Q&A With Coach Ted Monachino

No other position coach has a bigger task of replacing a player than defensive line coach Ted Monachino. While Terrell Suggs and his 24 sacks have departed, the Sun Devil coach is extremely upbeat at the prospects of his group for 2003. In this exclusive DevilsDigest.com interview, Monachino talks about that topic and many more.

DevilsDigest: Let's start by reviewing the defensive linemen in the 2003 recruiting class. What can you tell us about them?

Ted Monachino: Kyle Caldwell - "We're extremely excited about Kyle. He brings a lot to the table athletically, but more so he's a Sun Devil legacy. He brings toughness and a real validation to our class. We got great things instored for him, and he has a bright future. Athletically he'll be in the Terrell Suggs/Nick Johnson mold, but he also comes with a lot of great technical football behind him. We'll give him an opportunity to compete, and if he's mentally ready for it I can see him playing right away."

Brett Palmer - "In my opinion he was the gem of the D-line class. Kyle - we wanted in the worse way. Brett - we needed in the worse way. Define the high school defensive tackle, and we hit it two years in a row (last year being Ali Likio). That's a big coup for our staff. We know that he can come in and fit right away, and have a chance to compete like Kyle will. With our numbers at defensive tackle, he'll be thrown to the fire and we'll see how he responds to it."

Gabe Reininger - "He's a grown man. He's very mature, and already developing into a leader in terms of work ethic. He's a guy that a lot of our young players are looking to as an example. To find a junior college guy that can come in here and do that right away is a little bit of a rarity. His whole drive is to be the best student and the best football player he can be. He's a blessing."

DD: How would you recap the performance of the defensive line in 2002?

TM: "We looked at all of it, and I think we're starting to show signs of being a football team. We don't have the bright starts in different spots all over the place, but structurally we really played well, and we did a great job executing the scheme. We still have a long ways to go, but we are putting the puzzle together. We're getting the right pieces in the right spots, and our guys are really not only playing for each other but also preparing for each other. That is a real telling sign that you're going in the right direction."

"We have to get better on first downs, and it's across the board. First down in this league however, isn't not primarily a run down. We have to get better at certain personnel groupings to stop the run. I think we made big gains against teams that run the ball well, like Kansas State. But we have to get better at playing blockers, and seeing angles of departure, but we'll get there."

"In the pass rush we're light years ahead of where we were a year ago. I give all that credit for the guys in the back end that allow us to have an extra half a second to rush the passer. I also give credit to my kids. I gave them a lot of freedom rushing the passer this year, and it really showed. When you give your best kids ownership of that part of the game plan, they wanna make it work so they can come to me on Sunday and say ‘look at that great call I made in that pass rush situation.' We're getting to the point now that we can do some substitutions in the pass rush package. Our guys are developing an attitude, and understanding protectors and protection. Pass rush is all about effort, and our guys are starting to grasp that. We did more things this year with a four man rush then anybody else expected."

DD: When you look towards 2003 and not having Terrell Suggs in the lineup, do you try and have your current players run the plays that made Suggs so successful, or do you revamp the scheme because of his absence?

TM: "Each kid has his strengths and weaknesses. Terrell had some easily visible strengths. He also had some weaknesses and he'll be the first one to admit that to you. Jimmy (Verdon), Nick (Johnson) and any other of the guys that could play on the edge, have to determine in the next few months what they're best at, and get as good as they can at it. Terrell understood edge pass rush, leverage, hands, hips and all those things. Jimmy is a completely different player. He's gonna have to be more of a power rusher guy. Nick has a lot of the same ability Terrell had, in terms of being fast, flexible, and strong. But he's not as developed a pass rusher as Terrell was. I think it's gonna be a different type of pass rush, but I think the results will be very similar. We have 24 sacks to make up, and it wouldn't bother me if I made it up with eight guys having three more than they had this year."

DD: One thing that distinguishes this group from other groups on defense is the large number of returning players. How comforting and important is that factor? Experience in system usually breeds better results…

TM: "No question. The thing about experience is that it's good to have but it's also good to have good experiences. We've been really fortunate with that. Shane Jones, for instance, had nothing but a year and a half of great experiences. He's developed to a level now that he can be comfortable at. He knows now that he only way to go and that's better. The guy that has the most experience in the group, and is a complete total warrior and a team guy all the way is Brian Montesanto. If a young Sam Monachino ever turned out like Brain Montesanto, I'd be very blessed. Brian is a guy that sacrificed a lot for this program, and he's gonna have an outstanding year. Moving inside isn't easy, especially playing 14 games at 259 pounds. That's something I wouldn't wish on anybody. But until he's proven to me that he can't play at that weight, which I don't think will never happen, I'm not gonna try and change much about him. He's able to take all that experience he has gained over the years, and apply it on a play-by-play basis. Nothing ever has to remind Brian to do something. He understands what he sees and he reacts to it the way I'd expect him."

"Jimmy is getting better and better, and Nick is just scratching the surface at how good he can be. To have a 270-pound guy that runs a 4.5 is freakish. He's gonna be a good player, he's just not there right now. Our young kids like Ricky Parker and Ali Likio and those guys will get better, and the experience they gained on the scout team is extremely valuable. When you practice against our offense, you get to see about everything there is, and they understand a lot of offensive football. They should be able to step right in and contribute right away."

DD: What do you see as the major improvements needed for the defensive line to perform better this upcoming season?

TM: "We have to get much better at defeating blocks in the run game. That's the number one thing. We're really good right now at penetrating and disrupting, but we have to get better at the blocks. We have to get better at understanding the time to counter in the pass rush. Everybody knows their counters and knows what they're supposed to do, but we have to get better at the timing. But we're progressing. We're getting stronger in our hips, and our strength staff does a great job preparing our guys to be football players. Bigger, faster, stronger, more flexible, quicker, smarter – that's the direction we're going in."

DD: What are your thoughts and expectations for spring practice?

TM: "Expectations are very high across the board, and especially on the defensive line. I do have veteran players that got good experience at the right times. For instance, Nick got to play a lot of downs when a game was still in doubt. That's critical. I expect to see Gabe Reininger fighting for a spot in the top two defensive tackles. That's not to say that Brian and Shane don't have a lead in that category, but that lead is by no means insurmountable. My expectations are for Ricky parker to come along as far as he should. He's starting to approach his potential physically and mentally. All the guys have done a great job in the off-season and we should have solid depth."

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