Q&A with Coach Joe Lorig

Devils Digest caught up with ASU's special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach who gives us a rundown of the linebackers signed in the 2012 class, as well as an insight to the scheme that the linebackers will employ this season and an evaluation of the Sun Devils' special teams.

DevilsDigest: What are the reasons that you decided to accept this position at Arizona State?

Joe Lorig: "I played for (current Arizona State defensive backs coach) Chris Ball and he recommended me for this job. Once I flew down to meet with coach Graham I really got along with him and saw that we both share the same philosophies and vision. I coached special teams at UTEP and they (ASU) were looking to hire a special teams coach too. I also have a lot of experience recruiting Southern California and that was something that they were looking for as well. I knew that I wouldn't be a defensive coordinator like I was in my last job, but I also knew that if I came here I would still have some input on the defensive side of the ball.

"In the end everything just fit the bill. When I left for Tempe it was 8 degrees back home and when I arrived here it was about 78 degrees so that helped too."

DevilsDigest: What are your impressions so far of the program and the university as a whole, as well as the city?

Joe Lorig: "We have been spending a lot of time in the office since we got here, so I really haven't had a lot of time to experience everything the city has to offer. But just driving around looking for houses I can see all the beautiful areas here. When we had recruiting weekends I was really going through the process like a recruit learning about the school. I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of academic resources here and the athletic department's commitment to academics is incredible. The student population is large enough so that you don't know everyone on campus which is a nice thing.

"I think this is an awesome place that really sells itself recruiting wise. Not only are the facilities amazing here, but also the people that work inside of them. They really care about these kids as student-athletes."

DevilsDigest: Speaking of recruiting I wanted to get your take on the linebackers signed in the 2012 class, starting with Salamo Fiso…

Joe Lorig: "Just like any kid we were recruiting we were looking for good character and he has outstanding character. He had a couple of older brothers who played college football and obviously he comes from one the best programs in the country in Long Beach Poly. So it's always great to recruit guys that have the expectation to win, know what it takes to be successful, and have the drive and competitiveness. That really separates him from other players.

"Obviously he's a great football player and a great athlete. His body type is more of an inside linebacker type, so he's probably a little better against the run. But he will be expected to be a good coverage linebacker as well, especially in this kind of conference."

DevilsDigest: Unlike Fiso who was committed here for a while, Steffon Martin was a late addition to the class. But much like Fiso comes from an elite program, albeit in the junior college ranks. What can you tell us about his skill set?

Joe Lorig: "He's a tremendous player and I think he was ranked as the third best junior college linebacker in the country. That speaks for itself. He's a tremendous playmaker and a great leader on his football team on the field and in the weight room. He has the ability to run sideline to sideline, yet big enough to fill up the middle. Losing three starters from last year he fills a big need for us with all of his attributes. He's someone I'm extremely excited about."

DevilsDigest: Carlos Mendoza is another linebacker who gave his pledge under the old coaching staff . What does he bring to the table?

Joe Lorig: "He's a great player. We had numerous coaches go down and see him. He's from Oaks Christian – another great high school program in Southern California. Recruiting him was a no-brainer when you watch his film. Another versatile player and we will play him either inside or outside. It depends on how his body changes once he spends time in the program. He might stay lean as he is, or he could bulk up. I wouldn't be surprised either way to see what position he ended up at.

"He's a player that eats, drinks and sleeps football. He's going to be a great player here for years to come."

DevilsDigest: Matthew Rowe is another Long Beach Poly linebacker who probably will be pegged from day one as an outside linebacker…

Joe Lorig: "Yes, he's definitely an outside linebacker through and through, and all that means is that he's a more athletic linebacker than big linebacker. It's good to have some of those guys that can play in that nickel position for you and can blitz. He's someone that can be very versatile in the open offensive sets we'll see in this conference."

DevilsDigest: Can you describe the outside linebacker duties in coach Graham's defense, especially when the entire defense will occasionally be in a 3-4 alignment?

Joe Lorig: "We have two outside linebackers: One is called a ‘Spur' and that is a true outside of the box linebacker who plays in space, more like a safety/linebacker hybrid. The other linebacker is called ‘Devil' who sometimes will at a two-point at the end of the line, sometimes at a three-point as a defensive end so he's a defensive end/linebacker hybrid. He has to be strong enough to be a defensive end, but quick enough to also drop in coverage."

DevilsDigest: From an outside linebacker perspective, is this going to be a defense you think may serve as an easy transition for the returning linebackers on the team?

Joe Lorig: "I think it will certainly be a transition period for the players, as well as for me learning the new defense with the new terminology. But you pay your dues by making sure that the transition is a smooth as possible. You have to be consistent with the terminology and make sure players understand our philosophy: we're going to impact the quarterback, we are going to re-direct/re-distribute routes and disguise our coverages.

"We have to make sure that we have a clear and concise plan for the players and give them the necessary tools to execute that plan. We are going to keep things simple so players can play fast."

DevilsDigest: You talked about losing three starters, and in reality you can say that overall the team lost about a handful of linebackers that were in the two-deep. But with all those departures I have to feel that having Brandon Magee back on the team is almost like getting a huge recruiting pickup…

Joe Lorig: "I've known him since high school when I was recruiting him and his high school coach is a good friend of mine. He has tremendous leadership skills, he's hungry, he's excited and he will be the cornerstone that we build this thing around when it comes to the linebacker position. He's all energy and all smiles. He always wants to learn. We saw him in the building today and he asked us: ‘How can we be better today? What can we do?' He's fired up and ready to go and it will be really exciting to see him playing out there."

DevilsDigest: Magee notwithstanding, do you view this linebacker group as fairly inexperienced?

Joe Lorig: "We don't have good depth or great experience and if somebody told you otherwise they would be lying to you. But that doesn't mean that you can't be really good at that position. A big part of the play of this position depends on what you have in front of you and we have a bunch of very good and experienced defensive linemen returning. We do have talented linebackers, but now we have to make sure we can line them up correctly and have them playing fast."

DevilsDigest: Wanted to touch on special teams for a minute. When you look at the performance of this group punting preformed at a higher level than field goal kicking. How do you view both of these positions coming into this season?

Joe Lorig: "I feel great about them and I think both players are very talented and good enough to be very effective in this conference. I have no concern in that area. The question we really have is at long snapper, but it's a not a problem it's just that we have a player that is new to the program in Easton Wahlstrom. But everything I heard about him was that he's a great player and we'll have a chance in spring football to evaluate him."

DevilsDigest: The return game will feature a group of experienced players and based on film from last season I would assume that you're very excited with this group...

Joe Lorig: "Absolutely. We have 19 starters back from a kickoff return unit that was 5th in the country. So that's very exciting and we have to make sure that we continue to play at that level. At the same time, with the rule change this year's kickoffs are going to be from the 35-yard line and it will be interesting to see how much impact that change has. At the same time the touchbacks will now put the ball on the 25-yard line and that can affect what teams will do on their kickoffs.

"We will obviously do everything we can to get the ball in the hands of our returners because they are very talented."

DevilsDigest: What are your goals for the linebackers as you begin spring practice in a few weeks?

Joe Lorig: "Number one is evaluate your personnel. See what you have and see what you are working with. You're not so worried about scheme in the beginning, but just having the players understand what the expectations are as far as tempo, creating turnovers, and impacting the quarterback. Getting them to play at a high level where they are finishing all of the time and understanding our base concept.

"We want them to understand the philosophy and the concept of what we do because we play at a different level. We are going to play at a higher intensity than these players have ever experienced."

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