Q&A with Mike Norvell

Arizona State concluded its spring camp on Saturday with its annual Maroon-Gold Spring Game. DevilsDigest caught up with offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to discuss the group's performance this spring, the play of quarterback Taylor Kelly, and what to expect from the offense this fall.

DevilsDigest: Five weeks of camp and a competitive spring game are in the books. What were your impressions of how the offense - both of them - performed here today?

Mike Norvell: "I thought it was a fun day. That was the first time kind of being split up into two groups. I don't like coaching against Taylor Kelly, I can tell you that, but it was fun watching those guys.

"You kind of get a different perspective of what it's like seeing my guys out there working and trying to make plays. There's a lot of work to be done but I liked the competition. I liked the effort and I'm excited about what we were able to accomplish this spring."

DevilsDigest: How'd it feel seeing someone else call the offensive plays for the Maroon Team?

Norvell: "I'll tell you what, I feel like I've got the best staff in the country. You look over there with Coach Thomsen, Coach Alexander and Coach Bo (Graham), we had a little competition. They bested me today so I'm sure I'll hear that, but I love our guys.

"We've got tremendous players that love playing for the coaching staff here and that's what why we can push them as hard as we push them and why I expect great things here this fall."

DevilsDigest: Dropped passes, something we hadn't previously seen much of throughout camp, really seemed to be an issue for both sides today. What do you think contributed to that and what were your overall thoughts on the tempo of the offense?

Norvell: "We've got to have guys that make plays when there are opportunities to make plays. There were too many balls that hit the grind today and that's something that we've got to work on.

"The tempo was something that we're going to continue to push. Splitting up and kind of doing something that we've never done before I think affected it just a little bit but we've got to rise to the occasion every time we hit this field."

DevilsDigest: D.J. Foster was limited today but still made an impact, catching three passes for 67 yards, including the 35 yard touchdown. What have you seen from him this spring now that he's transitioned from being a slot receiver to your starting running back?

Norvell: "We tried to limit D.J.; only gave him really a series, a series and a little bit of change. You know, when you split a squad, there's not really as much depth so he had to play a series and a half but we wanted to hold him out.

"Obviously seeing him out there making plays in limited time was a positive thing. He's got to be the ball carrier for us this season. He's got to be the guy who's able to go out there and be that spark in the run game as well as the pass game."

DevilsDigest: Did it feel like you accomplished what you wanted to accomplish here this spring?

Norvell: "We did. We got a great evaluation of a lot of young players. People talk about the guys we have returning, well, throughout the spring there were times where we had all three new guys out there at receiver that never started a game for us.

"We're trying to replace two guys up front. We graduated two tight ends and De'Marieya Nelson's role is increasing. We have a great deal of experience coming back but it was fun watching the competition, the growth, and how we were able to transition some of the newcomers. We signed one of the best classes in the country and I'm excited about some of the guys who are coming in and will help us win games this fall."

DevilsDigest: Taylor Kelly struggle a bit today, completing just 7-22 passes for 92 yards and one touchdown. What's been your impression of the three year starter this fall?

Norvell: "I don't think Taylor has played his best ball. I think he can continue to improve. I saw some things today in how he was managing the football and he did a good job with that, especially when things broke down. I didn't really see him put any balls in jeopardy. He was able to be allusive and get away from the rush at times, but I was really pleased with what I saw from him today."

DevilsDigest: What are some of the things you'd like to see him improve on heading into the fall?

Norvell: "I think going into the season, the biggest thing was throwing the vertical, home run post ball. That was something that I challenged him with and time and time again this spring you saw those big plays. You saw another one here today. That's something that I'm really pleased with him.

"And then just the in-game decisions, the in-game situations. Being a third year starting quarterback, that's something that you have to be able to manage and have a great sense of. He knows this offense and he's going to be a tremendous player."

DevilsDigest: For the most part, it was a very productive five weeks of camp for the offense. That being said, what concerns do you have for that unit heading into the fall?

Norvell: "Finding that first group (at receiver). You know, who are going to be those first three receivers to run out there for us?

I've challenged guys to step up and some guys have. Then today, there were some missed opportunities, which we cannot have that'll cost you a football game.

"So really, just getting that first group and developing that continuity. And that takes reps and takes time. We've got to execute. We can't have missed assignments or blown assignments up front. If we can continue to improve on that, we'll find some playmakers who can put some points on the board."

DevilsDigest: The offensive line is replacing two starters in Evan Finkenberg and Kody Koebensky but has really been one of the better units on the team this spring. How would you assess their growth over the last five weeks?

Norvell: "Jamil Douglas, I think, is one of the top offensive linemen in the Pac-12 coming back next year. He's a guy who's been a two year starter at guard who can also jump out and play some tackle. We've seen his athleticism and versatility.

"Christian Westerman is a big, physical guy who likes to come off the football and inflict pain. And then it really kind of plays with how Nick Kelly is leading the guys up front, being the center and making the calls. It's just that growth. We've continued to develop the right side with Vi (Teofilo) and Tyler (Sulka), and then guys like Stephon (McCray) are really stepping up and fighting for that position. These things are very, very important to us."

DevilsDigest: Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks are a pair of running backs looking to make an impact in their final seasons for the Sun Devils. Both players have shown flashes of being able to make a contribution this spring. How do you think each player has performed?

Norvell: "I think you definitely saw some bright spots this spring from them but I want more consistency. I thought we'd have a couple great days and then take a step back. You can't do that at this level. We've got a good group. We've got some good depth.

"You watch this offense, there's not a better offense in the country to play running back in than this one because of all the different things that we ask them to do and now we've got three newcomers coming in who are going to challenge them for time. They're going to challenge them and be able to do great things for us. There's going to be a lot of competition and these guys are going to be able to continue to grow."

DevilsDigest: You mentioned that De'Marieya Nelson's role is expanding due to Chris Coyle and Darwin Rogers graduating but what have you seen from redshirt freshman Grant Martinez as the tight end position this spring?

Norvell: "You sit there and look at him and the number of reps he was able to get this spring, that experience is huge for him. I think it's a great opportunity for him. He still has work to do this summer to put himself in that position to help us this fall but he's definitely had a productive spring and is a guy that we're going to be counting on, as well as Kody Kohl. Kody missed all spring with an injury but he's a guy that I'm counting on big time this fall as well."

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