Q&A with Mike Norvell

Much has been made of the returning talent that Arizona State has, yet at Saturday’s Camp Tontozona scrimmage, newcomers turned some heads as well. DevilsDigest caught up with ASU’s Offensive Coordinator to discuss the offense’s progress in camp, the breakout play of Demario Richard and Ellis Jefferson, and freshman QB Manny Wilkins, who handled a majority of scrimmage snaps in a back-up role.

DevilsDigest: Over the last week, we’ve seen a back and forth trend between the offense and defense in practice. While the offense struggled to find its rhythm a bit early on, it really seemed to hit its stride in the later stages of today’s scrimmage. What was your evaluation of the offense’s performance today?

Mike Norvell: “We did some good things. I was proud of some of the young guys. Demario Richard had an unbelievable day showing that he can be an every down back that can help take some of that pressure off of D.J. (Foster). The competition at every position is getting deeper and that’s probably what I’m most proud of. You see at receiver guys are coming along. You see the three-back guys coming along. The offensive line is pushing to get better and to continue to build that depth. There’s some execution things that we still need to get cleaned up, but overall I’m really pleased with what I saw today.

“We’re where we need to be but we’ve got to continue to get better. We’re not ready to kick off and I’m grateful we have 12 more days. We’ve got to sit down and take a look at what we have ager this work day and then put all our focus on Weber State.”

DevilsDigest: From an offensive perspective, did you accomplish what you hoped to here at Camp Tontozona?

Norvell: “We did. I thought we had some really nice work days. Anytime you get to be here and be with just your guys and to have that time and the team building and the fellowship with the players and the coaches, I think it’s one of the most unique things in all of college football and definitely the best tradition.”

DevilsDigest: What about Taylor Kelly? You’ve talked about him being the offensive coordinator on the field. Is he where you want him to be in that regard?

Norvell: We’re getting there and that’s something him and (Mike) Bercovici…the things I’m seeing today from them - identifying looks, being able to get a little flexibility to help themselves or get us on the right play - that’s something that does nothing but continue to build them and help this offense.”

DevilsDigest: As an offensive coordinator, is it a little hard to let go of some of that and give it to your quarterback?

Norvell: “It is at times, but I mean, my job is to make sure I’m training them to get us in the right situations. They’ll always be able to look over to me if they have any thought. The thing about this is a lot of the offense we have, we have multiple reads for everything. A lot of it is post-snap, but also just giving them more flexibility pre-snap on calls and checks is something I’m glad to see they’re coming along with.”

DevilsDigest: Going back to Demario Richard, what has he shown you in the first couple weeks to prove he’s capable of being a dependable back-up to Foster at running back?

Norvell: “He’s done a great job. He’s a tremendous back. I think today you saw his balance and his strength. He’s a load to bring down. He’s a guy who’s going to have a big future for us. It’s about the consistency, play in and play out, of knowing what he’s doing and getting into the right place. Like I said, I think you saw today that he’s going to be a special player.”

DevilsDigest: Ellis Jefferson is a player who sort of had a slow start to camp after a terrific showing during the spring but has really come on this last week. What have you seen from him since you guys came up here to Camp Tontozona that gives you confidence he’s finding his groove again?

Norvell: “It happened at our scrimmage last Saturday; I thought he had his best day. I think it gave him a little confidence because he had been struggling. Ever since that day, he’s come out and gotten better and better and I think today was another example of that. He’s a guy who’s going to be playing there with Jaelen (Strong) at the nine-man position. When Jaelen needs a blow or break, Ellis is going to be ready to jump in and not have a big drop-off in productivity and what he’s supposed to do at the position.”

DevilsDigest: You have six, seven, eight guys at wide receiver position who can really be slotted anywhere on the two-deep, with the exception of Strong, of course, that really provides you with a variety of options and different looks. How much of an asset is to have that kind of flexibility at the wide receiver position?

Norvell: “I’m not quite ready to say what the first three are, but I think you’re exactly right. You see guys like Cameron Smith who has come in and really done a great job since he’s gotten past being banged up. Ellis has done a good job. Gary Chambers is a guy who I’m really impressed and he’s done a tremendous job of doing what we’re looking for.

“Then we’ve got guys like Ronald Lewis and Fred Gammage who are showing that they’re going to be able to contribute for us. Those are things that we’re going to continue to look at and keep working and keep competing all the day up to the first game. But being able to have six guys be able to play is going to do nothing but help us out.”

DevilsDigest: A lot has been made of this year’s offensive line. Obviously there’s a lot of talent and experience amongst the starting five but what about the second team guys? How has that group looked to you throughout camp and what kind of depth do they provide the offense up front?

Norvell: “You know, Evan (Goodman) is a guy who is extremely talented. We’re looking for that consistency and continuing to bring him along. He got a lot of reps today with the first group. We’re trying to let Jamil (Douglas) heal a little bit and give Evan a chance to get in front of the fans and have that opportunity, so that’s something where we’re going to go back and look at film and see how he played.

“Billy McGehee has had a really good Fall Camp. He’s a guy who can play a lot of different positions and move around. Stephon McCray is a guy who can definitely help us and then we have a couple young offensive linemen in Sam Jones and Quinn Bailey who we need to develop but I think are going to be really good Sun Devils here in the future.”

DevilsDigest: We saw a lot of freshman QB Manny Wilkins today. How has he looked at picking up the offense and can you tell if he’s feeling more comfortable being out there in live situations?

Norvell: “I’m really proud of Manny. He’s grasped the offense really well. It’s just, the speed of everything is so different. I’d still like to see him get to where he’s throwing on time a little bit more but as he showed today, he’s got some tremendous escapability and can keep plays alive. He made some really good decisions, it’s just putting it all together and that takes reps. He’s a young quarterback but he’s very talented.”

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