Q&A with Paul Randolph

As ASU looks to replace nine starters from last year’s team, none has been tougher than the Devil backer role which for the past two years has been embodied by Carl Bradford. DevilsDigest caught up with Devil backers Coach Paul Randolph to discuss the state of the position, the development of De’Marieya Nelson and Antonio Longino, and the sudden emergence of junior college transfer Edmond Boateng.

DevilsDigest: For the last two years, Carl Bradford served as the ideal Devil backer for this Sun Devil defense. Since his departure, it’s been a revolving door with more than a half dozen players taking reps at the position. How would you assess the Devil backer position and do you feel you’ve found a replacement for Bradford now that we’re just a week away from the season opener?

Paul Randolph: “You know what? I’ve got guys who are ready to go. I’ve got three, four guys who are ready to go. We’ve had a tremendous camp. We have De’Marieya Nelson who started out like gang busters and who no doubt can play the position. Antonio Longino, we moved him from WILL linebacker to Devil and no doubt he can play it too. And then in the last couple of days we’ve had the emergence of Edmond Boateng, who’s been unbelievable. Right now, he’s probably the most improved defensive football player, no question about it.

“So now, he’s working at it. He’s in shape, so he’s moving faster. He’s more athletic and he’s been rushing the passer unbelievably, so we’re excited about it. I’ve got three guys and then I’m still developing Chans (Cox) back there. We’ve got guys who, no doubt, have the ability to play the position, we’ve just got to get them on the field and allow them to do it.”

DevilsDigest: Let’s talk a little bit more about Boateng because his emergence at Devil backer really seems to have come out of nowhere and with just a week until the start of the season. How long has he been considered an option for the Devil backer position and how has he looked transitioning from End, where he’s been backing up Marcus Hardison, to the other side?

Randolph: “With our system and the way we do things, it’s really friendly once guys start to understand the way we operate. Naturally, Edmond moving over from End, which is the widest guy to the field side, to now being the widest guy on the boundary side, there are a lot of similarities. There are some different things, but for the most part, he has the same responsibilities and does the same things; pass rush, stop the run, and be an explosive football player.”

DevilsDigest: For a moment a couple weeks ago, it looked like De’Marieya Nelson was going to be the starting Devil backer. Coach Graham even called him “unblockable” after his first couple of days at the position. Then we saw him start working out more and more with the tight ends again last week at Camp Tontozona and again this week. Where does he fit in right now?

Randolph: “He’s looking really good and he can do both. De’Marieya can really do both. He’s explosive and athletic. He can pass rush, he can stop the run; he can play with a low pad level. I mean, he has all the skill-set to be a Devil backer , but he’s also our best 3-back/H-back, so he can do both and he’ll get to do both. That’s the great thing about it. But there’s no doubt that De’Marieya is a starting Devil backer and he can do it. But we’ve got to be prepared for him to go both ways and for the rest of the guys to be ready to play just like he plays, where we’re getting the same production when he’s in there and when he’s not in there.”

DevilsDigest: Let’s pretend the season starts tomorrow and not next week. Who starts?

Randolph: “You know what? Coach Randolph does (laughs). Right now the guys are still competing and that’s been the best thing about camp. The guys have been working their tails off. They’re competing. When we started the offseason we didn’t know who the Devil backer was going to be. Now I’ve got three starting Devil backers and I feel really good about it.”

DevilsDigest: Well that’s talk about that the third guy, Antonio Longino, who started out at the WIILL linebacker position but has seemed to really develop nicely into a Devil backer over the last few weeks. What stand sour to you about his play at Devil backer?

Randolph: “Antonio and De’Marieya are about the same size and really have about the same skill-set. They’ve got the same speed, the same burst. Antonio, having been a full-time defensive player, naturally is aggressive and does all those things that you need as a defensive football player. He was an edge guy, really, in junior college, so when we moved him back he had a little familiarity and instinct from already being an edge rush guy.”

DevilsDigest: You mentioned that you’re still grooming Chans Cox at the position. He got a lot of looks at Devil backer in the spring…how has he progressed since then?

Randolph: “He’s progressing extremely well. He missed most of last season with a few knicks and knacks; so really, this spring and then this summer have been his first full year. Naturally, he’s progressing along by coming in and working his tail off. I’m excited about him. He’s a big body; 6-3, 235 pounds. I’m really excited about Chans and where he’s at but Chans is also a dual-guy. He can play multiple positions, which we like. What we want is to put our best 11 guys on the football field. That’s what Coach Graham wants. That’s the scheme of the defense and I think our guys have been competing to be one of those 11.”

DevilsDigest: In your estimation, do you still think Devil backer is the best position for Chans moving forward?

Randolph: “It depends on how he grows. Chans could play three-back. He could also play defensive end if he grows bigger, or Devil backer. I think there’s a multitude of positions he can play. He’s smart, he has the skill-set, he’s high character, and he’s going to do whatever’s best for the team. But with his skill-set, there are a number of positions he can. I like him on the defensive side of the football. We’ve just got to keep developing him.”

DevilsDigest: Another guy who got some looks early on in camp at the Devil backer position is Marcus Washington. He’s also lined up at a few other positions since then. Is he just another one of those guys you’re keeping in the rotation and maybe get some looks for during the season?

Randolph: “We call him “Slash” because he plays every position. But Marcus Washington really was a pleasant surprise for us this summer. He’s really aggressive. Maybe a little bit smaller than most of the other guys, but he’s really strong and explosive. He can play multiple positions and is doing a really good job of it. He can come off the edge extremely well. He has some pass rush capabilities. You know the Devil backer position is about impacting the quarterback, it’s getting tackles for losses, batting balls, intercepting balls; it’s everything. It’s been our most productive position for two years here, so naturally I’m excited about it and can’t wait to get the guys who are here going this fall and let them go get it.”

DevilsDigest: And then lastly we have Eriquel Florence, a player who arrived last year with some conditioning issues but has really worked hard over the summer to put himself in a position to be a contributor this season. How has he looked to you so far throughout camp?

Randolph: “He’s been Devil, he’s been linebacker. He’s been a little bit of both throughout camp. We’re just seeing what he can do right now. He’s still getting into shape and trying to find a position. He’s been a linebacker his whole life, kind of like Chans, so for them it’s just about seeing the speed of the game from on the line scrimmage, which everyone knows happens a whole lot faster. So just by getting reps, that’s the only way he’s going to be able to develop those instincts.”

DevilsDigest: I don’t know if you’ll have an answer for me but I’m going to ask anyway. Has it been determined yet how many reps we’ll see De’Marieya Nelson play at the Devil backer position in 2014 versus at 3-back?

Randolph: “I have no idea. I know they’re going to be good ones no matter where they are though.”

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