Q&A with Joe Lorig

From cornerbacks to special teams to scout team standouts, Devils Digest covers a lot of ground in this extended interview with Arizona State's Cornerbacks and Special Teams Coach.

Devils Digest: When your team's pass defense is ranked third in the country the cornerbacks naturally play a significant part in that accomplishment. How would you rate that group's performance in 2012?

Joe Lorig: "I thought we did a good job. It always helps when you have a pass rush like our defense provided. I was pleased with their performance but there is always room for improvement, but our improvement from the previous year was spectacular and we basically had the same players. So we had a lot of growth but I expect continued growth because we are not quite where we want to be yet."

Devils Digest: What are some of the areas of improvement that jump out at you when you compare the cornerbacks' performance from 2011 to 2012?

Joe Lorig: "I'm not a big stat guy but the numbers are pretty staggering. I think we were 112th or 115th in the country in 2011 and third in the country last year and obviously very high in the Pac-12. So that is one of the first things you look at. It's always a combined team effort and we had a great pass rush. We also eliminated a lot of pass interference penalties from the year before, and that was a major focus here. We had nine of those penalties this past year, which is nine too many, but still less than half from the year before."

Devils Digest: Anyone who attended practices on a regular basis, witnessed Head Coach Todd Graham spending a lot of time coaching the cornerbacks and really the secondary in general. How much did that aspect play a role in the cornerbacks' improvement?

Joe Lorig: "I think any time a head coach is involved, it certainly gives a lot of credence in the players' eyes, because they know it's important to him. I don't think he necessarily spent more time with the corners than he did with the safeties, but he's a secondary guy and myself and Coach Ball are very comfortable with him being involved. There are no egos and we all want what is best for the team, so having the head coach involved is great.

"Two minds are always better than one, and with our collaboration you have a lot of years of experience between us and it's always good to bounce ideas off one another. Kids learn differently and one kid will learn something from Coach Graham and another kid will learn something from me or Coach Ball. I will always welcome a head coach being involved in this side of the ball because it helps me learn as well."

Devils Digest: Let's talk about some of the cornerbacks who signed a National Letter of Intent with the team earlier this month. The defense as a whole, not just cornerbacks, was trying to fill the 2013 recruiting class with taller players and Will Earley is one example of that philosophy…

Joe Lorig: "Every secondary coach has their own philosophy and Coach Graham, Coach Ball and myself are all on the same page – we don't want small corners. It's just the way the Pac-12 is right now. It's hard to line up against USC, Utah or whomever and they have 6-4, 6-5 guys and no matter how talented you are you have to be able to have the size to handle those receivers. So it was a big focus for us.

"Will is a guy that has great feet, great hips and is able to hit. He's very explosive and also has a good character in terms of his academics. It's a big country out there and we try to scour the country to find the players that are the best fit for Arizona State. Sometimes people will focus on the guys that we didn't get, but the key is that the ones that you do get fit what you want to accomplish.

"Your pool gets very small very quickly when you mix those three things together: Character is number one – in all areas of their life. Academics are number two and football is number three. Will has those three things and I'm excited to work with him and develop him."

Devils Digest: Even though he played here at Mesa Community College, Damarious Randall isn't a name that is familiar to all local football fans. But in terms of an elite junior college player, you probably couldn't do much better in-state than getting a guy like Randall…

Joe Lorig: "He's a major national recruit who was offered by schools such as Oklahoma and Nebraska. He's a very explosive and dynamic playmaker. He led the country in interceptions and is a great kick and punt returner. He can play corner or safety for us. After the first few weeks of his season teams stopped throwing his way, so the coaches created a position for him where he was in the middle of the field as a safety and just running sideline to sideline. So he's someone that can help us a few different ways.

"Anytime you recruit a junior college player you anticipate him starting and if you don't you're recruiting the wrong guy. So we didn't recruit him for depth, we recruited him because he's one of best in the country. But it's a competitive deal and nothing is promised to him. Whether he plays safety or corner depends on where we have the bigger need."

Devils Digest: Lloyd Carrington is a player who transferred fairly late into the program last year and even though he's somewhat of an unknown probably one of the more intriguing players who redshirted in 2012. You obviously saw him mainly in a scout team role but what does he bring to the table?

Joe Lorig: "He's such a special player that after working just one year with coach Graham in Pittsburgh, he (Graham) felt comfortable enough to bring him here to Arizona State. After you work with someone for a full year you have a pretty good idea of how good they are. So the fact that he was welcomed here tells you that Graham thought very highly of him.

"He got here a little bit out of shape but has worked himself into shape, and did well in our conditioning program. He's very talented, he's another big corner and I expect him to contribute this year and be in that competition for a starting job."

Devils Digest: You talked about the cornerbacks having room for improvement. What are some of the areas you want that group to hone on come spring practice?

Joe Lorig: "Because we play a lot of man coverage we'll be working a lot on those skills. That will be one of the main focuses and really no different than last spring. We'll also continue to improve our tackling as a group."

Devils Digest: Moving to special teams, when you look at the various aspects of the group obviously some units were much better than others. How do you assess this unit overall?

Joe Lorig: "I thought we were spectacular in some areas and just OK in some others. We were first in the Pac-12 and 10th in the country in punting, which is very impressive. Obviously, a lot of that had to do with having a big time punter. Punt blocking is something that we put a lot of emphasis on and in a game like the Territorial Cup making that play was a huge swing in that game.

"Our kickoff game was just average. From our kicker's standpoint, he has to kick it more consistently. He (Alex Garoutte) did well but there is still room for improvement in that area. Our recruiting will help us have depth in that area, and depth is something that really affects special teams. People don't realize that with as much as our offense scores we kicked off 90 times last year and averaged 6.9 kickoffs a game. That's a lot and that's why you have to have depth there."

Devils Digest: During the season there was a change on special teams where Alex Garoutte stopped handling both field goal kicking and kickoffs, and just concentrated on the later, as you brought in Jon Mora just for field goal duties. Going into spring practice do you envision the same division of roles?

Joe Lorig: "I think that (division of roles) is actually ideal. A lot of teams don't keep scholarships for both positions. In an ideal world you want each player to specialize in their role and not combine roles, and when you do combine that's because of scholarship numbers. So I like how it is right now."

Devils Digest: You talked about the outstanding season punter Josh Hubner had and naturally he leaves some very big shoes to fill. Yet, Graham spoke very highly of the punter who signed here – Matt Haack. What can you tell us about him?

Joe Lorig: "Many people don't know about him because he didn't grow up as a punter. He's an All-State receiver from Iowa. He did a lot of roll punting in high school. But we know Jamie Kohl who's is one of the most respected kicking and punting instructors in the country. All he does is run these punting and kicking camps and he recommended Matt to us.

"So one day Matt goes to a receivers' camp and finds out it got canceled. So he goes next door to Jamie's punting camp and he's just messing around there. Really not knowing what he was doing and he was off the charts and had a monster leg. So Jamie recommended him, and Matt worked out in a camp down here and we saw him and he was absolutely unbelievable.

"So, he was a lot under the radar and a lot or people didn't know about him. But when you see him punt – he's the real deal. I don't expect him as a freshman to play like Josh did as a senior, so they'll be some growth. But he kicks it left-footed so his punts have a different spin to it and are harder to catch. Yes he's raw but if he's that good and still raw, imagine how much better he will be a few years under our system when he's coached up."

Devils Digest: Let's shift gears to the scout team. Those are some other players that largely go unnoticed, but fans are always interested in hearing about. Who are some of the players in that group that caught your eye this past season?

Joe Lorig: "Defensively, you have linebacker Salamo Fiso who we are excited about. Carlos Mendoza is a linebacker that played some before he was part of the scout team. Rashad Wadood who's coming back from injury and can help us at cornerback. Laiu Moeakiola is a really interesting player at safety.

"Offensively, you have William McGhee who's an offensive lineman that has a very high ceiling who's getting better and better. Stephon McCray is another offensive lineman and I think you will see a lot of big things coming from him. Terrell Davis at running back played well at Camp Tontozona. Receivers like Gary Chambers and Frederick Gammage will be good players.

"It's obviously a little harder to tell about all those guys until you get to the spring. Then you see a little different side of them because there is no game on Saturday to get ready for. Spring isn't only important for the returning players, but also for the scout team players who now have a chance to compete for a starting spot or a special teams' spot and see how they really respond."

Devils Digest: Does the scout team at Arizona State still play the traditional role to prepare the team for its next opponent or are there some aspects that make it different perhaps from other programs?

Joe Lorig: "Our scout team players obviously are there to prepare the offense and the defense during the season, and give us the looks that we will see form our next opponent. But we also make sure to develop these players because they are the future of the team. You want to prefect their skills and you want them out there competing, because next year they will be competing for a starting spot. The better the scout team is, the harder your (non-scout team) players practice because they know that if they don't work hard someone from the scout team can come and take their job."

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