Q&A with Chip Long

The re-incorporation of the tight end in the ASU offense drew rave reviews, but there wasn't as much wide spread consensus when it came to rating the Sun Devils' 2013 recruiting class. To talk about those two team aspects and much more Devils Digest caught up with Arizona State tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for this exclusive interview.

DevilsDigest: As a first-year coaching staff, not only did you implement a new offensive system but even the re-introduction of the tight end into Arizona State's scheme had its own twist with the three-back position. Can you expand on the concept of that role and how different it is from the traditional tight end role?

Chip Long: "We go by the NFL model and ask our three-back to do just about everything aside from throw the ball. The three-back has to line up as a positional tight end on the line of the scrimmage, in the backfield for pass protection, line up outside as a receiver and eventually you want to get to the point where the guy can run the ball as well.

"So it's kind of an all encompassing deal, so we don't have to substitute personnel and keep on rolling, because when you substitute that is when the referee stands over the ball and gives the defense an opportunity to substitute. Not everybody can play in that role and it takes a very special person, who's a savvy player and can really think on the move. But when you find a player that can do it, it's super special."

DevilsDigest: Obviously the enormous success the ASU offense had wasn't solely due to the production of the three-back, but do you feel that this position really baffled defenses often and was as effective as you devised it to be?

Chip Long: "The coaches when they were at Tulsa devised the role over there. They recruited Charles Clay and over time developed the three-back there and made it what it was. They came here and were able to incorporate it and having that position produces a lot of natural mismatches. When that position is effective, you can be physical and run the ball, do play action and these are things that we were really good at.

"The three-back is a position that is ever evolving. It's all about seeing what your players can do and do well and put themselves in a position to make plays. If one player can't do it, we will find someone else that can. It's a very dynamic position and in the recruiting process you are constantly looking for big backs who a handle the ball, hold up in protection and be good blockers."

DevilsDigest: It was clear that you saw the potential in Chris Coyle ever since you arrived here, because even before he practiced for the first time you and Todd Graham talked about the significant role Coyle would play in this offense. But in a way, it was probably somewhat of a leap of faith given that the tight end role was virtually non-existent under the former coaching staff and Coyle was coming off shoulder surgery. When you look back at the great year Coyle had would it be fair to say that he was a gamble that paid off nicely? ?

Chip Long: "I don't think it was a gamble, because what you had in Chris Coyle is a guy with as much guts as anyone I've ever coached. One of the toughest players I have ever been around. What he went through last year and still produced every game…It was worrisome for the fact, like you said, that he hadn't played much and he had the injury. But we knew what we had in his heart and in his mind. We knew he was athletic and can hold up.

"Even though we didn't really have him in spring ball, we knew his work ethic and how much he wanted to be great. We just needed to find out what he was good at and what he wasn't and put him in a position to make plays. (Offensive Coordinator) Coach Norvell did a great job with that and having Chris do what he does well."

DevilsDigest: So ultimately you weren't surprised by the season Coyle had?

Chip Long: "It did surprise how much he could push and fight through. A lot of people don't even know this but a lot of times he couldn't even practice full speed all week because of his toe, but he always fought through it during his reps. I knew he was going to have a good year, but I didn't know he was going to have a great year as he did. But that is just a credit to his work ethic and him wanting to be great."

DevilsDigest: As spectacular as Coyle was, last season the overall depth at that position was probably not at the level you were hoping for. Can you talk about the development of someone like a Darwin Rogers who did see limited playing time in 2012?

Chip Long: "I'm really excited about Darwin. He's getting better and is having a great off-season. He's got his body looking really good. He got himself in condition where mentally and physically he's grown a lot. I'm expecting big things out of Darwin his year and expect him to make a giant leap in his development. We are really excited about what he can do this spring. He's on track to really help us this season."

DevilsDigest: How about other players in the position like Marcus Washington and Kody Kohl?

Chip Long: "Marcus will probably do a little more tailback stuff, but he will still give us added depth at the three-back position. Kody like Darwin had a great off-season and has really worked his tail off. We have to find a spot that Kody is good at and run with it from there. I expect big things from him too. I just really like the work ethic of this entire group. They come to work every day, they are very hardnosed and tough. They are very physical, and that is the first thing I always preach. If you're physical I will find a place for you to play. "

DevilsDigest: Let's go ahead and talk about the two tight ends that signed with the team last month. Grant Martinez is a local guy that yearned to be a Sun Devil, but that's not the only reason you pursued him…

Chip Long: "No question. I'm looking forward to coaching him and see him develop. Once again, he's another guy that is a very very hard worker. I like his body type because he can put on some weight without sacrificing his speed. He's a tough kid that will find a way to be successful no matter what. I'm really excited to see what he brings with his athleticism, smarts and ball skills. He'll be able to do a lot of things for us and be a great great player down the road."

DevilsDigest: De'Mariyea Nelson was a fairly late addition to the recruiting class, but when you talk about the three-back role he appears to be the epitome of that position…

Chip Long: "He is because he brings that element of being able to run the ball from the backfield and that is something that we are really excited about. He's another physical, hardnosed tough kid with great ball skills. He'll have a learning curve but we will get him sped up. I expect him to come in and really contribute and help on all aspects. To be a good team you want all your tight ends to be on special teams and be involved in everything you are doing."

DevilsDigest: The 2013 recruiting class presented your first full year as a recruiting coordinator at Arizona State. How different was that experience from last winter when you were in the same capacity for the first time on this staff and just weeks before signing day?

Chip Long: "It was better to have a year under our belts and it all starts with Coach Graham. I might have the recruiting coordinator title, but when you have a head coach that is so involved in recruiting personnel that makes my job a lot easier. It gives you a good sense of direction because you know what he wants, and when we go out on the road recruiting we aren't going to recruit a kid he wouldn't approve of and that kid will have the characteristics he is looking for. That's huge.

"We're now in recruiting territories where you don't have to always go through the front door to recruit someone and talk to head coach. You now have an established relationship with coaches so you can go through the back door if you need to. We have to keep building those relationships, keep on grinding and get better at it. We've been on some of these 2014 kids for about seven months now so there is an established relationship and you're not starting over. Those kids know what we can do. They are no longer wondering what ASU is going to be about and that helps a lot. There's proof, they can feel it, they can touch it and that's big going into next season."

DevilsDigest: In his signing day press conference Graham mentioned that he and the staff needed to do a better job recruiting the state of Arizona. As the team's recruiting coordinator and someone who recruited many in-state prospects can you give me your evaluation of those in-state recruiting efforts with the 2013 recruiting class and how those efforts should improve with the 2014 class and beyond?

Chip Long: "It's just going to be a process. ASU has struggled the last six, seven years and there is no hiding that. This is something that we keep on working on, keep on grinding, work even harder to build those relationships with the players and coaches. The younger players get a feel for what we are all about. We are about excellence and winning championships. We run a very exciting type of offense and defense, and they can come in and compete and be on that national stage and have great exposure.

"The whole direction of the program, the stadium renovation, the whole future…is only going to get better and better. But it's a process, it really is. I was disappointed as anybody, but I do believe in the end that we did get the guys that we are supposed to get and those are the guys that we are going to win with. I'm not concerned about the guys we didn't get. There is nothing that is going to stop us from recruiting the state hard, I can tell you that."

DevilsDigest: Compared to the previous two recruiting classes, do you feel a different vibe with the local 2014 prospects as you go through the recruiting process? Maybe they are more familiar with the ‘new' ASU rather than the ‘old' ASU?

Chip Long: "Exactly. When we first got here we were preaching a lot of things, and this year's class sees that everything we talked about became true. We believed in discipline and we go from almost last in the country in penalties to Top 10. We talked about being physical and running the ball and we had the best numbers this program has had in the last 25 years. We talked about making big plays down the field with our passing game and we were Top 20 in scoring offense, and now we have a lot of returning starters on offense. Our defense was one of the top defenses in the country.

"We have to get the people that fit our program and that's what it's going to come down to. We are very different from a lot of programs in what we are looking for and how we want to be. We will be unique and not everybody fits that. Then again, we are not going to take a back seat to anyone in the recruiting trail and we'll go head to head with the best, we'll win some and lose some. We want to win championships at ASU, that is what we want to do and Coach Graham demands it. No one is going worker harder than us to make that happen."

DevilsDigest: You mentioned Graham being very involved in recruiting and I think one aspect that really shows that is being creative and unique with some of the recruiting approaches knowing what are the right buttons to push in order to land a prospect…

Chip Long: "There no question that we will always push technology in our recruiting and be on the cutting edge. Coach Graham does a great job and is a very forward thinking coach and does some things that are really the wave of the future. He lets some of the younger coaches on the staff like myself and Coach Norvell get involved with our own ideas.

"We are always going to make sure that we are first to the party but also do our due diligence in evaluating a kid. Some kids may get hurt by that but we have to make sure that we recruit only the kids that are a good fit for us."

DevilsDigest: As you go into spring practice later this month, what is on your to-do list when it comes to the tight end position?

Chip Long: "Number one is keep on getting more and more familiar with the offense. We also need to keep on learning football and expanding our knowledge of the game. Recognize why a defense is in a certain front or certain coverage and how do they match up.

"Number two is fundamentals. Playing faster, understanding our routes and running them a lot better. Last year is done with and it's a new year. Chris Coyle, Darwin Rogers, all those guys are going to get coached harder than they were last year.

"Our standards are a lot higher than 8-5, especially for me. I expect our group to match those higher standards and be even better. Maybe the tight ends don't get as many catches, but you know what? That will mean that we have a lot better receivers than last year. Overall, we have to be a much much better team."


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