Q&A with Paul Randolph

Over the past two seasons, Arizona State has earned a reputation as being one of the best defensive teams in the Pac-12. Despite losing nine defensive starters from last year's team, expectations remain high in Tempe. With spring camp just two weeks away, DevilsDigest caught up with Co-Defensive Coordinator Paul Randolph to discuss this year's recruiting class, key returning players and more.

DevilsDigest: When you look back at all of the defensive players signed in the 2014 recruiting class, what is your biggest takeaway

Randolph: "I'd say their character and their work ethic. We had a chance with most of the players to recruit them for a full year, some for even a year and half, because we've been here for two years now. But I think just character and knowing their work ethic.

"And then naturally we got longer again. We did the year before and we did it again with this class. We got longer, defensively, and I think we added some really good size in this class. Our defensive backs are explosive. We've got built-up, strong linebackers. We really only took D.J. (Calhoun) at the WILL but then you've got Christian Sam and Jamal Scott who are probably going to play SPUR or strong side-type linebackers. Both of them are 6'2" or better so I think we got longer there.

"And then up front, naturally we got bigger by adding (Darrius) Caldwell and Renell Wren (Dalvon) Stuckey. And then don't forget the big fellas, (Tashon) Smallwood and (Connor) Humphreys. I think Humphreys is 6-3, 6-4 and Smallwood is a bowling ball of nails, just get him rolling and he's going to tear up everything.

"I think we added some really good talent but more than anything, character, work ethic, and instinctive football play."

DevilsDigest: The last two additions to the class were a pair of junior college defensive linemen in Dalvon Stuckey and Darrius Caldwell. What does each player bring to the table?

Randolph: "Well, Stuckey is a little older, more mature, and developed. When you look at him at first glance with his body type and build, you think he's Will (Sutton), except he's 6-3 and longer. He's explosive and has a lot of the same characteristics that Will does, so naturally we're excited about him. He can probably play the three, five, and four-technique. With his versatility, he'll be able to play across the front.

"Instincts, he's got them. He's been a defensive lineman his whole life so he brings all those things, as far as being ready to play, physically. He's just got to get here and then we've got to train him to play the position, which we normally do a good job of transitioning our newcomers into getting them ready.

"And then with Caldwell, you're adding a guy that's 6-6, 235 pounds, so he's really long, lengthy, and athletic. And he's experienced. He's played division one football already (at Illinois) . And the best thing with him is he's played in a system similar to ours, so he'll have some familiarity with the system that he's coming to, along with his ability to pass rush, impact the quarterback, and make plays on the defensive side of the ball.

"We're really excited about both of those guys that we were able to get in on late. Coach Shipp did a good job of getting Stuckey and Coach Long with Caldwell."

DevilsDigest: Edmond Boateng and D.J. Calhoun are two members of the 2014 recruiting class who are already on campus, enrolled in classes, and will participate in spring ball. Granted they haven't practiced yet, but what are your impressions of each player and how do you expect they'll be able to contribute heading into the fall?

Randolph: "The best thing about them and part of recruiting each player and getting them signed was the fact that they were going to come in here and compete. Both of them are here already and no doubt they are here to compete. Boateng, just having worked with him a few times in our morning workouts, I'm excited about him. He's big, he's long, and he's rangy. I think he's got the ability to move and do the things that we do in our system . I think he's strong enough to play big and physical against the run right at him and also, I think he's got some pass rush ability in him.

"Now the thing is, he hasn't been as football player very long, so instinctively I think the best thing about this spring is he's going to get a lot of reps. You hone in on your instincts by seeing it and doing it. I think right now, with him being here this spring, I think it's going to help him tremendously. I think his growth from now to spring, and then from spring through fall camp, he'll be good through spring and three to four times better when we start fall camp because he would have had spring with us."

DevilsDigest: And D.J. Calhoun...

"He's built but he's a worker. That's the best thing about him - he's a worker. He's been a linebacker his whole life, so he has those instincts like Salamo (Fiso) does. He's explosive and tough and fast. He's probably a cross between Chris Young and Brandon Magee. But he's got to get in and learn how we do things. It's different from high school to where we are, which is why he enrolled early. He wanted to get in early and learn the system because he' coming in to compete. He wants to play and I think with his work ethic, I think he'll be competing to play."

DevilsDigest: One of the best in-state players, Ismael Murphy-Richardson, was also a member of this year's recruiting class. What kind of skill-set does he possess?

Randolph: "Let me tell you now, he doesn't even know what kind of skill-set he possesses. You see me getting excited about him. The one thing I can tell you is that he can pass rush. Ain't no doubt about that. His hands are like mitts. He's going to be massive when he grows into them size 17 shoes. I'm excited about Ismael.

"Speed, explosiveness, pass rush ability, tough; he's an aggressive guy who will fight tooth and nail. And yeah, he's thin but we're not worried about that. We'll get him with Coach Griswold and our dietician and he'll put on the weight properly so that he'll be ready to go.

"I think Carl (Bradford) played his first year for us at 232 pounds and this year he played at 242-245. Ismael will get somewhere in that neighborhood but you're talking about an impact guy who can light it up. He's going to bat balls, pick them off and run them in for touchdowns. He's going to get sacks and TFLs. He's just built to be a playmaker."

DevilsDigest: You lost all four starters along the defensive line from last season. With six newcomers in the fold now, do you feel more comfortable with the overall talent of this group?

Randolph: "I think, and Coach Graham has said this as well, I think we're going to be better. We're going to be a better unit. The guys will work together. They're going to be a unit, be tight, and they're going to understand how to work together. The defensive line is just like the offensive line; they've got to always be together and grow together.

"The best thing about the defensive line is Marcus Hardison is already here and has had a year with us so far. He's here to move into that defensive end/field end spot. And then, like we said, Edmond Boateng is already here on campus which will help his development and growth and maturation into our system. So we've got two guys at the end position who are already here going through spring ball and that's going to help us become better."

DevilsDigest: The secondary lost three starters from last year's team. With the additions in that area, how do you feel about the potential of that group?

Randolph: "I think having Damarious Randall, who finally came in and got healthy for the Notre Dame game - I think we got a glimpse of what he's capable of. He's a worker. He wants to be a leader and he wants to be great.

"And then we've got Lloyd Carrington who split time with Robert Nelson last year, so he's got experience a lot like how Keelan Johnson was our first year. He didn't start but played a lot. Alden Darby didn't start but played a lot. So I think Lloyd is in that mold.

"And then we've got Laiu (Moeakiola) who's played quite a bit. He played as a freshman and then also this year down at SPUR some, so he can move around. We lost a lot of guys but back there but guys played in nickel situations and things like that so we have a few guys who have enough experience to get us started.

"And then Jordan Simone is another guy who transferred in last spring. He's extremely smart, athletic, and just a leader and a worker. And then you add guys like Marcus Ball, who we thought coming in last fall would have been a starter had he not have gotten hurt in fall camp. But he knows how we do things. He doesn't have to learn that again. He already knows that and understands our system and is that much further ahead.

"And then Rashad Wadood, he's been here going on his third year now. He understands what we want and really right now he's had a tremendous offseason in trying to become better and become that player and understand that it's his time.

"And then bringing in the guys we got in this class. Chad Adams, a guy who can really run. Wow. He's an explosive playmaker. Kweishi Brown, DeAndre Scott, Das Tautalatasi, and Armand Perry, that's a lot of talent we're adding to the fold. But we've got to grow hair on their faces in a hurry."

DevilsDigest: There was some speculation that Marcus Ball could also compete at the SPUR position as well. Have you decided where you want him to line up on the field next year?

Randolph: "He's going to show us. Notice I didn't say tell us. He's going to show us. Marcus is talented. He can play back there at safety and be a roof guy and do it well. He can also move down and be a SPUR. He can probably play anywhere he wants to play with the proper training. We're excited about big Marcus but I think he'll be a roof guy."

DevilsDigest: Every scheme has to fit its personnel. Does the fact that you're replacing nine starters on defense force you to make any adjustments to your style of play heading into 2014?

Randolph: "That is mandated by the head man and we're playing Sun Devil Football which is with character, with discipline, and being smart guys. We're not getting penalties. We're going to play until the echo of the whistle. We're going to be tough as nails and we're going to finish.

"We're bringing in guys that can fit that mold. The best thing about it is we're going into year three and our third recruiting class, we've had a chance to recruit guys for a year to fit us and one of Coach Graham's greatest assets is having been a high school coach. He understands evaluating and re-evaluating. Assess and re-assess until you know exactly what your guys can do. And then our system is going to fit our players and that's something I think he's got a keen eye for."

DevilsDigest: Looking back to last season, and in particular some of the losses the team suffered, do you think the defense was ever too aggressive and perhaps could have benefitted from a more conservative approach?

Randolph: "Absolutely not. We live and die by playing Sun Devil Football. That's who and what we are. We are Sun Devil Football and that's what has given us the success we've had. We're graduating nine players and we're going to be better because most of the guys we have here now are in their second year in our system, in our program, and in our scheme. They understand why we do things the way we do them and I just think the buy-in can't be anything but over the top. And with the buy-in over the top, you can't help but be better."

DevilsDigest: Keith Patterson was named the Co-Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach last month. What are your thoughts on his addition to the staff and how does he help improve the defense overall?

Randolph: "My thoughts on this are ‘Hallelujah.' I've worked with Keith for probably six or so years and just what he brings, as a person first and foremost, and as a leader with experience at the position, is just unbelievable. He understands how we do things. We're not having to train him on the Sun Devil way because he knows it and understands the vision from the head man and he's a team guy.

"For us it was a steal. Coach pulled one off. I just think the leadership within our room and the overall understanding and just Keith's personality, it allows his players to gravitate to him and no doubt Keith was an absolute Godsend for us and the total program."

DevilsDigest: For the past two seasons Carl Bradford served as, really, the ideal Devil backer for this defense. How do you plan to replace him and his productivity heading into the offseason?

Randolph: "At the Devil spot we've got two young men that I'm excited about. Are they Carl Bradford? No. But they both bring their certain talent and football awareness and instincts to the position and they're both longer. Viliami (Latu) is 6-2, 260 pounds. Chans (Cox) is 6-3 and maybe still has some growing to do and is probably 245 pounds. So both size-wise and weight-wise, they're the same or even bigger than Carl was when we got here.

"Now it's just about developing them in our strength and conditioning program and getting them bigger, faster, and stronger. They're actually plenty big enough, we just need to get them faster and stronger and that happens as they get older and as I like to say, get a little more hair on their face."

DevilsDigest: Let's talk about the linebackers. You have two returning players who are looking to take over for the departed Anthony Jones at SPUR in Laiu Moeakiola and Carlos Mendoza. Each player has been injured quite a bit in the past but what are your expectations for them this season?

Randolph: "I think both of those players are great young men. They're high character and have a great work ethic. They're physical and both can blitz off the edge, which you know we love to do at the SPUR position. I think both, Laiu especially, add a lot of cover skills to the position. Having been a safety before, Carlos has a lot of way above average coverage skills so I think they both bring a lot.

"Now that they're up though, they've got to get the reps. They've got to develop the instincts and see from that position what's going on and be able to diagnose things and react fast and make plays. That position has always been a playmaker position for us and they've both got to prepare to do that."

DevilsDigest: Antonio Longino saw limited action last season but is someone the staff is excited about at the WILL position. How is he progressing into filling that role?

Randolph: "Tony came in last year, head spinning, just trying to figure things out. But having been here now for eight months, I think he understands exactly what's required and expected of him. He has an understanding of our system which is tough for guys to do and to operate the way we want them to operate when they first come into our system. I think his development - he's really worked his tail off - in the area of learning and gaining knowledge has progressed. He's 6-3, 232 pounds, can run like the wind, is physical, hard-nosed, and loves to hit. He'll hit everybody.

"I think Coach Patterson will harness all that and get him pointed in the right direction, there's no doubt in mind, because he's a physical specimen that we've got to get ready to play."

DevilsDigest: Salamo Fiso was a Freshman All-American last season and is one of just two returning starters on this year's defense. What do you project from him at SAM in 2014?

Randolph: "I think Salamo really progressed. He redshirted, worked his tail off to put himself in a position to compete with a senior starter at that SAM position and eventually won the job. He knew what he wanted and he worked to get it and then right now, during this part of the offseason, he's doing the same thing. He's trying to become bigger, faster, stronger just like he did a year ago and to improve and push his game to the next level and not just be a Freshman All-American but an actual All-American.

"I think he's working his tail off. There's no doubt he physical. He's smart, knows our system now, and I kid with him because he might be just a redshirt sophomore, or will be, but he's the old man of the group now. He's the leader now and it's time for him to step and be that guy. The good thing is, he's always been that guy. He started three years at Long Beach Poly, which is hard to do. I really think he understands the situation and he's embracing it and to me the sky's the limit for Salamo."

DevilsDigest: Eriquel Florence and A.J. Latu are a couple of players who are also working out at SAM. As we approach spring camp, how has each player developed since last season?

Randolph: "Eriquel brings a mean, tough, and just nasty full grown man type mentality. He's just full. He's thick, an extremely aggressive young man who is working to do whatever he needs to do to become a player for us and get his name in the mix and he's had a really good offseason in working towards that.

"He reported late last year, really didn't have a chance to learn our system in time enough to be able to execute it so I think after redshirting, he's poised to be able to help us.

"And then A.J., who is 6-2 and 240 pounds, is also getting bigger, stronger, faster everyday. He's extremely smart and he actually understood the system last year as a true freshman. I think with that knowledge and his potential, he'll no doubt be a special teams guy but will also be in the mix competing to play at linebacker also.

"And all of our players understand that. They're all going to compete and the best are going to play. Salamo proved that last year and A.J. knows that this year. He witnessed it. They all know they have a chance to compete and beat the guy that's in front of them. If you're better, you're going to play."

DevilsDigest: Christian Sam was a significant addition to this year's recruiting class. Describe the kind of potential he possesses and how you see him fitting in when he arrives on campus later this summer…

Randolph: "Christian Sam is a high-character young man. He's extremely smart, tough, and the crazy thing about it is with his scheme in high school, he was basically playing the SPUR position. But with him you get a guy who is 6-2, 215, maybe 220 pounds who can run like the wind.

"He played corner his freshman and sophomore year so he's got unbelievable cover skills for a guy his size. No doubt, just having the instincts that he does having already played the position, he's going to come in and compete and he's that type of guy. He's extremely competitive. He wants to play early. He's going to come in here, learn our system, and put himself in a position to compete with some of these other guys."

"I'm really excited about Christian. He's an excellent football player and an incredible person and I'm really excited about the direction we're heading with a guy like him."

DevilsDigest: Jamal Scott has been described by Coach Graham as the ‘pound-for-pound hardest hitter' of all the newcomers. What excites you about Jamal?

Randolph: "Jamal's 6-2 and may be 210 pounds and Coach Graham didn't lie because he can pack a wallop. He can bring it. He's mean, tough, and physical. He played a little bit of running back so his skill-set is extremely high. He played safety also and a little bit of defensive back, so he adds more length, size, and speed for us. He's got coverage skills, like Christian, and I think adding guys like those two was tremendous for us because now we've got two guys who really fit that SPUR position.

"They're explosive off the ball and can come around that edge and make plays in the backfield which you have to do to play that SPUR position."

DevilsDigest: Throughout the recruiting process, Tashon Smallwood drew comparisons to Will Sutton. While it might be a bit much to expect him to come in and immediately replace Sutton's productivity over the past couple of seasons, what do you expect of Tashon?

Randolph: "I expect him to come in and be right in the mix from Day One. I know he's been working on it. He's big, thick, and mature body-wise, and highly explosive which is probably why some people call him Will Sutton 2.0.

"He's a playmaker and it takes two guys to block him. Once we get him in here this summer and can eliminate some of the learning curve, he's going to be in the mix, no question about it."

DevilsDigest: Connor Humphreys was rated as one of the top players in the state of Oregon and is another big, strong addition to the defensive line. How does he fit in with the rest up front?

Randolph: "Connor's going to come in here competing. That was the best thing about this recruiting class; the guys up front knew we graduated all those guys so they're going to come in competing right off the bat to be the starters for us and to play.

"I think that's what excited just about all of them and why we had such a dynamic signing class, because of the nature of our depth. But Connor is 6-4, probably right around 275 pounds and he'll be bigger than that when he gets here. He's strong at the point of attack, explosive, and a playmaker. He played defensive end in the Army All-American game and made a few plays there chasing the ball down. He's an extremely versatile young man who brings a lot to the table.

"We graduated a lot of guys but I truly believe we're bringing in guys who will come in and compete and be ready to play by the time we come out of camp."

DevilsDigest: Lastly, Renell Wren is another very athletic lineman out of Missouri who was actually pursued by a number of Big Ten programs. What does he add to the defensive line?

Randolph: "He's long and that's something you'll see in our front. Everybody is over 6-0. Renell is 6-5, maybe even 6-6, so we've added the length we've been looking for but I think we also added the girth that we needed with these guys coming in and needing to play early this year."

"But we're still athletic enough to rush and play the four wides and go get after the quarterback and do things of that nature. We're really excited about the overall skill-set of all the guys we're bringing in."


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