Q&A with Keith Patterson

CAMP TONTOZONA - Following another successful trip to Camp T, ASU returns to Tempe with less than two weeks until its season opener against Weber State on August 28th. After Saturday’s scrimmage, DevilsDigest caught up with ASU’s Defensive Coordinator to discuss his first Camp T experience, the return of Marcus Ball and Jaxon Hood, and which newcomers have impressed thus far in preseason camp.

DevilsDigest: Today marks the end of your first Camp Tontozona experience. I’m sure you heard a lot about it leading up to this week from coaches and some of the veteran players who experienced it the last two years. Did the Camp T experience meet your expectations?

Keith Patterson: “More importantly, I think it’s a great tradition. I really liked the time. In today’s society, there’s so much that’s going on. iPhones, iTunes, I this, I that, it’s hard to get kids’ attention, so probably the most important thing is that they’re able to get away from all that and you get real communication. You get person-to-person, coach-to-player, player-to-coach and I think it’s been a tremendous experience.”

DevilsDigest: Was there any one moment that stood out to you? Did they make you jump off the rock like all the other first-timers?

Paterson: “I felt like a college freshman again trying to sing the fight song. But yeah, it was a great experience. Everything about it was really good.”

DevilsDigest: Let’s talk a little about today’s scrimmage. The defense had their moments. Overall, what did you see from them?

Patterson: “I thought we played well early in practice. Once we got toward the end, I thought we got a little tired and started losing our focus and lost a little of the intensity and didn’t do a good job of tackling in that part of the scrimmage. But other than that, I thought it was a really good day.”

DevilsDigest: All offseason we’ve heard how you need to replace nine starters on defense. How do you feel that group has progressed since the start of camp to where we are now, just 11 days until the season opener?

Patterson: “Well I’ve said this to our players and talked to the media about it…the way you replace nine starters is get 11 guys playing together as a unit and running to the football and running to the ball expecting something bad to happen to the offense, being physical and playing together with great discipline and passion. If we do that, you’re going to be talking about the people we’re going to lose off this defense next year.”

DevilsDigest: Speaking of the 11 guys you have playing this year, two of them are freshmen along the defensive line in Connor Humphreys and Tashon Smallwood. How have they fared throughout the first three weeks of their first college preseason camp?

Patterson: “I tell you what, they’re very impressive. We have several freshmen that I feel have stepped up. Renell Wren, (Emmanuel) Dayries is a guy who just got here. It’s been well documented with Christian Sam and D.J. Calhoun. It’s a very, very talented group of young men. We just have to continue to progress because we don’t have time for them to be freshmen.”

DevilsDigest: You’ve done a lot of mixing and matching along the defensive line throughout camp so far in an effort to find the right combination of players. It seems like the only consistency has been Marcus Hardison at the defensive end position. How has he performed and do you feel he adds a little bit of veteran leadership to the defensive line?

Patterson: “I’ve seen a ton of improvement from him throughout Fall Camp, especially since the first day. If you ask me, he might be the most improved player on defense. Like you said, we’ve been leaning on him for consistency as well as trying to bring some of that experience that he has under his belt from a year ago.”

DevilsDigest: Carlos Mendoza is one player who had a great start to camp before suffering an injury this week which of course vaults another freshman, DJ Calhoun, to top of the depth chart at the WILL linebacker position. Obviously Calhoun was an early enrollee so he got some experience during the Spring Camp, but how has that experience benefitted him?

Patterson: “Coming in January has been a tremendous asset for him. He’s still got a long way to go and a lot of things to learn about the game from a mental focus standpoint, but he’s extremely talented and a very explosive football player. We’re looking forward to getting Carlos back. Like you said, Carlos was having a tremendous camp and was really doing some good things, playing physical and was really active in the passing game. I think we’ll be fine. We’re just going to continue to try and develop people and have some depth at that position.”

DevilsDigest: Fortunately you have a couple other linebackers to play alongside Calhoun who have a bit more experience in Salamo Fiso at SAM and Laiu Moeakiola at the SPUR position that can help him out. How have they looked so far?

Patterson: “Yeah, I would say Salamo Fiso has really stepped up and started to become a leader on or defense. He’s definitely a leader in our linebacker corp. I thought he had a tremendous scrimmage today and did a lot of good things. He played very well on special teams, was in every play one of our set packages and made some really good plays, and had a couple of open field tackles there. I really like what I see from him.

“And then Laiu is just one of those guys who is so dependable and a very, very smart football player and has become very explosive in his blitzing. He’s doing a really, really good job for us.”

DevilsDigest: Todd Graham has said that he thinks this year’s secondary may be even better than last year’s squad, which is tough to imagine considering there were three All-Pac-12 players on that team. What have been your early impressions of the secondary?

Patterson: “I think probably the most impressive thing to this point of Fall Camp is they haven’t given up big plays. You don’t see a lot of balls that are being thrown over our head. We put them in some tough situations - they’re on an island of lot of times - but the thing that has impressed me is how vertically-sound we’ve played.”

DevilsDigest: We touched on the some of the freshman who have stood out during the first couple of weeks of camp a little earlier but another player who has come on as of late and could be in the mix for a starting role is cornerback Armand Perry. What’s he been able to do to challenge for that bandit position?

Patterson: “I’ll tell you what, he’s pretty impressive for a freshman. He’s extremely talented and has an opportunity to be a special player. And then another one we just moved in to that position while we were here at camp is (Tyler) Whiley. We moved him over from the other side and man, he is a tremendous talent that can have a very bright future at corner.”

DevilsDigest: Do you feel you have a better feel for what Marcus Ball can do or bring to the team now that you’ve had a chance to see him out there a little bit more this week?

Patterson: “Today he was flying around hitting people in a green jersey when he was supposed to be taking it easy. He’s a great communicator and has a really great understanding of the back end and what we’re trying to accomplish. And you have to have that back there because in our system, things come in after we’ve identified offensive formations, so man, you’ve got to be able to communicate and make checks in a split second and there can be no doubt that you can do it with confidence.”

DevilsDigest: What have been your impressions with Jaxon Hood’s progress the first few days?

Patterson: “He’s just got to get in condition. It’s hard to come out that far into camp but he’ll get it back quickly. We’ll do some extra stuff with him to get him back into shape. The great news is, with these young guys, we’re starting to develop depth to where we can get them in a nice rotation because most the time, when big buys go in the tank bad, they don’t come out of it.”

DevilsDigest: You’ve got less than two weeks until the season opener against Weber State. What’s on the to-do list once you get back to Tempe?

Paterson: “I think just to continue to get about ‘that much’ better each day. You’re not going to make great strides each and every day; just try to go out and get a little bit better. The focus is really more on us because the first game you don’t really know what to expect. You can do all your film study and look and see what teams are doing a year ago but really, it’s about how you can make the adjustments quickly and having an understanding of what you’re trying to do in every single situation.

“And I think that’s what’s probably the most impressive thing about Fall Camp has been the amount of defense we’ve thrown at our kids and how well they handled it. With all the newcomers, we’ve thrown a lot of defense and put them in a lot of different situations and they’ve handled it very well.”

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