Q&A with Chris Thomsen

Being ASU's offensive line coach may be a new assignment for Chris Thomsen, but he is anything but unfamiliar with the Sun Devil program. Thomsen was one of Todd Graham's first hires in Tempe, before he left to serve on Texas Tech's staff. In this exclusive interview we talked to Thomsen about his decision to leave and return well as the program's offensive line going into spring practice.

Devils Digest: How does it feel coming back to Arizona State a year later?

Chris Thomsen: "It's feels good coming back into a situation that you have some familiarity with and knowing the people here and kind of knowing the system here offensively. It's been good being back and I'm excited being back in this part of the country."

Devils Digest: Was it a tough decision approximately this time last year to go ahead and leave Arizona State for Texas Tech after being here just for several few weeks?

Chris Thomsen: "It was. I mean it was a real hard decision just because I knew what coach Graham was about to implement you know from a program standpoint and obviously you want to be a part of that. There was some factors in that decision that I decided to go in that direction, but it was a deal that I kind of wrestled with for a couple of days on what to do but I'm really glad it was able to work out the way it did. Coach obviously giving me an opportunity to come back and it is something that I'm very thankful for an excited to get started with spring ball with these guys."

Devils Digest: You said that you knew what Graham was going to accomplish in his first year at ASU. So I guess when you looked from afar at Arizona State's 8-5 season and seeing such a change in culture, nothing really surprised you?

Chris Thomsen: "It wasn't a surprise just because I've seen him do it before, you know growing up in the state of Texas and coaching there. I've seen him do it before at other places. Whether it was at Allen High School or whether it was at Rice University or Tulsa, I've seen him go in and radically change the culture of programs so I knew that was about to happen here, so again just glad to be back and be a part of that."

Devils Digest: Talk about your experience at Texas Tech, I know you obviously didn't go back there thinking that there was going to be a coaching change after just one year. What did you gain from that experience, especially from being the interim head coach at the end of the season?

Chris Thomsen: "That was a really neat experience and really primarily because we had some really good kids there and had an older group of senior players that were really committed to that season and they wanted to finish out strong. Sometimes in that situation you have kids that are just ready to get it over with but they were really focused on finishing strong and winning the game so that was really fun to get to do that in those last three to four weeks. It was really enjoyable with those guys.

"As far as what I gained from it, some things schematically that were different than things that I had done before and it really enabled me to grow as a coach. So I'm excited about those things. Anytime you do things that are different than what you've done, you feel like you can take them and help your own guys with it and that's a definite plus."

Devils Digest: What do you see in this group of ASU offensive linemen that makes you excited about the 2013 season?

Chris Thomsen: "Well, the first thing I see is the potential for really strong leadership. I think Evan Finkenberg and Kody Koebensky, those two guys have already shown some leadership. I think they have the capability for even stronger leadership now that they're seniors. Finkenberg with 36 games of experience as a starter at the left tackle position in the Pac-12, that's something that you know coming into this situation I'm really excited about. You got a guy that's been there and done that against the best in this league and can lead those younger players.

"And you got a guy there in Jamil Douglas that started every game last year. And there are some young players that are exciting in terms of guys that are getting into their college careers, like Tyler Sulka, Sil Ajawara…Evan Goodman that guy there has a lot of potential and you want to see him develop. So you have good string leadership and talented young players and you have a good balance there."

Devils Digest: When you look at the ASU offensive scheme when you talk about the no huddle and a high octane tempo, you have to think realistically that this pace might be the toughest on offensive linemen. As their position coach, what kind of challenges are you faced that may be unique to your position playing in this scheme compared to other offensive line coaches around the country?

Chris Thomsen: "Texas Tech was a high tempo there as well, so I got to be involved with that and really see what that does to the defense. I think the biggest thing is just getting those guys to understand what you're trying to do with the up-tempo, really trying to wear your opponent down, that's the primary goal of it. And it also kind of limits what the defense can do to you somewhat because you're moving so fast. You have to make sure as a coach that you really understand what's involved in this scheme, otherwise they won't be able to learn it.

"A couple of guys need to trim down a little to be able to play that fast and that is a challenge for them. As an offensive linemen usually the bigger you can get the stronger you can play, but this scheme is a little bit different. So just getting them understand what we are trying to do and buy into our philosophy is a big thing."

Devils Digest: You already mentioned several returning players that will be part of the two-deep. Do you feel that you're in a good position right now where you don't have that many pieces to replace from last year and that the continuity which is huge in this position can hopefully pay the dividends that you expect it to pay the second year under coach Graham?

Chris Thomsen: "There's no question. I expect these guys to make a big jump because they all have had a year in the system to know the terminology. We aren't changing the terminology up, so I'm trying to learn what they know instead of the other way around. So I expect them to play fast and play more aggressive.

"In the first year in anything there's going to be a little bit of hesitation, but those guys did a good job last year in a lot of ways. We are going to have to replace the right side, fortunately we have some experience there. We are gonna have to find a guy to get in there at right tackle whether it's Sulka or moving Jamil. So there's some re-tooling to do but even if it's a guy that plays another position he knows the terminology so I expect them to make the jump."

Devils Digest: One of the most talented players at this position is a newcomer won't be able to play this year because of transfer rules, in Christian Westerman who transferred from Auburn. When you got to watch him on game film, what can a player of his caliber bring to the offensive line albeit not being on the field on Saturdays until the 2014 season?

Chris Thomsen: "I got to watch him on high school tape and then being able to see him in some of the offseason workouts, to me he looks like a guy that's just physically a big strong physical player that will come off the football and get some movement in the run game. So far in the off-season workouts he's worked really hard and shown the work ethic that it takes, and I think he has that look in his eye like he's hungry to prove himself. So we're excited and wish he could play this year but we're excited about his future."

Devils Digest: I would think that maybe depth at center is one area of concern for this offensive line and something that did show up last year. Can you talk about that position and the challenge you have to develop a center with maybe a newcomer like Nick Kelly or some other players on the roster?

Chris Thomsen: "You feel good about that position because you got a guy who's started a lot of ball games there in Kody. Mo Latu has got some experience in games, but he's kind of struggled this offseason. He had the flu that knocked him out a couple of weeks of workouts, and he had sinus surgery. So we have to get him on track for spring ball, he's got some experience there and he's a big strong guy.

"Bringing in a Nick Kelly, he's impressed us a lot in offseason workouts just his work ethic, determination and he's got some athleticism so I feel pretty good about that position with those three guys. Devin Goodman, he'll double train at center and at guard. So we feel like we've got some depth there we just have to develop those guys that haven't played."

Devils Digest: You talk about double training, is it pretty much etched in stone that Latu will be in the lineup at center when spring practice starts or could we still see him at guard?

Chris Thomsen: "I want him to do both. I want as many of those guys to play as many multiple positions as possible because you will get into those situations in the season when you've got to change some people. So with Mo, I definitely want him to work some at guard and having Nick Kelly here we can obviously do that. Nick has a good gun snap, which is sometimes underestimated but is a great thing in this offense. It's kind of like an art, it doesn't come naturally to everybody. After we see what Nick can do, will probably dictate what we will do with Mo because I like to create more competition at guard as well."

Devils Digest: As we go into spring practice, what's on your to-do list in terms of what you want to accomplish for the offensive line at the end of those fifteen practices?

Chris Thomsen: "I just want to see them take a step in terms of all of the things you talked about. And then just gain more confidence and working together as a group. I want to see them grow in their chemistry off the field. We are going to do a lot of things off the field to try to build that.

"I think those two seniors are doing a good job connecting with those young guys but that group has to be a model of teamwork and chemistry. They've got to show what it takes to win a championship. We will change a few things schematically, we'll change a little bit of protection and see them pick that stuff up but more than anything I want them to understand the tempo that we want to play at and develop the chemistry aspect of playing together and doing anything for each other that it takes to win."

Ross Dunham contributed to this article.

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