There's a patch of 4,500 square feet in San Ramon, California that has become a training ground for some of the best tight ends in the NFL.
California Strength, about a 30-minute drive east from Oakland, has trained both Austin Hooper and Zach Ertz, giving the gym's founder and CEO Dave Spitz an in-depth understanding of what's required athletically for players at that position to succeed at the highest level.
That's why Spitz is so excited about the NFL prospects of another one of his clients: Devin Asiasi.
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"He has the catch radius of Austin," Spitz said. "He has the body control and awareness of Zach. And he, I think, has more bend, more wiggle, than both of them. He's a beautiful combination. Plus he brings his own set of qualities. As a route-runner, he's just gonna be so difficult to defend at the next level."
Asiasi was made the No. 91 overall pick by the Patriots in this year's draft, brought aboard to infuse some talent to a tight end room that was lacking in that category in 2019.
Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio were so taken by the UCLA product's physical skills that they traded up in the third round to make sure they landed him. Moments later, they dealt up in the draft again to select Virginia Tech tight end Dalton Keene.
Together the pair could alter the look of the Patriots offense as it undergoes a post-Tom Brady transformation, and Asiasi could very well end up being the most impactful first-year player on the roster.
'THIS KID IS SPECIAL'
Spitz has welcomed former NFL tight end Logan Paulsen to California Strength to work alongside — and serve as a mentor of sorts to — his stable of tight ends. In eight years in the NFL, Paulsen has shared locker rooms with some of the league's most best young players at the position not named Rob Gronkowski: In Washington it was Jordan Reed, in San Francisco it was George Kittle, and in Atlanta it was Hooper.
Even for Paulsen, Spitz said, seeing Asiasi's movement skills in person was hair-raising.
"He understands the position better than anybody," Spitz said of Paulsen. "He stayed in the game way longer than anybody anticipated . . . Even he was like, 'Holy smokes. This kid is special.'"
Asiasi continues to work with Spitz to complete the conditioning work he's been asked to handle by the Patriots. They're also supplementing those demands by executing a weight-lifting regimen to have him ready for whenever he's allowed to report to the team's facility in Foxboro. The program is, of course, carefully tailored to Asiasi's needs.
Spitz and his team have developed software where they gather 72 different points of data through different stress tests on each athlete prior to training. From there, players are given scores to quantify everything from posture to range of motion.
"We look at what in your body is hypertonic versus hypotonic," Spitz said. "Where do you have areas of weakness and flexibility that maybe is destabilized? Where do you have areas of strength and tightness that may be too much? Trying to bring structure, balance and symmetry to the athlete is mission critical to us."
Asiasi, it was clear to Spitz after his initial assessment, was naturally gifted.
"What we look at," Spitz said, "is where do we start? What's your baseline in terms of your overall athleticism? Are you a low responder? Does your body not adapt quickly to whatever training we're trying to levy? Are you a mid-line responder or a high responder?
"Devin is what we call a 'high baseline, high responder.' This is where I start to get excited about him playing in the NFL and having an incredibly successful career because he has the ability to continue to improve year in and year out, given he's in the right system . . .
"His relative strength can come up. With relative strength — his power output or his force production as it relates to his body weight — as it improves, his speed will improve. The 4.7 [40-yard dash] that he ran in Indy, we'll be able to continue to work on his linear speed over time and make improvements on that front. His ability to create separation and the ability to use his hands, we'll be able to improve those factors. Keeping his core stable, protecting him against injury long-term, those things are all areas that we can continue to work on."
Considering his level of coordination and the room left for him to grow, the interest from the Patriots — a team well-versed in sports science, constantly searching for ways in which they can improve the athletes they bring in — makes sense.
"If you watch the film and you see him run routes in person, he is so freaking good," Spitz said. "His mobility. His ankles. His hips. His power to get out of breaks. His body awareness. Those things that the Patriots see on film are so breathtaking to watch in person . . .
There's something that's incredibly special that pops right away. This kid just has another level of command of his body and of his awareness. I just can't wait to see what it translates to in the league.
"And he's so freaking excited. This kid genuinely loves football. He loves the idea of being able to improve. He loves the idea of being able to compete for a championship. He kept walking around when he was drafted like, 'I'm a Patriot. I'm a Patriot.' He just kept saying it. That's freaking cool."
'THAT'S WHAT IT'S SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE'
Asiasi's athleticism will be critical to allowing him to adapt quickly. Whether they're asked to block some of the best athletes on the planet screaming off the edge of the line of scrimmage, or whether they're asked to attack dynamic safeties as pass-catchers, just about everything tight ends do requires high-end athletic ability.
But the moments during which Asiasi was able to flash his pro-ready traits on film were fewer and farther between than some of his peers. He served a suspension to start the 2018 season and then recorded just six catches in four games playing behind eventual Cardinals draft pick Caleb Wilson. Last season at UCLA, Asiasi took over the No. 1 role and hauled in 44 passes for 641 yards and four scores.
But those inside the Bruins program knew Asiasi had NFL-caliber skills prior to his statistical breakout.
"We just got a chance to see him [in 2018 spring practices]," UCLA tight ends coach Derek Sage explained on the Next Pats Podcast, "and said, 'This kid's got a chance to be pretty special . . . We all knew. There'd be flashes where you're like, 'Whoa,' with the way he moves. [UCLA defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro], who's coached with coach [Chip] Kelly along the way at his NFL spots, would poke his head into my office and see certain plays and say, 'That's what they're supposed to look like. That's what they're supposed to look like.'"
Sage added: "[The Patriots] are getting a versatile player at the tight end position, which is kind of en vogue right now kind of making a resurgence into the NFL and college football. I think he's going to be able to stretch the field vertically and stretch the field horizontally, which is something we did with option routes a lot. He's a good athlete who can sink his hips, drop his weight, and not really change his rate of speed, which I think is really what you're looking for in a tight end position which has to be up down all around and do a little bit of everything."
Asiasi's experience with Kelly — who has long favored multiple tight end looks as well as a breakneck no-huddle approach — should give him a bit of a head start when it comes to his readiness for the Patriots system, Sage explained. And when you combine that experience with athleticism, that makes Asiasi a true dual-threat player at the position, and you have an intriguing option for a team that has shown it can work with versatile options at the position.
"There was a lot of guys," Sage said, "who would approach me when they would call and say, 'I think he's the best blocking tight end in the draft this year.' I haven't watched a ton of tape on the other guys, but I've watched a lot of tape on the other guys, and I'd agree with [them]. I just think he's got that blend of he's gonna be able to do it all — or at least have a skill set for what coach [Bill] Belichick and coach [Josh] McDaniels and that offensive staff are going to want to do.
"And in this day and age of roster spots, instead of burning a spot on a fullback, you might be able to say, 'Hey, we might be able use the Asiasi kid and he might be able to keep us in 21 personnel, and if he stays on the field, that could equate to 12 personnel with another tight end or 22 personnel and multiple formations. I know personnel . . . formations . . . that's what coach Belichick and coach McDaniels have done an unbelievable job with over a long period of time."
Asiasi certainly has the physical tools to open up formations and groupings for McDaniels that might not have been available to him in 2019 due to the talent the Patriots had at the tight end position. But why was Asiasi available at pick No. 91 in the first place if that's the case?
Questions about the 22-year-old's makeup existed prior to the draft. League evaluators indicated that he could slip to Day 3 as a result. One AFC tight end coach hoped Asiasi would slip, knowing he was a Day 2 talent who'd be available at a discount.
But according to both Spitz and Sage, from what they know of the Patriots program, it's an ideal match for Asiasi's personality.
"His appreciation for understanding what's required and for getting jobs done, Devin is very good at rolling up his sleeves and getting to work," Spitz said. "If there was one team that I could have picked for Devin, it would have been the Patriots. He is going to run through walls when you tell him to run through walls. He's not a guy who is capable of necessarily being on his own and just being accountable to figure out a workout that day. He needs structure. He needs accountability. He needs discipline. In the right environment, he's just going to thrive. I could not be more excited about the fit."
Considering the opportunity Asiasi will have in New England, his physical skill set and his experience in a Chip Kelly offense, the fit could eventually have him looking like one of the steals of the 2020 draft class.