Part I: Conversation with Mike Norvell

We sat down with Arizona State's offensive coordinator Mike Norvell for an extended discussion about how he sees the quarterback position entering the start of spring ball and what has enabled senior Mike Bercovici to be in the position he's now in as potentially one of the top returning Pac-12 quarterbacks.

Chris Karpman: First question is obviously you at some level tried to make a determination of how successful you guys were last year and that takes all variables into account right? Quarterback situation, other injuries, etc, etc. How by any metrics or by just your feel for it, how, I mean to win 10 games given everything that you guys went through and the challenges, especially on defense and the quarterback situation, how do you sum up how you guys did?

Mike Norvell: I think when you look back to last year, you know last year was a good year. I thought, in a season when there's so many different things, adversities, different things that you came to pass, I thought we did a lot of good things. When (then-senior quarterback) Taylor (Kelly) went down, anytime that happens and you're playing three Top-25 teams back to back, you know, that's always something and you got to see how our team responded to adversity. Beating Stanford, beating Notre Dame, those were big wins for us. Obviously the USC game that was something that you were seeing, for as young as we were in some spots and when you have adversity strike, to be able to go out and have that success and see some of those highlights, it was a great season. But we didn't accomplish our goals, we set out with some high goals and we came up a little short. There's a couple games you'd like to have back and you know that's kind of the balance of a season at times. But I thought it was good, you're seeing the program continue to build, going in the right direction, and some of the things we faced this year will help us this next season. As we continue to develop the depth and bring in another signing class, you know we had a small senior class so when it came to numbers last year for those guys to experience some of that success and some of set backs, I think that'll help grow us and where we're wanting to get to as a program.

Karpman: Obviously you want to put on a brave face, be steady and even keel, how did you react when Taylor went down?

Norvell: It was hard for me in the fact that I know how hard Taylor worked and I know how much he was looking forward to last season. I was very very confident in what I had, probably the player that's grown the most in every area has been (senior) Mike Bercovici and what he's done. Not only, as a football player, he's a great person, but he has grown in the way that he approaches the meeting room. Unless you're sitting in there, unless you're with those guys everyday, it's hard being a back up quarterback. I mean the year before last he redshirted, that's hard for a quarterback to do but the growth and the way he approached every day I have tremendous confidence in what he'll be able to do. I've told people that, I said it before the season, I said it throughout the season, and then we he had his opportunity, you know obviously he did some good things.

But it was hard for me because I hate seeing a guy that's started so many games for you, go down and I thought he played solid in the first couple games. But Colorado, Taylor was playing well and that was the first game that he kind of really got it rolling and then all the sudden you've got the injury. He's out for six weeks of time and then he comes back and probably didn't play as well as his standards were. You saw the emotions of it, you saw the times that we pressed a little bit. But we found a way to win a lot of close games and then, there late we lost a couple games that you'd like to have back.

It was such a whirlwind of emotions last year because of all those things but we finished the way you want to finish, going out winning the bowl game against a good opponent and seeing Taylor play well. Seeing the offense finally getting back to rolling and having a game that you could see that confidence in guys. It gave us a lot of momentum moving forward but you're right there were a lot of emotions that went into last year, highs and lows. But I had so much confidence in what Berc could do and really, how the offense would respond with him. I think you see that he was prepared, that he was ready to go in there.

Karpman: He completely surprised me just how much, he's night and day difference from when you started working with him to what I saw last year. Even though there were obviously a lot of people who thought that he should have been the quarterback (even after Kelly returned but wasn't 100 percent) and how challenging was it internally to deal with, did you constantly have people saying, 'what are you gonna do?' or, 'how do you feel about it?' or the internal conversations between you and (coach) Todd Graham. He [Graham] seemed very stoic, 'I think Taylor's the best guy' in the face of everything that was going on and also a part of that, I guess it's a multi part question, but how tough was it to determine where Taylor was really at in the process?

Norvell: It's tough in making those decisions, my deal is when I felt Taylor was healthy enough for us to go win football games with him was when he was ready to play. Now it's something that's a decision that when you name the starting quarterback and you have a guy that has had success that we'd had with him and he played at such a high level, you've gotta go with your guy. When Mike had the success that he had, it was great, he did his job, he did it well and did some things that helped us win two big football games and I think he had some learning experiences that he had in the first half of the UCLA game. We turned the ball over in the UCLA game I think four times in two quarters and a series and that was the difference in that football game. We saw him grow in that football game and it carried over there to the next one and it carried over to the next, so that was big but it's always tough.

You wanna make sure that you're giving the football to the best opportunity to win and we won some close games, the thing you sit there and watch with Taylor is that we found a way in some of those games. Washington, we had a drive late, Utah game, the drive late, those are things that for us it's not always about what's the stat line what's this. You wanna play well, you wanna make sure you go out there and you execute offensively but it's about winning football games.

There's some things, there's some dimensions, you know, was Taylor 100 percent? I don't know, you go back and you see it and it's not necessarily physically, one of the things that's hard to factor in as a coach is that you're going and Taylor is a big time lifter, you know? But what was the difference between Taylor Kelly and the ball game and throughout the season? Strength and legs. He wasn't able to go through a squat, not being able to do those things and [strength coach Shawn Griswold] does as good as a job as anybody in the country of our guys progressing through the season. You saw that difference when he started lifting there after the season because his foot was all better. It's one of those things that's always hard to manage, you look at the Arizona game we made a change for a spark and for some things that we felt Mike, being down a couple touchdowns, there's things that Mike does well. You know thats always tough, my job is to put the guy out there that I think's gonna help us win football games that's nothing to say, and we made a decision, Taylor Kelly was the starting quarterback. There's no question in my mind this program would not be where it's at right now if it wasn't for what Taylor did for this program and for the career he had.

And Mike prepared and did his job perfectly and how he prepared for that opportunity and that is going to help him move into this next year, that's the excitement. That's why there is so much excitement around the program about what he can do, it's because even when Taylor came back, Mike's preparation was unbelievable in every game and not knowing when is that opportunity going to come? When's that time when I get to go back out and make plays to help my his team win, that's a big thing going forward for us.

Karpman: They're different types of quarterbacks, is it hard in the middle of the season to figure, how do I do things for this guy versus another guy? Or maybe for the team to adjust to those things in a natural way?

Norvell: I work those guys every single day, the way I call games for them and scrimmages for them, and practices, that's part of knowing your guys, knowing your strengths. It's the same thing with the [running] backs that you have, receivers that you have, part of it is figuring out your best position to be successful. That's something I go into every game and I know what my guys' strengths are but we don't change the offense for Mike, or for Taylor, or Manny (Wilkins), or any of those guys, you don't change the offense. But you obviously try to put them in a position to be successful with what they do. So that wasn't a big issue, I mean we had games when (receiver) Jaelen (Strong) went down, you had games where D.J. (Foster's) doing some other things, that's part of football and that the great thing about it, and that's all of my job. It's all lever moving and it's all about putting guys in the best position.

Karpman: You were pretty dogged about your opinion from even before Mike played at all that you guys had two of the best quarterbacks in the country, that was said and reiterated a lot. I was skeptical of that, maybe others were or not, but then he played at an extremely high level for someone who hadn't really played at all to that point in his career. Can you maybe speak to the evolution of him and you touched a little bit earlier on what type of personality he has, what leads to his ability to stay the course and all that?

Norvell: Mike, ever since I walked through the front door, he's had an unbelievably strong arm, he could make every throw, he's kind of one of those gunslinger when I first got here. I remember walking in to the first day of practice, he had the big front knee brace and everything, you know, 'I'm pocket guy,' and this and that. So to see his buy in to training and what he's done with coach Griz and the way he eats, what he does in the training, the agility work, there might be one of the biggest changes in evolution of a player that I've seen and you know he just bought into the system. When you sit there and watch his feet in the pocket; you know, when I first got here and I'd always say, "Mike is a real fast footed kid,' but you'd watch his feet in the pocket now he's very very active. Is he gonna go out and be a Michael Vick type quarterback? No he's not, but he's really working towards that potential of being a very mobile quarterback, a guy that can extend plays. In this offense you don't need a quarterback, Taylor Kelly was not a 4.4 (speed) quarterback, he's not a guy that's gonna [burn you], but you gotta manage the game. That's something, it was my job to maximize those guys' strength's and that's the thing that's Michael's done, he's worked at the areas that he needed improvement in and then he's continued to get better and better in the understanding of the offense, and really having a person that's also a coach on the field, you know that helps a lot, if you've ever watched him in a game he's as dialed in to every snap and watching what's happening, because you're one play away from going in the game.

So he maximized all those reps, and as a coach you always talk about mental reps, a lot of kids they can't quite understand it. I think the reason Mike Bercovici had the success he had is because he had every rep from every game of the season, was a mental rep for him. Do I think the first half of the UCLA game was a learning curve? Yes, because you can get mental reps but adjusting to the speed of everything and what's happening, that's something that plays a factor but then you can see that confidence builds in him as that game went on as we got into the next game, playing on the road, coming back home we had Stanford you say the confidence that he had just to adjusting to that was huge.

Karpman: What are your thoughts about, moving forward now, he gives you an added verticality dimension probably and although he's a lot more mobile now and he can do the zone read type stuff to some degree, what do you think just offensively moving forward, and we saw it in a few games this past season but now moving forward what are your thoughts about that as you look to put together the best product for next year?

Norvell: We're gonna continue to be multiple in what we do and we're gonna be a run play action [offense], there's nothing changing, we're gonna be a run/play action pass football team. The quarterback is going to be a threat and that's gonna have to be accounted for. Does Mike's arm, you know, all our quarterbacks for that matter, are they gonna be able to stretch the field in every area? Yes they are. Is that gonna be something, with what we have at receiver, but also with what we have at running back, the guys coming back we're gonna make sure we're putting them in a position to be successful.

We're not reinventing the offense here, all these guys fit what we do and you just have to play to those strengths. You need to be able to stretch the field vertically, you need to be able to stretch it horizontally, side to side and that quarterback has to be a threat to run. But still, our number one thing going into a game is to establish the run but we also have to take what the defense gives us. We went into the USC game last year wanting to establish the run, and as that game progressed, they weren't giving us the run so we threw for whatever we threw for in that game, you've gotta take what the defense gives you. The thing I'm excited about, is that whatever the method has to be I feel very confident in our guy's talents.

Karpman: Mike's success last season, does that change the mindset or does it make it easier to be more patient in developing your other quarterbacks or incoming quarterbacks, if you had no knowledge about how he would do on the field?

Norvell: I'm approaching this year just like I approached last year. I told Mike Bercovici that his job was to go out and beat Taylor Kelly. So I'm telling Manny Wilkins, (freshman) Brady White, (redshirt freshman) Coltin Gerhart, (freshman) Bryce Perkins that their job is to come in and beat out Mike Bercovici. That's what's exciting, because the talent we have at quarterback, I'm excited to coach that position. I'm excited to see those guys come in and compete, all of them fit what we do.

Other than Mike who I've had for four years now, I got to hand pick every one of these guys and I'm excited about what they bring to the table. They're coming to compete, they're gonna push [each other]. The reason Taylor Kelly played as well as he played, because he had a great quarterback behind him. The reason Mike Bercovici is going to play as well as he's going to play, is because he's gonna have great quarterbacks pushing and pushing him.

That's what makes a program, and that's what makes a position and that's what we're trying to do at every position. But I'm excited to see these guys progress and having Brady here, and a kid like Bryce here that's local, that's seen so much of what we do, I think those guys are going to be ahead of the learning curve. Manny was able to redshirt, Colt was able to redshirt, learning what we're doing and those guys we're gonna have them on accelerated tracks.

Karpman: What about the development of those two guys that you've had now for a year, just your thoughts about where they're at?

Norvell: It's been good, we were able to go through the bowl practice and really [go at it]. Even though Manny was still like the third guy, that's the big thing, Manny was our third quarterback last year. Because when Taylor got hurt, the look in his eye changed. He became the guy that was one play away from playing. So to see the growth that he had during the season and how he approached meetings, how you approach all those things, was big. Then when we got to bowl practice, him and Coltin they were live (to be tackled), it was go out and put them in a position to succeed.

Karpman: Yeah, they got their butts beat.

Norvell: But you got to see how they responded and that's what I was excited about because you know you go out the first day and they've been looking at cards all year and then they get to pick up some of the blitzes in spring, that's encouraging to see. I think you saw flashes of what they could do, and even early in Tontozona in some of those scrimmages, I'm excited for the talent they have. I think they've shown flashes, Manny can make every throw on the field and I was very very pleased with getting Manny and working with him everyday. The skill that he has on the football field, his upside is huge, and it's going to be fun to watch. Coltin is playing baseball right now, he's the starting first baseman so obviously what is he going to be able to do this spring, we're gonna have to look at. Then getting Brady here (as an early enrollee), that's gonna be really big for him to get some reps and get a jump start to the offense. Then Bryce will be in here this summer and he's gonna jump right in and get to working with these guys, I'm looking forward to that.

Karpman: How about Bryce's evolution as a prospect? I remember when he came to your camp going into his junior year and I didn't think he was going to be a quarterback, I thought he'd play another position. Then when I saw him that high school season, I thought this guy is really good, by senior year he was incredible (compared with where he had been at).

Norvell: He improved as much at the quarterback position as I've seen a prospect improve. After his junior year, I knew what he was athletically. I mean I got a chance to be around him, I knew before his junior year, that I was excited. I knew his leadership, I knew his character, I knew all of those things, that were big for me and what I look for in a quarterback, he had. When he played his junior season, you saw that confidence and you saw him out on the field and what he was doing.

Was there still some things he needed to work on? Yes but he was out there leading a football team and making plays. Going against great competition and making remarkable plays. I remember his family came up one day, and I told them, I said, 'Look there's still some areas I wanna see you grow in but no doubt the things that I've seen in all those areas and him actually leading a football team, I know there's a chance.' The way that kid worked and continued to develop, he came to our summer league, the 7 on 7 passing camps, being able to watch him, it was remarkable. He'd go through games without throwing an incompletion, and throwing on time and throwing on rhythm, and then going out and leading Chandler to a state championship.

That's a program that's had a lot of tremendous athletes come through it and I don't know they've had a guy like him. When you sit there and talk to Shawn (Aguano), his coach, who does a remarkable job but the way he talks about Bryce, I'm excited.

I'm excited, from what development I've seen from Bryce as a quarterback, his throwing motion, his arm strength, all those areas have improved. It was kind of funny, we'd sit there in 7 on 7, and coaches would come up and say, man this kid, everybody expects him to be an athlete but he was the best player on the field as a 7 on 7, and that's where he wasn't able to utilize his legs. His senior year you don't see him [using his legs much], his legs were just a second nature to throwing the football and that was something. You know the athleticism and the athletic ability he has, but he was hurting people with that arm of his and that's what I'm excited about with him.

Karpman: I saw him three times in person and I was more and more blown away every time by his transformation. Now (spring enrollee) Brady White, you targeted him early, he's one of highest rated guys (at the position) in the country, what does he bring to the table and what's it like bringing a class of those two guys?

Norvell: Brady, it was a joy recruiting him, getting to know him. Actually I was trying to, you know Brady's dad is actually a PAC-12 basketball official, and it was a little bit of a delay getting him on campus because his dad was always busy. So when we started recruiting Brady, loved his film, loved the things I saw of him and talking to the coaches. I wanted to watch him early in the process before all the other kids in that class and I really liked him as a person. I liked what I saw, I watched a lot of works outs and saw his leadership, all those qualities, talking to the coaches, talking to the principle, every body in the school. Then really getting to know the kid, and he's something special. I mean, have you watched him throw a football? It's impressive, he can make every throw, extremely accurate, and throws on time.

He came down to practice last spring and he came into my meeting room, and in all the years of recruiting I've never had a kid do this; he came into my meeting room and sat next to Bercovici and had a pad and a pencil. Then when we got done with our meeting, he had three pages of notes, and Berc was blown away by it. When we got out to the field and I told him, 'Hey man, we're going out to practice and you can be out there with me, we're going through our live situation,' and then I think TK threw a touchdown on one of our concepts. So he comes up and says 'Coach I saw the safety do this, I saw the high low you were talking about, and I saw him drive it on time,' and It stopped me, I stopped what I was doing, and it was a spark. Sometimes you offer a guy, he comes on campus and you get a different feeling. But I was more excited about that kid after he left campus, after spending time around his dad, his family, and [learning] what he was all about.

Then after that? I said,'that's the guy,' that was something that really blew me away. Then you take his talent, with his mindset, and his mentality... [He's] a great kid, that played for Hart High School, that has a tradition of some of the best quarterbacks in California history and he was breaking their records. He was really helping that program get back to a major power there. So that was something that was fun to watch and to hit him and Bryce in that group, I don't care if it's arguably but I wouldn't pick any other quarterback class than the two we got. I'm excited about those guys.

Karpman: He does talk the game at a really high level, just learning from following him around from different camps last year and he's got that x-factor.

Norvell: Kids like to hang with him, everywhere he went [he had a group]. He's not 6-foot-5, but obviously he's got a great build, I think he's gained 10 pounds since he's been here, so his body and his frame will continue to grow. He's going to be really good.

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