Q&A with Coach Paul Randolph

With his first spring practice at the ASU in the books Devils Digest caught up with the Sun Devils' defensive coordinator to get his assessment of his group going into fall camp.

DevilsDigest: When spring practice started you obviously had some goals in mind that you wanted to accomplish. At the end of those 15 practices how well did the defense do in achieving those objectives?

Paul Randolph: "I think the number one goal we set out to accomplish in the spring was to establish our identity. Who are we and what we will look like as defensive unit all around? The way we do things, the way we operate are things we wanted to establish but the number one thing was our discipline. We really wanted to improve on this and ask our guys to focus on doing things right. When I talk about discipline I also talk about sprinting on and off the field, and making sure you execute the fundamentals and things of that nature.

"I think we did a really good job with our discipline. Are we where we need to be right now? No. But we got better from the time we started spring (practice) until the time we ended it."

DevilsDigest: Not only is the offense high octane, but the defense too aims to play at a higher pace. How do you think this unit preformed in that aspect?

Paul Randolph: "We want to be an attacking and aggressive defense both in our mindset and in our playing. I thought we improved on that and we tried to develop leaders here. I wasn't happy with the way spring ended with the spring game, but for the most part I was pleased with the effort the guys gave, the way they learned the system, but again we have a long way to go before fall camp."

DevilsDigest: Let's start reviewing the various position groups on defense, starting with the defensive line. How would you rate this unit's performance throughout spring?

Paul Randolph: "As a whole I thought the defensive line became more explosive than what it was, especially towards the end of spring when the guys really understood how we wanted them to play. We still have to be a tougher defensive line.

"Going into spring practice I thought one guy that would be a playmaker was Will Sutton and I thought he had a really good spring once he started getting into our kind of shape and our mindset. He's an explosive player and those are the types of players we look for to have in our program. I thought Corey Adams, once he joined the squad (following an off-season calf injury) showed a lot of explosiveness and I think he has the ability to make a lot of plays inside with his physical and athletic ability. I thought Toa Tuitea got better with each and every practice with his conditioning, his technique and everything else. So I think those guys really stepped it up and finished spring on a positive note. Now they need to have a great summer so they can come back in the fall and be even better."

DevilsDigest: Going back to last season, defensive end was one position on defense that was a weakness. Obviously Junior Onyeali is still suspended, Davon Coleman missed some practice time because of academics and those are probably the best two players at this role. How do you feel this group did in the spring and is this an area of concern going into fall camp?

Paul Randolph: "I don't think this an area of concern because Carl Bradford had a phenomenal spring and showed a lot of things of what we are trying to do and get accomplished in our system, which is attacking from multiple areas and angles on the field. I thought Gregory Smith showed a lot of promise for us too and they both played well in that outside linebacker/defensive end position. At the (strong side) defensive end Davon Coleman does have a lot of ability but needs to have a great summer. Gannon Conway is another player that needs to improve and have a great summer to create depth for us."

DevilsDigest: The 3-4 front was implemented towards the end of spring practice, and it's a scheme that as a staff you always talked about integrating in this defense. Even though there were less than a handful of practices when the defense lined up in the system how do you think they took to this scheme?

Paul Randolph: "Playing this scheme showed me that we can be extremely multiple which is what I wanted us to be and what I thought we could be. Guys showed the propensity to playing this front and do a pretty good job with it. We have a lot of fine tuning to do but I think the more that we are in it through fall camp the better we will be. But there is no question in my mind coming out of spring that we are a multiple attacking front defense. We have the guys that are explosive blitzers that can impact the quarterback, and also guys that that can play the run well."

DevilsDigest: When I look at the linebacker position, I see a group that perhaps didn't play all that well throughout spring, but also a group that will probably look much different in the fall with players coming off injury as well as integrating some newcomers. What are your thoughts on this group?

Paul Randolph: "I thought that (inside linebackers) Coach West did a great job with the players he had and those players worked their tail off. Like you said we were missing Brandon Magee who is a leader for us, but more importantly his athletic ability, playmaking ability and experience. But I did see the linebacker corps get better each week and we started to create depth at the position and that was one thing that we wanted to achieve in the spring. That was the biggest positive for me with this group."

DevilsDigest: One linebacker that did stand out in the spring was Anthony Jones. How would you assess his performance?

Paul Randolph: "We thought Anthony did start a little slow in spring, but he got better as spring went along as he reached a comfort level with the system. With what we are asking him to do, he needs to have a tremendous summer, as does the entire defense, as far as conditioning and getting into shape. But I think he showed signs of being a playmaker and naturally that is what we are going to have to have that position do at the field side strong safety/outside linebacker role. So we will need to him to come in the fall ahead of where he left off at spring."

DevilsDigest: You talked about some Brandon Magee's attributes of and I think that another thing to consider is his versatility to play multiple linebacker positions. Do you peg him right now at one position over the other, or you expect to experiment during the first week of fall camp and see where his best fit is at?

Paul Randolph: "That is one of the best things that Coach Graham, as a leader does: he always requires us to evaluate and re-evaluate our talent daily. There is no question that Brandon will show us what position is his best position and his most productive position once we start fall camp. He played the strong side linebacker a year ago, and he does have the versatility that we like so much not only at linebacker but also with our players up front. His athletic ability allows him to have the ability to play multiple positions."

DevilsDigest: One player that can be a significant addition to the linebackers in fall camp, is JC transfer Steffon Martin. Now that you saw the current linebackers in spring, how can Martin fit into what you're trying to do at this position and what does he bring to the table?

Paul Randolph: "Steffon is a smart and explosive football player. He's a real student of the game with his dad being a former NFL player. He knows what it takes to be a quality linebacker. We want players that are committed, have a high football IQ and are explosive and Steffon brings all of that. He's a more mature player, who brings good size and speed and is mentally ready to step into the Pac-12 and play. He will compete for a starting job right off the bat and he's a guy that is capable of earning that spot at strong side inside linebacker."

DevilsDigest: Let's talk about the secondary. What are your thoughts of the spring performance of that group?

Paul Randolph: "I feel that the secondary did improve as spring progressed. We had some guys that we had to move around to try and get the best four players on the field. Alden Darby was a nickel back corner last year and we moved him to weak side safety and he's done a great job at that position. Keelan Johnson being a senior improved mentally in our system but more importantly improved as a leader. As a senior his buy-in was tremendous and if as a senior he has the respect of the other guys the buy-in for other players is easier. So I thought both safety spots really stepped up and showed that they were playmakers.

"At one corner spot, Osahon Irabor was steady. Character wise, work ethic wise, he's a guy that we thought coming into the spring would be a good player and he didn't disappoint us. At the other corner position Deveron Carr has experience and is a big corner and I thought had a good spring and was physical playing the wide receivers. I thought Robert Nelson is a very talented young guy that continues to grow and mature in our system and improve."

DevilsDigest: It has to be such a bonus to have a head coach in Todd Graham that during spring was very hands on with the secondary which is his area of expertise. How much has that helped this unit as they come out of spring practice?

Paul Randolph: "For me as a defensive coordinator it's great to have a defensive head coach who knows and understands our system inside and out. I wouldn't want to have it any other way. His expertise, his intensity and his passion rubs off on everybody offensively and defensively. But there is no question that with his wealth of experience with the secondary and the understanding of defensive back he can help our unit. He and (secondary) Coach Ball go back a number of years and they both are on the same page. It helped us a lot having Coach Graham as another defensive coach on the field in the spring."

DevilsDigest: How beneficial is it for the defense to be practicing against an offense who prides itself on playing at a fast pace?

Paul Randolph: "As a defense we want to be fast and efficient because that way there is no stress when you're playing no huddle teams. That is the way we practice everyday and it also benefits us practicing against an offense that has the no huddle mentality. When we do play an opponent that does huddle the game will become a lot slower for the defense. But having a high tempo philosophy always keeps you on edge, makes for a short practice and you get into game shape faster."

DevilsDigest: With fall camp starting roughly two and half months from now, and considering all the changes that come along with a new coaching staff, is the defense where it needs to be at this point of the off-season?

Paul Randolph: "I think we are about where I thought we would be. Some positions stepped it up a little more than others, and some players stepped it up more than others, but coming out of spring we got the basis of our defense installed and we have confidence that our players can execute the defense. Throughout fall camp we will have to fine tune some aspects of our defense."

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