Q&A with Coach Bob Connelly

Not many positions on the Arizona State squad have been affected by departures as much as the offensive line has. Devils Digest sat down with ASU's offensive line coach to talk in-depth about the challenges this group faces in the 2012 season, the linemen who were signed in the recent recruiting class and his thoughts about this unit going into spring practice.

DevilsDigest: What were the reasons you decided to accept the offensive line coach position at Arizona State?

Bob Connelly: "When coaching in the Pac-10 for a couple years at both Washington State and UCLA, I always felt that Arizona State should be a great program and always scratched my head why they weren't more successful. They have a great location and great academic school to sell. It has always been intriguing to me as I was coaching against them.

"At UTEP I coached against coach Graham and I saw the amazing turnaround he was able to achieve both at Rice and Tulsa. His success at those places speaks for itself. He provided me the opportunity to come and join his staff here having the same duties I had at UTEP so I decided to accept the position. This is an outstanding place that I always heard great things about it and now I understand why. I think this place is a gold mine and the future will be very bright."

DevilsDigest: Let's talk about the three offensive linemen who were signed in the 2012 class and get your evaluation of each. Evan Goodman is naturally one of the crown jewels of this group. What makes him such a special player?

Bob Connelly: "He's a very explosive and athletic football player who is really fun to watch on film. He dominates the game and did so playing in a very good football program at Lakeland, Florida. I had a previous relationship with the head coach there and he spoke volumes about him. Having his twin brother Devin on our team obviously helped. I can't take the credit for finding Evan or offering him in the first place, but I will certainly take the credit for the opportunity to coach him. We worked hard to keep him here because he could have gone to any school in the country.

"He's a gifted player who has good size that goes along with his athleticism. I'm expecting a lot from him and how soon he plays all depends on how quickly he can pick up the offense. It's uncommon for offensive linemen to make an impact early, but maybe he can learn the offense quickly and if he does I will certainly give him the opportunity to go out there and help us this year at offensive tackle."

DevilsDigest: Stephon McCray was another player who was committed to ASU for a while. What does he bring to the table?

Bob Connelly: "Stephon will be an inside guy, probably at guard but we may give him a chance to snap the football and see how he does there. He has a bigger lower body and is extremely explosive and strong. The thing I liked about him was the knack to finish blocks and also the fact that he has very long arms for a 6-3 football player and that can provide him good leverage. He may not have the same opportunity, as Evan does, to compete early for a spot in the rotation, but I think with his physical tools he will be a player that we are going to be very happy to have on our team."

DevilsDigest: No recruit who signed with ASU came more from ‘left field' as William McGehee did. What can you tell us about this player who really flew under the radar during the recruiting process?

Bob Connelly: "Billy is an extremely athletic player that we were very fortunate to get. We had two connections with him. Coach Graham knows Billy's Pastor and when coach got a phone call from that Pastor, we found out that Billy's offensive line coach played for me in college. So we were able to get a lot of information on him. The best thing about Billy is that because he was a qualifier out of high school he has for years to play there for us.

"Nobody knew about his availability, and no team had him on a recruiting list. He has great size, has athleticism and he was first a basketball player growing up. Played football only during his senior year so no teams really knew about him. He has great upside and once we will put him in the weight room, stabilize his shoulders where he had some injuries, I think he will be a guy that can help us. We brought him in almost as a high school player since he can still redshirt and have three years to play."

DevilsDigest: Coach Graham admitted in his Letter of Intent press conference that he wished the team could have signed more offensive linemen. Would you agree with that assessment and do you feel that depth right now at this position is a concern?

Bob Connelly: "There is no question. We lost seven lineman and I can never remember being on a team, as a player or as a coach, that lost so many offensive linemen in one year. We were hoping to replace five of the seven in this recruiting class and we did fall a little short. However, that can help us recruit players in the future. Once we get a whole year under our belts to develop recruiting relationships it will be a whole lot different a year from now. But it was important for us to get the right guys, and if we couldn't do that to not panic and just fill a spot with a player we may not be satisfied with in the future. I chose to take the three lineman that we felt good about.

"A lot of times during the spring while you evaluate high school and junior college players you can discover someone that may have been overlooked. There will be more Billy McGehees out there that were qualifiers out of high school and can join your team this year. I have discovered them in years past and it's not out of the question that we can sign someone between now and the summer. That is something we will definitely entertain. More than anything we are really looking at depth at tackle. We have to have some good fortunate this year and stay healthy, and if we do I feel very good with the guys we have. I want to develop some depth this spring and give an opportunity to some guys that didn't get to play much to showcase their skills and provide the depth at the tackle position.

"I think there is a lot of excitement in our group, knowing that seven guys left and that we only have two returning starters. There are a lot of bright-eyed motivated players in our group that are ready to compete hard moving forward. That is what is exciting to me. They know that the depth chart will be ever revolving and they have to show me how bad they want to be out there playing. The lines to go out there and get on the field are not long. The players have to show confidence in their own abilities and give confidence to us coaches to play them out there so they can help us compete for that first Pac-12 championship."

DevilsDigest: When you talk about depth issues, the most crucial one is probably at center which is a role of leadership on the offensive line. How do you see the depth here and how important is it to have a clear starting center at the end of spring practice?

Bob Connelly: "Like you said, the center will be the leader of our unit and I put the most responsibility on that player. He is going to identify fronts for us on every play and it really is a knowledge-based position. The center has to be an extension of their position coach. I hold them accountable to do a lot of different things and they have to see the game as I see it through my eyes. I have to educate them of doing so.

"The competition for this position will be wide open. Kody Kobensky will start us off because he played as a backup last year. Hopefully for all our sakes, this is his time to go out there, take this thing over and run with it. Devin Goodman will be competing with him, as well as Mo Latu who was a Top 10 center coming out of high school and we got him to move from the defensive line. It is like picking up a great recruit and I think he's excited for this new opportunity to go out and compete.

"All three have been going out there on their own working out with the quarterbacks and wide receivers, and the players have been raving how all three are snapping the ball well. I haven't obviously had a chance to evaluate this in person yet, but I'm encouraged to hear that. After the spring we'll have a better idea of the depth chart going into the fall."

DevilsDigest: How does the high octane pace of this offense translate to the offensive line?

Bob Connelly: "The physicality of the football team obviously always starts up front on both sides of the ball. That is something I will pride myself on, developing that toughness both mentally and physically. The high octane part is the mental toughness. Even when you're tired, not believing that you are actually tired and giving us all that you got. We're going to learn to empty our gas tank each and every play in practices and in games. That mental toughness will also be built through the strength and conditioning program that will strain them mentally and show them that they have more than they think they have.

"Obviously, they have to be smart and knowledgeable football players to execute our offense. They have to be able to handle the multiple things we are going to ask them to do. They don't only need to get a handle on it, but also handle and execute it in a very high pace. This will strain them physically and this is where the conditioning or lack of will show. It's going to be an educational thing for them to get into this type of system and knowing right when that play ends whether that was a five-yard run or a 45-yard pass completion. There is no huddle, there is no walking to the line of scrimmage. It's find the ball, get lined up and let's go.

"We have to learn to like the physical part and that is part of my job as a coach to develop that and put them in situations that show them that not only can they do that, but also that they enjoy doing that. We're going to pride ourselves on being very physical at the point of attack. We're going to establish here a great run game that we are all proud of. Pass protection seems easier to some because it's less physical but the run blocking is what all offensive linemen love to do. When you talk about running the football, you talk about leaning your body forward coming off the ball and trying to bloody someone's nose. You want to see that look in your guys' eyes and there is nothing better as a coach to look your guys in the eye throughout a game and see that ‘we got these guys' look and see them dominating the line of scrimmage. It all starts with that mindset and they have to learn to like to be physical and have a smile of their face when they do so. I'm extremely excited to see how this offense executes full speed with everyone of the same page."

DevilsDigest: As you go into spring practice, what are some of the goals that you are trying to achieve in that period?

Bob Connelly: "We have to show these players what it takes to be a Sun Devil in this style of offense. The biggest challenge for us as a coaching staff is going to be developing and educating those guys about our expectations and show them what the speed of this game will be like. We have to develop a mindset that we are smarter than anybody else we're playing, we more disciplined than anybody else we're playing and that we are tougher than anyone else we are playing, and again that is both mentally and physically.

"If we don't do anything else coming out of spring, we have to develop what the mindset of the expectations are from these players. Being disciplined, being smart and being physical are the three things we have to keep on preaching. If those guys buy into those three things and they believe they have those three traits we are going to win a lot of football games."

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