Q&A with Chris Thomsen

On paper, the ASU offensive line should be significantly upgraded from 2013. While its position coach, Chris Thomsen, sees a lot of promise with his group he knows that the game day performance will ultimately validate that theory. With the season opener just three days away Devils Digest talked to Thomsen to get an overview of his unit and the aspects it needs to hone on for the 2014 season.

Devils Digest: Devil’s Digest: You’ve already seen a lot of progress from this group since the spring. Would you say they’ve done a good job building on the momentum here in preseason camp?

Chris Thomsen: “Yeah I would definitely say so. Starting back in the summer, I think our training staff did an amazing job getting those guys ready. Obviously they’ve all got stronger, but their body control is exceptional. The way they handle themselves in open space, that’s been the most impressive thing to me. To see guys like Vi [Teofilo], good athlete, good body control last year, but he’s doing things that I haven’t seen. Some of those other guys are too, so I think we have a chance to be a really explosive group. We’ve just got to keep gelling together and keep coming together. We’ve got to go play a game at some point and see where we’re at, but I’m excited.”

Devils Digest: Jamil Douglas has been praised for his versatility. Suffice to say he made a very smooth transition from guard to tackle?

Chris Thomsen: “Yes he has. He’s done a nice job. Probably a little smoother than I what thought just coming in. He’s made a great jump, and if he wanted to come in and play guard tomorrow, he could do that. That really, really helps our team and helps his future, obviously. It’s very appealing to teams that are coming to look at him that he’s a combination guy.”

Devils Digest: Despite coming to this team with huge expectations, it appears that Christian Westerman has been fulfilling each and every one of them?

Chris Thomsen: “Yes he is. He’s another guy that needs to go and play games. He and Nick [Kelly] both need to go play games. The reason I say that is there are things that happen in games that you can’t simulate in practice all the way, and from a technique standpoint we need a starting point with some of those guys. But Chris has been very physical and picked things up well, so we’re really excited about him.”

Devils Digest: Would it be fair to say Nick Kelly provides some things that Kody Koebensky couldn’t really provide last year?

Thomsen: “Yeah they’re different. Nick’s got a great grasp on what we’re doing. That’s one thing that I’ve been real happy with him and pleased with him. But he’s got to go do it in the games. Again, it’ll go a little faster and the heat’s on a little more under those lights, so he’s got to go do that. He’s done it some, he’s been out there, but that’s what he’s got to go do and I’m excited about him.”

Devils Digest: Quietly, Tyler Sulka has had a solid camp by all accounts…

Chris Thomsen: “Tyler’s had a real solid camp and we’re going to get him to take the explosiveness that he shows in the weight room and take it out on the field and play more physical. He did a good job last year, but we need him to play more physical and I believe he will.”

Devils Digest: Evan Goodman is another player that came here with high expectations a few years ago, but his career path to date didn’t go as planned. But have you seen a lot of progress from him in this last year?

Chris Thomsen: “He’s progressed a lot. I think he’s picked up what we’re doing better. Coach Graham’s defense is very complicated so they’ve all had to adjust to that, and he’s done a nice job with that. He’s another one that has to go get in a game and play, he and Stephon [McCray] both.”

Devils Digest: Must be nice to have a solid reserve like Stephon McCray out there...

Chris Thomsen: “He’s done a good job, he knows what he’s doing. He’s a three-position guy, there are not a lot of guys who can do that, it shows his intelligence. Again, he’s just got to go get experience now.”

Devils Digest: The two freshmen, Quinn Bailey and Sam Jones, physically came ready to play, but has it been the mental aspect holding them back?

Chris Thomsen: “There are still little things that they’re, what I call, slow blinking on. The blink a little bit slower than a guy who’s played a lot. But I’m excited about both of those guys’ futures. Both of them could have a chance to play this year depending on injuries and stuff like that, but both of them have to keep progressing, but they’re showing a lot of good things.”

Devils Digest: I know it’s hard to simulate some things in practice, and physicality is one of them, but I know that it’s been a battle with this defensive line this year. From what you’re seeing in practice and on film, are you content with the level it’s at right now?

Chris Thomsen: “I’m happy with where they’re at. You look at those guys’ explosiveness in the weight room with the power clean numbers they have, they should play violent and explosive, and I’ve seen that. Some of the things you don’t get to do in practice, like cut block and stuff around the perimeter, we’ll get to see more of that in the games. Line of scrimmage, second level, I expect to see a group that is physically explosive.”

Devils Digest: Nick Kelly’s in his first year working with Taylor Kelly. How is that transition been so far?

Chris Thomsen: “That’s been good. I think Nick’s communication is excellent. He’s a very smart guy and he’s a really good communicator. Guards are quiet guys by nature, you have to force them to talk and be vocal, and Nick’s not like that. He doesn’t mind walking up to any stranger and talking to them. That’s what you want in a center, a guy that’s not afraid to be vocal. There’s a lot of pressure on him to get everyone on the same page..”

Devils Digest: What’s on your to-do list to make this offensive line the best it can be this year?

Chris Thomsen: “Just go out there and play. I mean, we’ve got to go play a game, get a starting point, and then just keep stressing the physicality and explosiveness. We’ve got to clear run lanes inside, we’ve got to the inside zone going so the perimeter will open up, and we’ve got to pass protect better than we did last year. So, a lot of that is communication, a lot of that is anticipation of what’s happening to you, and a lot of that is me. I think I’ve got a better feel for what we’re doing in our offense and how to put it all together. So I’ve got to do a better job coaching them.”

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