Q&A with Coach Mike Norvell

Assembling a recruiting class in a short amount of time was the first challenge that awaited Mike Norvell when he arrived at ASU, and with spring practice just weeks away ASU's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach now has to implement an offensive scheme to suit an inexperienced QB. In this comprehensive and exclusive interview Devils Digest covered these topics and many more with Norvell.

DevilsDigest: You were one of the first assistants to arrive in Tempe with Todd Graham less than two months ago. How hectic has it been settling into a new position in a new school as well as assembling a recruiting class in such a short amount of time?

Mike Norvell: "It's been a whirlwind, but it's also been exciting. When we first got started we tried to gather all the information we could on the guys that were committed to Arizona State as well as the players that we were going to recruit. But we have a great support staff and I have really enjoyed meeting everybody and starting to build relationships there. It's really been a blast."

DevilsDigest: Arizona State seems to often be mentioned as a program that is admired from afar because of several factors it has in its favor. What were your expectations of working at this school, and now that you have been working here for a couple of months is the reality in line with the expectations you had?

Mike Norvell: "Honestly, I have always viewed Arizona State as a place of destination and a program that has a lot of potential to win. Since I have been here, my perception has done nothing but go up. When you have a chance to be around our support staff, people like Jean Boyd, John Wrenn, Horace Raymond…all the guys that have been in place doing things around our players in regards to academics or administration…I think there is unlimited potential for the things we can do here.

"You can online and take a look at the great facilities we have, look at the campus, our weather…all those things are great draws to people looking from the outside. But once you get here on-campus and meet the people that we have – I truly think this is the best thing about our place. So this has done nothing for me but elevate what my thoughts were of Arizona State was and I'm really excited about the future and what we can accomplish here."

DevilsDigest: When you did get here in late December needing to quickly assemble a recruiting class, you must have to spend just as much time not only evaluating prospects but also evaluating the returning players to help you better identify your recruiting needs…

Mike Norvell: "No question and that is one of the first things I did when I got here. I watched five or six games from last year, trying to get a feel for who we have coming back and see what areas of need we have to address for the future. But there is no question that we had to first evaluate the talent we had coming back before we moved forward with the recruiting process."

DevilsDigest: Aside from what you already mentioned, what were some of the other challenges you faced in trying to assemble the recruiting class as you arrived here so late in the recruiting process?

Mike Norvell: "Recruiting is all about relationships and that is something I take great pride in as something I try to develop with these young men. I'm trying to see what makes them tick, and what they are all about. And relationships are something that obviously works both ways.

"So that was the biggest challenge trying to form a recruiting class in such a short amount of time. You have to try and build relationships on the fly, but I feel really good about the class we were able to put together."

DevilsDigest: Can you expand on that last statement as to how you view this recruiting class?

Mike Norvell: "I'm excited about the class. When you sit down and watch film of them, you can obviously see players that can make an impact right away on the football field on both sides of the ball. We look for explosive playmakers and I think we found young men that can do that. I know coach Graham touched on this before, and that is the type of young men we brought into the program and that is something that I am very excited about.

"You look at our class and its full of players that have great character, are unbelievably hard workers and have a true passion to be successful. Those are things we all look for and it's very important to me. I want guys that come in here and try to be among the best players in the country, have the drive and desire to go out it and compete everyday, and I feel that we have brought in the right type of guys into this recruiting class. I look forward to seeing them develop and help us here in the future."

DevilsDigest: I wanted to talk about the running backs that were signed in this recruiting class, and let's start with D.J. Foster. A lot of times the terms ‘crown jewel' or ‘blue chip prospect' are loosely thrown around when discussing recruiting classes, but it appears that in the case of D.J. Foster those accolades are deserving and he is someone you can truly build an offense around…

Mike Norvell: "No question. When I came in I watched film on every top running back in the country and with D.J.'s versatility and explosiveness he was a very high priority for us. Like we talked about before about the recruiting class, it's not only what he can do on the field, but also off the field with the type of person he is. Being a young man that played high school right down the road from campus and being able to keep him home…there is no limit of what you can do with him offensively when you get the football in his hands."

DevilsDigest: Unlike Foster who naturally has been on ASU's radar for a long time, Marion Grice is a recruit that has only been pursued since you arrived here. How would you describe Grice's play and what he can bring to the table?

Mike Norvell: "Marion is a little bit of a bigger back at 205 lbs. You watch him on film and you see that anytime he has the ball in his hands he is a threat to score. He definitely brings unique playmaking abilities to our backfield and will complement the guys that we have here. I've known Marion for a while and he was committed to another school. But once we were able to bring him out here for a visit and he could see what we had to offer him…he is very excited to come here and play with such great running backs. He loves to compete and I think we are bringing in a very dynamic football player that can help this team in the near future."

DevilsDigest: In contrast to the two running backs we talked about, Terrell Davis has somewhat flown under the radar, even though he was committed to Washington State. How would you describe his skills?

Mike Norvell: "He's a bigger back that weighs 215, 220 lbs. He's a guy that can play both positions, at the four-back and the three-back. Another versatile player who is a physical runner and has good top-end speed. He's a player that will do a lot of the dirty work. Coach (Chris) Ball had a chance to see Terrell and the way he competed at their camp (at Washington State) and he saw a player that has tremendous drive and couldn't be worn out. The kid has an incredible motor and we're excited with what he brings to the table. Yes, not many people have been talking about him but we feel that we got a great football player and he will help our program."

DevilsDigest: In some respects, the new offensive scheme that coach Graham plans to employ here won't be all that different than what ASU ran last season. But when you look closely at both systems, what are some of the similarities and differences between the two?

Mike Norvell: "There are similarities in some of the pass concepts, but I think we are going to be more of a power football team that is going to have a lot of downhill running plays. Our main thing is being a fast break and no huddle attack, trying to push the tempo, but we are going to run the football. We like to come out being 60-40 run-pass and establish a physical nature to the football game and set the tone there. That is something that is very important to us.

"My whole thing is that if you run the ball well and get safeties to commit to being closer to the box, so you will get one-on-one matchups outside and help out the passing game."

DevilsDigest: Because there is some resemblance in the passing game aspect between both schemes, do you think that the transition in that department should be smooth right out of the gates or do you still expect a gradual transition process?

Mike Norvell: "I think that there are enough similarities to have a smooth transition. Obviously, with any change there is a period where players need to get used to new concepts and that will take a little bit of time. But our guys are very adaptable and we are very confident in our personnel executing our system and I can't wait to start to go to work on it in the spring."

DevilsDigest: Naturally, the three quarterbacks on the roster collectively have very limited playing experience but what is your assessment of each of them and how they will be able to fit the new system?

Mike Norvell: "All of them have very unique skills and talents, but the one common denominator between all of them is that they are all great people. It's been a pleasure for me to get to know all of these three young men. They are hard workers who take care of their business on and off the field and are great leaders. You hear in their voice their compassion to compete and lead this football team.

"Taylor Kelly is very athletic and can definitely do some great things running with the football and passing it. He understands when to throw the football, but can also make a lot happen with his feet.

"Mike Bercovici is a guy that can absolutely spin a football. He has a great arm, extremely accurate passer, and a student of the game. He's a guy that hasn't been asked to run around too much but can definitely escape trouble in the pocket with his feet and moves quite well.

"Michael Eubank is a guy that I knew from my time at Pitt when I recruited him, so I am the most familiar with him coming into this (ASU) job. Obviously he has great physical stature that can definitely run and has a great arm on him. He understands the timing of when to get the ball out."

DevilsDigest: To effectively run the type of offense you want to run in 2012, what does your quarterback ideally need to have in terms of skills?

Mike Norvell: "We need to have a quarterback who is a great manager of the football game. That is something I have talked to all the quarterbacks about, being able to go out there and lead this football team. We are a timing-based pass offense, so you have to have good timing. We are going to ask the quarterbacks to go through a lot of read progressions, and not only in the pass game but also in the run game. Everything we ask the quarterback to do has to be executed in a very quick pace. The quarterback that goes out there cannot turn the football over, has to be able to move the chains and create explosive plays.

"Those are the things that we will be working on in the spring and I look forward to seeing the guys competing out there and doing those things."

DevilsDigest: Whomever the starting quarterback will be in the 2012 season opener, experience will surely not be on his side. Keeping that in mind, is there a fine line you need to walk between implementing the new scheme but also being careful to not overwhelm a green signal caller?

Mike Norvell: "Installing the new offense is no different to the quarterbacks, as it is to the rest of the positions on offense. It's new for everybody. We're going to put in the offense at a pace that we fell is best for them to pick it up and be efficient at. We feel that we have three guys that will come in and compete and give everything they have to help this football team. We feel that all of their skills and talents can run what we will be asking them to run and I'm excited to see them start getting some reps."

DevilsDigest: You talked about having high character players or recruiting players with that type of personality, and cynics would claim that often a player with outstanding personality is one that is short on talent, and vice versa. In your experience, is it usually hard to find a player that possess both high character and above average talent?

Mike Norvell: "As you're out their recruiting, you have to do your research. There are a lot of great young men out there who are also good football players. The thing with coach Graham is that we want to do research on all aspects, so we will get to know these young men very well. We will look at their character, their work ethic, those are things that weigh very heavily in our decision to recruit someone. We do that rather than just sitting there watching tape and deciding who you're going to offer a scholarship to.

"Is it more difficult? Sometimes. You just have to be very thorough in your research and selection process with the guys that you are going after. We are trying to find the best and the brightest. After we watch film and see a guy that can do everything we want him to do on the football field, we now go ahead and learn more about their character and what makes them go. What are the things that drive that young man to be successful? I talked about building relationships in recruiting and that is what I do it for."

DevilsDigest: As you and the staff try to change the culture of the program and instill discipline in the returning players, have you found that transition up until this point to be easier or harder than you expected?

Mike Norvell: "We just set the standard of what it takes to be part of this football program and our guys are really buying into it. They are hungry and I could tell that because in the first meeting we had with them they were sitting on the edge of their seats. They want to be successful and that is half the battle. They are working hard and doing everything they can to please us so they can get a good start to what we are trying to do.

"It's been a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to have a chance to now sit down and really concentrate on spring football and let those guys go out there to work."

DevilsDigest: As a first year coach here, I would have to think that spring practice becomes even more crucial than usual in terms of off-season preparations. What kind of approach will you take to these 15 practices?

Mike Norvell: "Being that this is our first spring we want to get into our base. We want to show these guys what the expectations are going to be on the field, and it is something that will take a little bit of time. You have to show these guys how we are going to practice, how we are going to coach, and it is going to be different for them.

"The biggest thing I want to get out of spring is having them get a great understanding of how we are going to play, having a physical mindset at every position, and understanding the tempo that we are going to play at. Obviously, they will need to be disciplined while doing all of this. We talk to our guys all the time about doing something correctly the first time they do it and this is something that is hard to achieve.

"So making sure that our guys have an understanding of all of our standards and expectations is the biggest thing we want to achieve in the spring. I know there will be some letdowns in spring ball, there always are because this is a learning process. But like I said, these guys are hungry and ready to go to work and it will be a joy to get out there on the football field and starting to get everything implemented."

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