Stretz sees improving defensive line

The Sun Devils' front four was getting its fair share of criticism during the team's three-game losing streak, but not surprisingly it showed marked improved a 24-14 road win against Washington. We caught up with their position coach, Grady Stretz, to get his assessment of the defensive line at the season's midpoint and discuss the performance of some of its members.

DevilsDigest: Last Saturday against Washington was obviously a great night for the entire team getting their first Pac-10 victory, but the defensive line may have also played its best game of the year on that night…

Grady Stretz: "They did play really well. Going into the Washington game we wanted to prevent big gains in the running game and not let Jake Locker scramble out of the pocket and get the ball moving for them. We thought about attacking Locker a few ways and came up with a plan that did contain him for the most part during the game. "

DD: The pass rush has been one area that the defense was struggling with during the first five contests. Naturally that aspect improved quite a bit in the last game. What do you attribute the difference to?

GS: "There is a multiplicity of reason for that but the bottom line is that we were able to get a guy like (Junior) Onyeali in there that can make plays. We have to make sure we can get him technically sound and be a big part of our defense. He's so active out there and he's hard to keep off the field. He's only been here for three, four months so he is still work in progress.

"We were also able to play with a lead for almost the entire game which obviously put Washington in more passing situations. We also had sound pass coverage and Locker at times had to hold the ball more and we were able to get to him. Washington isn't a big protection, play action type of offense like Wisconsin and Oregon State are. They're not going to hold the ball for a very long time. They run a lot of naked (bootlegs) and plays like that getting Locker outside the pocket. We also gave the defensive ends a lot of freedom which we usually don't give them and with their inside moves that proved beneficial."

DD: Another defensive end that had a good game was Jamaar Jarrett who registered two sacks. Can you talk about his performance against Washington?

GS: "Jamaar played very well and I think he has been playing well this year. He doesn't have six or seven sacks so far and not too many players in the country do, but he's been back there playing well with his rush. The thing that goes unseen is his run defense where he is technically very sound. He really has done a great job there last year and half and continues to improve and be a solid player for us. But obviously having two sacks made him jump out even more."

DD: Corey Adams is a player that certainly had a lot of injury issues, but I felt he may have played his best game of his ASU career against Washington…

GS: "He's been doing a good job and making progress. It's good to have him back and healthy. I don't know if he's fully healthy but he sure can go out there now and produce. He had a nice game Saturday and made some good plays but also missed on some plays he should have made. He has definitely improved since he got here, especially in pass rush. He brings a lot of athleticism to the defensive tackle role which is nice and he's able to run around and make things happen. We are excited about the direction he is heading in."

DD: When you talk about stats being deceiving Lawrence Guy may be a good example of that. There is a perception that he isn't playing as well as he did last season. What if your opinion on Guy's performance in 2010?

GS: "I think he has been solid. I have high expectations for him and I know he has high standards for himself which is a beautiful thing. We have to get him more productive in the pass game – there is no doubt about it. I think he'll continue to grow as the season unfolds because he has done nothing but grow since he has got here.

"He has a great work ethic and he knows what he has to target. He's done a great job in the run game, and collapsing the pocket. He just needs to get a little more physical and little better with his technique. Starting today (Tuesday) we'll start cleaning up some stuff and have him target specific things."

DD: In terms of the defense as a whole there was a trend during the three-game losing streak where it gave up a lot of points in the first half but played much better in the second half. Against Washington the effort was more evenly distributed. As you look back at the game what is the reason for the balanced performance?

GS: "We were stressing a sense of urgency for these guys before the game and just being more focused early on in the game. We were talking about mentally being in the game for four quarters and just paying more attention to what is going on in the flow of the game. Just concentrate on what really matters. So we have been trying to relay all those things to them and did a good job playing with a purpose and hold on for all four quarters.

"This is how we played last year, and this year we've been inconsistent and we just have to build on how we played against Washington and play at that level the rest of the year. We were pleased with how the defense played in the first half."

DD: With half the season in the books how do you think the defensive line has performed so far?

GS: "You always have to get better from week to week, that's just the nature of football. As far as where we are at now – it's been solid so far. We obviously played some really good teams with great offensive lines. We played against offenses that were very unique from each other week in and week out. So we have had some challenges and the players have to understand the different plan of attack we will have from week to week.

"Overall I'm pleased with where we are at, but I just want those guys to go ahead and dominate football games meet the challenges they have week in and week out and we'll see how we are doing when it's all said and done."

DD: What are some of things you will be working on during the bye week as the defensive line prepares for the rest of the season?

GS: "Getting late in the season we have to make sure we stay healthy, but that's obviously something I can't really control. But as it gets later and later in the season that's always a concern. We just need to improve our assignments and be sounder and that's something that we have improved on. We'll work on technique and work on getting our tackles more involved in the pass rush. But overall the whole group has to continue and develop every day."

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