Q&A with Arizona State tight ends coach DelVaughn Alexander

Recently we interviewed Arizona State assistant coach Del Alexander, who is transitioning to the tight ends position after working with wide receivers the last four seasons in Tempe.

Karpman: So what's this transition like from coaching receivers to tight ends? It's a different type of off-season for you obviously. What steps do you take to prepare ahead of spring ball?

DelVaughn Alexander: "The biggest thing that you do is, you have to get yourself mentally prepared to use the right vocabulary. It's a different position, the vocabulary is different, there's some rust there when it comes to making sure you're using the right terms. That's what I'm focusing on. I'm reviewing everything I have, I'm going through NFL film and the guys (on the team) are doing a great job of filling in some of the cracks, some of the things they're comfortable with and they've done and learned. We can merge some of that information and make it the most beneficial experience for them."

Karpman: Do you visit with or speak with coaches who have had a lot of success or that you look up to that have some similarities with scheme, or not, to draw from? 

Alexander: 'You do. I have great relationships with guys who have coached tight ends. Coach (Joe) Rudolph and coach (Paul) Chryst (at Wisconsin) have coached tight ends for a long time. So you send out messages to those guys, you ask them for advice. Then, it's really just coaching football. The fundamentals, the technique, but there's still the attitude and effort part you're going to fight for, and physicality. That's what some of these guys have to bring to the table, is they have to bring a great attitude like (senior) Kody (Kohl) does, and he's a pretty physical player. Now you're going to bring along the young guys to challenge them to provide that as well."

Karpman: (Former ASU tight ends coach) Chip Long is with Memphis now but he knows these guys as well as anyone and I know you're friends. Have you spoken with him about the players? 

Alexander:  "For sure. We've talked about some things that he's done in the past that have worked for him, about the mentality and makeup of some of the players. But when you're a coach coming in and you transition, it's like the new coaches, they don't tell call the former coaches and ask a bunch of questions. You've go to come in with a clean slate and have a specific focus about improving certain things that you know the position needs in general and you go forward for them."

Karpman: Route running is route running, I know there are various places on the field where that's a bit different but that's already in your wheelhouse. What about coaching guys to have the proper stance in a 3-point, all the alignments, some of the finer points? Are those bigger challenges for you? 

Alexander: "No they're not. Right hand down on the right side, left hand on the left side, etc. But regardless of if it's Kohl or (freshman) Jared Bubak, I have to be very specific about what a six inch step is, I have to be very specific about how you gather and punch. Receiver or tight end I have to be able to get them to understand that holding is not permitted around here and toughness, there's no exception to being tough and physical. So technically, yes, I know what it looks like but vocabulary is what I'm going to be continuing to work on."

Karpman: So articulating it in a way that they get and can implement? 

Alexander: "Definitely and the best coaching is done with video. We live in a visual time. I'm already going through and watching and creating different folders of guys, like Heath Miller, a guy who is an 11-year veteran. He's a great tight end, and it's watching what a great tight end does and how one guy does it. None of this stuff is totally new to guys who play football but it's about picking up all the details. I could even come up with a new vocabulary, it really doesn't matter if I get results."

Karpman: Does having a guy like Kody Kohl around help set the tone and even to show guys, 'hey, this is how we do such and such?'

Alexander: "Absolutely. He's a great teammate, a very smart player and it's one of those things, Kody and I can talk at a level different than Jared because Kody has been here before. At the same time, Kody has needs as a player too and I have to give him the same respect as far as coaching him and giving him the same information that I'm giving to a guy who is new to the position. The challenge is, and that's what good about coaching, I've got to step up my game to make sure that he elevates his."

Karpman: Is there something to be said about having a fresh look at a guy, or a group? Some coaches will have a different perspective on things or connect with a player in a different way than others, maybe even a better way? Is that a benefit? 

Alexander: "I think so because there's a new energy. I come in and I'm excited. They come in and they're curious. I'm trying to get them to go from curious to excited. I need to capture that room and how do I do that? I capture that room with information. I'm going to capture that room like coach Graham, who captures a room with the passion he brings and has everyone's attention. There is an advantage to hearing it a different way and adjusting. For Kody, in one more year or after the season, he's going to have to adjust to what anyone is saying. If you're doing it only one way for so long, you can get stuck. He's going to be able to hear some of the same things a different. So that becomes what you're teaching, the ability to adapt."

Karpman: So how much film did you go back and watch film on these guys from last year, either games or practices. What I've learned is that there are differing opinions on this. Some have watched no film because they want a totally fresh mind going into spring football. Others watch everything they can to learn as much as possible and are less concerned with prejudgment. 

Alexander: "For me the thing is just technique driven when it comes to the tight end position. I want to make sure we get technique and fundamentally driven before spring ball is over. Are we going to be perfect? No. But I want to have a teaching progression and I want to see that progression from practice No. 1 to practice No. 15. That's what our focus is, that's why coaches don't go backwards, because everyone is right now at a certain place. I want to be able to take you from wherever you are 15 practices further. You go back in the past and can nitpick but I want us moving forward and it will be responding to my commands and my approach to what we're trying to accomplish collectively."

Karpman: It's not just you who is new to your position. You have a new offensive coordinator who will bring his own imprint to what you're doing. That's an additional layer of change. How does that impact some of the things this spring? 

Alexander: "We're a new staff. Not entirely but we're new, but new in the sense that we're not going to try to do everything different, we're going to try to improve on what we've done previously. We've done some really good things and the one person who is not new is our CEO, our commander-in-chief (Graham) and then Chris Thomsen. But our identity, those parameters are the same. We're going to be physical, we're going to take care of the football, we're not going to get penalties. Those things are the same. Regardless of who comes in under coach Graham, that's our philosophy and we're just going to continue to improve at what we've already done pretty successfully. It's just some new people and new energy."

Karpman: But do you think there's more to learn in this off-season for these players that wouldn't be typical if you just made a position coach change because of, 'oh now we have Chip Lindsey and he's going to do some things differently, and coach Alexander will, and coach Jay Norvell will, and [John Simon] will, etc.?

Alexander: "I think it's the same amount of learning because the approach to learning is the same. So now you're surrounded by guys who have a heightened awareness, everybody's focus is higher, the learning and listening is raised. Everybody in every room has a different energy. Here or anywhere in the league, everyone is going to run the inside zone, as an example. The presentation is going to be a little sharper when there is somebody new giving it, because you want to be right for that person in that room."

Karpman: Todd's always talked about the importance of tight ends/3-backs in this offense and its importance to him. As you go through this transition, what's your dialogue been like with him in regards to that? 

Alexander: "I've bene in all the meetings, not just since coaching the tight ends but since our first year here. So I get the parameters, I know that we came in here and Chris Coyle was our leading receiver. I know we tried to get the ball to Kody as much as possible. I know the advantage of a tight end/3-back on a linebacker and a safety. I know the advantages and disadvantages. It's normal to utilize the tight end in today's football regardless of what it looks like, if you say you're a spread or no huddle or whatever, we're still going to be multiple and try to get the most out of the personnel."

Karpman: So you have Kohl, (junior) Raymond Epps, (sophomore) Jay Jay Wilson, (redshirt freshman) Tommy Hudson, (junior) Grant Martinez, (sophomore) Nick Ralston is kind of a swing guy, and then you have Jared Bubak. What are your initial thoughts about where the group is at?

Alexander: "I think we have a lot of depth, a lot of competition, some guys who can stretch the field. I think some guys are very physical and the best thing is that they're all bright eyed. You stand in front of this group and they're all ready to soak up everything you say. They want to learn, want to get better, want to go out there and get better. I've always known that about the tight end position. You go in the room, guys have their feet flat on the floor, eyes burning out of their heads and are ready to go."

Karpman: Coach Lindsey has been a primarily 11 personnel offense. Do you anticipate you'll use a lot of two-tight end sets?

Alexander: "I think we will. You've got to be physical and in order to do that you've got to change it up. You've got to have a couple tight ends, you've got to go to a fullback sometimes, and a fullback can be a tight end. But I think we're going to continue to be multiple because that's one of the guidelines that we operate on."

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