Q&A with Coach Mike Norvell

The quarterback battle was all the rage in spring practice, and in this exclusive Devils Digest interview ASU's offensive coordinator and QB's coach weighs in on that topic and others regarding the Sun Devil offense.

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

Mike Norvell: "I thought we did a good job of starting to establish what our identity is going to be. That was something that we really wanted our guys to realize through spring ball – what are our expectations and how we are going to do things. I thought we improved each practice and I think our guys have a better feel to what our identity is as an offense. I think it was a very productive spring."

DevilsDigest: There is always obviously a great deal of transition that takes place under a first-year coaching staff. When it comes to the players grasping the identity you talked about, getting used to the new measure of discipline or just simply understanding the new scheme, how well do you think the offense did in that sense?

Mike Norvell: "I thought they did well. Obviously there were some growing pains learning a new scheme and a new terminology, but I thought the guys picked it up very well. As we got towards the end of spring I think they had a pretty good grasp of we were trying to accomplish. There is still a lot of work to be done and I'm glad we don't have to play a game tomorrow and still have fall camp to get ready for the season. But I definitely saw growth with these guys and we're on our way. It was a positive spring, we still have a lot of stuff to clean up but the guys are excited and really motivated about what we are doing."

DevilsDigest: Coach Graham said following the spring game that he was very pleased that he was able to install as much of the new offense as he did, considering the three-way quarterback battle and the fact that all three signal callers virtually got the same number of reps. Were you also surprised by this?

Mike Norvell: "I was. It's tough when you have three quarterbacks getting equal reps and sometimes that can hinder what you are able to do. But we have some really sharp young men and it was great to see all of them grow. It seemed that when one of them would rise to the occasion and start to separate themselves the other two would respond. They all picked up the new system very well and I'm looking forward to getting them back here in fall camp."

DevilsDigest: When you look at all three quarterbacks, did you have one goal in mind for each of them to achieve at the end of spring? Did some of them do a better job than the others?

Mike Norvell: "The main goal was being able to manage the offense, and each of the three showed that they have the capabilities of doing that. As we went through spring we were charting everything that they were doing and one thing that we looked at was explosive plays. We also looked at obviously protecting the football. Out of the three there were some guys that maybe turned it over a little earlier in the spring but responded very well at the end.

"We want a guy that stretches the defense vertically and horizontally. To see (the quarterbacks) hit some of those explosive plays in the spring game, be able to see the big runs they made and just the overall management of the offense was exciting and each three of the guys played a part in that. We have a great battle on our hands and it's definitely going into fall camp and I'm looking for one guy to really separate themselves in fall camp so we will be able to name our starting quarterback."

DevilsDigest: Graham stated that he was hoping by the time the team leaves Camp Tontozona, roughly two and half weeks into fall camp, that he would have named a starter at quarterback. Is that the time frame you are shooting for as well ?

Mike Norvell: "I would love to have it done by then. You want to be able to go in and have someone stand up in front of our team and let everyone know that this is our quarterback who will lead us into battle once we get started. You need this also for the reps and continuity of the offense and the guys running on the first team.

"There were some times in the past that we played with two quarterbacks, so I'm not saying that this won't happen here. But you definitely want to establish the guy as soon as possible."

DevilsDigest: Without naming names, Graham did comment at the end of spring that he knew one quarterback that would definitely play this year. Therefore, was there one quarterback this spring that may have separated himself a little more than the other two and would likely be the starter at least when fall camp begins?

Mike Norvell: "Watching those guys and going back and evaluating everything that happened during spring, I feel good about our quarterbacks. I think they are showing that they can go out there and execute what we are asking them to do. With the productivity that we seek at this position I think we definitely have a guy on our football team out of those three that can for sure do it. Without naming names there is a guy we know is going to play but it's a matter of him really separating himself even more and establishing himself as the guy."

DevilsDigest: The collective talent at running back speaks for itself, but due to injuries you had just two healthy scholarship players for the entire spring. Nonetheless, James Morrison took advantage of the situation and was perhaps the spring's MVP. Can you talk about his performance?

Mike Norvell: "I agree with you on Morrison. We talked about establishing our identity and he's a guy that has really embraced it. The physical aspect of how we want our backs to run the football, catch the ball out of the backfield…an opportunity was presented to him and he really grasped it with both hands. I was excited watching him grow in the spring. He's not there yet, but he took some great strides to show us that he's a guy that can help us win football games. He's making it hard on us not to have him there on the field."

DevilsDigest: A lot of people talk about all the abundance of talent you will have at the running back position come fall camp, but even a ‘good headache' is something that you will need to deal with as you prepare for the season…

Mike Norvell: "You look at any team in Division I football and you know that we can't go through an entire season and have the success that we want to have with just one back. All the great teams out there have more than one good running back and have a lot of talented backs that can hurt you running the ball. We think we have a great situation because we will have great competition and the great thing about our offense is that we can utilize all of these guys and put us in a position to win.

"I'm very excited to get into fall camp, get all those guys in here and see what all of them can do. I know those guys will make each other better."

DevilsDigest: The offensive scheme is predicated so much on downhill running. So you're probably not only happy with the mere talent but also how this talent fits what you're trying to do in your ground attack?

Mike Norvell: "No question. Even having Cam (Marshall) for just three practices, you saw in that last practice that he broke two or three long inside runs, so what we do really fits his running style. We love having a back that can do those things. Then you have Kyle Middlebrooks who had just six, seven practices and he may have been the MVP until that point and he has a running style that is totally different than Cam's or James'. We have that variety at the running back position because we are going to have those two guys on the field at the same time and that give us a great matchup against a defense."

DevilsDigest: In previous stops you had several designed run plays for your quarterback. With the stable of running backs you have here do you expect to perhaps have less designed run plays for your quarterback?

Mike Norvell: "Having great backs we like to get the ball in their hands, but we also want the defense to account for the quarterback in the run game. If they don't account for him he needs to hurt them with his legs. But with those backs we want to get the ball in their hands in a variety of different ways and it does take pressure off of the quarterback to have to do so many things with his legs."

DevilsDigest: Throughout the entire spring Graham has been singing the praises of the offensive line, which ties in nicely with the desire to run the ball downhill. I would have to assume that you are pleased as well, maybe even surprised to some extent, at how well the front five preformed in the spring?

Mike Norvell: "I was pleased. Coming in we knew that we were mostly going to have a young group. We have a couple of key seniors that totally bought into what we are doing and establishing that physical mindset and the toughness that we want to display out there. But a lot of young guys stepped up and we watched them grow and truly embrace the style of play which we are looking to have.

"(offensive line) Coach Bob Connelly coaching those guys upfront did a really great job establishing that downhill running mindset, and really the entire staff (on offense) with Coach Porter and Coach Long also did a good job establishing that mindset."

DevilsDigest: Last year under the previous staff the tight ends were virtually an endangered species in the offense and had a very small role. How hard was it in the spring to re-establish this position so to speak and integrate it in a new offensive scheme, and how do you think the tight ends preformed under these circumstances ?

Mike Norvell: "It was tough. We didn't have Chris Coyle in the spring (out with a shoulder injury) and that is a player I'm very excited about because he's a guy that can play a very significant role in this offense and I'm definitely looking forward to what he can do in the fall. Him not being able to go forced some new guys to get reps. Darwin Rogers was a mid-year transfer and he's someone that only played tight end for one year, so he's still learning the position. He did some good things but just has to develop some consistency. We moved Marcus Washington here and you saw some very impressive flashes from him and he was also new to the position.

"Those guys got 15 practices under their belt and they're going to need each and everyone one of them coming into fall camp."

DevilsDigest: Jamal Miles wasn't only the best wide receiver in spring but also one of the most impressive players on either side of the ball. But the rest of the wide receivers didn't show much consistency and are very inexperienced. Would it be fair to say that this group left you with as many question marks at the end of the spring as it presented in the beginning of spring?

Mike Norvell: "Going into the fall there are some guys that are going to step up. We're going to have Alonzo Agwuenu, a junior college transfer that can compete for a starting spot. I'm excited about Rashad Ross and you look at the last two spring scrimmages and he was very productive making big plays and getting into the end zone. We have some youth at that spot but we'll still have some great competition challenging for playing time. I know eventually the cream will rise to the top. There are some great opportunities at wide receiver and guys have to make the most out of them."

DevilsDigest: What did you see from Jamal Miles that impressed you during the spring?

Mike Norvell: "His versatility. Everyone knows that he does a great job running the ball, catching the short passes…but seeing him develop as an intermediate receiver and having the ability to make big plays and turn them into touchdowns was exciting for me. That was the biggest challenge I put for Jamal to see him grow and the job Coach Alexander did with him during those 15 practices was outstanding. We're just going to continue and help him grow and see him out there as a complete receiver."

DevilsDigest: This offense strives to be high octane and fast tempo. Taking in consideration the normal growing pains and learning curve under a new staff, do you feel that the offense in this aspect is where you wanted it and expected it to be at this juncture of the off-season?

Mike Norvell: "It's never as fast as I want it to be. That is something we need to continue and work on. We need to learn to play faster also in-between the whistles, get lined up quickly and get a true understanding of what we're doing. The last week of spring, I started to see it come together and the guys playing quicker. This summer will be huge for them and the way they train will help them get in shape and do what we need to do. It's a process and Coach Graham talks about it taking two or three years to get in shape to run the number of plays we want and play at the tempo which we will go at."

"The guys have been working hard so far and we have the best strength and conditioning coach in the country in Coach (Shawn) Griswold and he will get them ready to have a great season."

DevilsDigest: What is on the to-do list for this offense as it begins fall camp in about two and half months from now?

Mike Norvell: "We need to make sure that we are good at the base. As a coach sometimes you can get caught up at the number of plays that you can run. I want to be good at what we do and that is a big focus for our guys. The players need to focus on the fundamentals and be a master of their trade. If we ask a receiver to run five, six different routes each game then make sure you're the best in the country running those routes every week. We challenge our guys to perfect their skills.

"In our offense, regardless of the different defensive looks that you're getting, we should have answers. For those guys to understand what the answers are, to be able to go out there and execute…then you will have that comfort level each and every game that will make you successful."

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