams face off on September 14 at Sun Devil Stadium.

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