Q&A with Mike Norvell

An explosive 2013 Arizona State offense has lost some formidable weapons in Marion Grice and Chris Coyle, as well as two veterans from its offensive line. Yet, with returning playmakers and talented additions, Sun Devils' offensive coordinator, Mike Norvell, doesn't expect a drop-off in production this season.

DevilsDigest: There were no quarterbacks signed in your first two recruiting classes here, but the 2014 group landed two signal callers. Can you talk about the attributes of each, starting with Coltin Gerhart a signee that was originally supposed to come here as a safety…

Mike Norvell: "Coltin is extremely athletic and has an extremely strong arm. When you see him he's basically a ball of muscle. As we went through the evaluation process, after watching him during his junior year I saw him more of an athlete and he committed at first to us as an athlete. I always told him that I was going to track him and see how his senior year went and that I would revaluate him and he had a tremendous senior year and grew as a quarterback. You watch how he manages the game and the threat that he is when he pulls the ball down. I don't think he gets enough credit for his arm strength and the ability to throw into tight places. I think he will be a tremendous player for us."

DevilsDigest: The fact that he changed his mind and wanted to play quarterback really fell into your hands following the departure of Michael Eubank

Mike Norvell: "We were going back and forth on whether we were going to take one or two quarterbacks. When Eubank left it really created an opportunity for us to sign two. That was the first place I looked because we had a guy that had committed to us, fit everything we wanted in a young man and played at such a high level and I think he will continue and develop."

DevilsDigest: Manny Wilkins was the first quarterback commit and one of the first players to be a member of this class. What do you like about his skill set?

Mike Norvell: "Manny is extremely talented and a fluid athlete. He can hurt you with his arm as well as his legs. He has a strong arm and throws the ball on time. He's very outgoing and a tremendous leader. He would send me videos of recruits, he was asking me questions about our games… he just wants to be a sponge and learn as much as he can. Another kid I'm really excited about."

DevilsDigest: It's been well documented how Wilkins helped in the overall recruiting process. In all your years of coaching have you ever encountered any commit that cared as much as the coaches did about the makeup of this recruiting class?

Mike Norvell: "Honestly, not at that level. But that's how it should be really. When you are the quarterback of the recruiting class, and Coltin did this as well, you want to be hungry for your team to be as good as it can be. You want to bring in guys that are liked minded to be part of the program. Manny on his own would talk to guys and continue to share the excitement of what we do here at ASU. So now a lot of the guys coming into this class have a great relationship because of the time he spent getting to know guys. It makes it fun and makes the bond of this freshman class extremely strong."

DevilsDigest: From an offensive coordinator looking at the macro level of the 2014 class, what are your takeaways from this group?

Mike Norvell: "I think we were able to address needs. When you sit there and look at it, on the offensive we wanted to get longer, get more athletic and bring a physical mentality and with both of the guys we signed they fit exactly that. When you look at the teams you beat for them you know you are going after the right players.

"When you look at the running back position, we needed speed, we need explosiveness, and we needed size. So we got great size with Kalen who also has speed, you look at ‘Gump' who has tremendous speed in the backfield and also does a lot as a specialist in the return game, and you have a guy in Demario which has the skills we were looking for.

"At the receiver position we needed big play threats and we were able to hit a home run there with Eric Lauderdale. It was big getting guy who is a little bit older, who has more experience and can be a tremendous asset for us. When you look at Tyler and Jalen, they help us bring toughness to that position. They both were all-state on defense, and you have a level of aggressiveness to play wide receiver. To be as versatile and as tough as they are, that is what excites me about them. "We hit a home run on both running back and wide receiver, and the same thing with the offensive line. At tight end we got Brendan Landman, someone we believe can come in and play early in his career. We saw him in two different camps, saw his ball skills and how he ran…his high school coach needed him to move to offensive tackle his senior year so with his physicality and his determination we feel that he's a guy that can come in and help us and play early."

DevilsDigest: Naturally during a 10-win season we got to witness a very potent offense and one that was even more explosive than it was in 2012. Looking back at last season how would you assess this group?

Mike Norvell: "We were able to continue to develop and expand the ways we use personnel. I think you saw more multiple sets with two-tight ends, having D.J. and Marion on the field at the same time…we were able to do a lot with formations. When you have tremendous playmakers on the perimeter that makes things a lot more fun and you saw more big play capability. We still have a ways to go, developing guys like Jaelen who didn't get here until August. A guy like D.J. who at the end of the year was able to show what he would be like as an every down back.

"It's an exciting time. We lost some good players, but we have some great guys coming back and moving forward we think the future is very bright."

DevilsDigest: How has Taylor Kelly been able to elevate his game last season ?

Mike Norvell: "I think you saw that with his ability of just throwing the ball in the pocket. In his first year he was more about moving the pocket because he wouldn't sit there as much. In year two, he developed that and you saw that a lot with his connections with Jaelen with his timing, throwing the wheel routes, the back shoulder…those are throws that he spent a lot of time on and they were big plays for us.

"He continues to prefect the things we are asking him to do. He did do a good job hurting defenses with the way he ran, and you will see more of that next year."

DevilsDigest: Todd Graham said that Mike Bercovici isn't that far behind Kelly in his abilities. How pleased have you been with Bercovici's progress?

Mike Norvell: "The thing that I'm most proud about him is that he doesn't take any days off. A lot of backup quarterbacks, when you're sitting there you won't utilize your time, feel sorry for yourself and just go through the motions. Mike has gotten better every single day. He pushes himself, he prepares like he is a starting quarterback because we know in this game you are one play from being that guy.

"Taylor knows that Mike isn't far behind and can do a lot of good things. Mike is one of those unsung guys that doesn't get talked about that much. But if you came to the meetings, to the workouts, see the way he practices…I have as much trust and faith in him as I do anybody on this football team. There's probably no one that I'm prouder of than him. I expect him to do amazing things when that opportunity comes for him."

DevilsDigest: You always want to match your scheme to your personnel, but why do you think the read option has been so successful here in the last two years?

Mike Norvell: "The main thing is that it gets your playmakers out in space and it forces the defense to play assignment football. We try to be multiple in the ways we present it, doing it in a fast pace and always giving options for the quarterback. When we execute it, it makes it extremely difficult for offenses."

DevilsDigest: When you see a team like Alabama or Stanford play the ‘old school' style, going against the grain of college football, do you admire them that much more for still being successful with that scheme?

Mike Norvell: "Everybody will do what they believe in philosophically. People always talk about us being a spread offense, but I think we actually run a pro-style scheme in the fact that we are running play action. Instead of doing audibles, we just have the checks built in so we can play at a faster pace.

"Everybody has different philosophical believes but are all trying to get to the same goal."

DevilsDigest: Going back to recruiting…as we all know it's an aspect that only gets crazier and more challenging from year to year. What are some of the challenges you saw this year that you didn't see last year?

Mike Norvell: "Recruiting is always about going out there and building the right relationships and getting the right players and people into the program and obviously with the success we had and the excitement we created all over the nation, doors were being opened. We still need to work on being the strong force in the state of Arizona and that is something we are really focusing on. We need to make sure that the top players in the state who fit what we are trying to do, this isn't just a number that you throw there saying you want to sign this many players front Arizona. We are going to continue to put a great product out there in front of them."

DevilsDigest: With all the new and talented additions on offense, how much more does your playbook open up in 2014? What are some the things you can do now that you were not able to do last season?

Mike Norvell: "It's hard to say right now until we get the kids here and actually get a chance to work with them. But I think you see that these are guys that are homerun hitters. You get them the ball and they have the size, have the speed, to take it to the house from any point on the field. So there may be a change in how we are using our personnel. At wide receiver, we traditionally had the prototype 5-man, 2-man and 9-man and we have to look out and make sure we are getting the best and most explosive guys on the field and that may change some things we are doing thought wise.

"We have to make sure that we are utilizing all those skills and talents. I'm excited about that and about how much more explosive this offense can be and what we can surround our quarterbacks with."

DevilsDigest: Is there a fine line to walk between not reinventing the wheel and straying away from what has been a proven system, but also being proactive and innovative and throw some kind of wrinkle to the opponents you play every year?

Mike Norvell: "That is part of it. You want to be innovative but we also have our core belief in what we do. You have to be good at what you are doing. You have to go out and execute. Our team from 2012 was obviously very different from the team we had in 2013 and what we were doing schematically. We are still in that process of being able to add and take away so we have what really fits the makeup of our offense this year. There are a lot of things we have practiced that if you turn on film the last two years don't show up because we didn't install them due to the type of personnel.

"I'm not worried about not having enough offense. It's all about going out there and executing it."

DevilsDigest: What is on your to-do list for the offense when spring practice begins?

Mike Norvell: "Up front I want to have chemistry. When you look at last year we played the same five guys, but we were able to give Nick Kelly some work. We were fortunate to redshirt Evan Goodman which was big for his development. Stephon McCray is a guy we think has a tremendous amount of potential. Jamil Douglas coming back is huge. Christian Westerman creates a lot of depth and competition. We just want to see how they all progress and find those five guys and see how they will work together and start building that camaraderie.

"We want to continue and develop the receivers: Ellis Jefferson and Ronald Lewis who redshirted, Cameron Smith played a little but was rattled with injuries all year. Adding them in the rotation brings more explosiveness. I'm excited to see how they will continue to grow there. At tight end De'Marieya Nelson will be an every down player. We played him at a lot of different positions, and now playing at the role Chris (Coyle) did will give him even more opportunities to play.

"So we have a lot of things to work out but also a lot of things in place that I'm excited about seeing how explosive our offense can be."


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