It All Starts Upfront

"The game is won upfront." It may be one of the most repeated clichés in Football, but even the casual fan knows that controlling the line of the scrimmage is vital for a team's success. If that's the case, then the Sun Devils, who have a very deep and gifted defensive line, should help immensely in reversing the team's fortunes from last year. We sat down with Defensive Line Coach Ted Monachino to talk about one of the best units on the Football team.

DevilsDigest: I know it seems like the game against San Diego State was played three months ago, but can you give us your evaluation of the defensive line?

Ted Monachino: The best thing that happened in that game was that we got playing time for a lot of kids. A lot of players got valuable experience. I'm very pleased in the way our second team played all across the board. Our starters did play well too. Kurt (Wallin) played very well, but not as productive as he could be. Tommie (Townsend) played very well and was productive. Terrell (Suggs) obviously played great with his two sacks, and Brian (Montesanto) did what he does. He's very consistent, and he doesn't get beat often. Danny Masaniai was a very pleasant surprise, as well as Paul Glass. Paul didn't play much in the fourth quarter because he was dinged up, but while he was in he played very well.

DD: Speaking of Glass, with his injury being somewhat serious, there has been talk about him possibly being redshirted. What can you tell us about his injury and redshirt possibility?

TM: As far as the injury, he will get well as fast as he can. I don't know what we'll do with Paul until he's healthy again. If it takes him seven months to get healthy, then redshirting is our only option. If he's healthy in the middle of the season, and can help us win the last five games of the season, he will play. We're not gonna jump the gun on redshirting him. His attitude is to get well as he can, as fast as he can, so that's what we're looking at.

DD: You hate to say that any position can "afford" an injury, but if there was one position that an injury would have less impact it would be the defensive tackle position. Do you agree?

TM: No doubt. With all the depth we have inside, if you're gonna have one that's the place to have it. But you hate to loose a first or second-string guy, and Paul is one of our four best defensive tackles. No matter who you bring in behind him, he will be a step back for the defense. Phil Howard (who will replace Glass in the rotation) will do a great job, but he's not Paul Glass. At least not yet.

DD: Some fans were excited about defensive end Daniel Pryor who transferred a few weeks ago from USC. What kind of player is he?

TM: Well, we're very excited about him too. He's 6-4, 235. A lean end who can run. He's from the Compton area in California, where he was a very successful high school and junior college player. He signed at USC, and for one reason or another he had some academic issues getting in there. Not to say that our standards are lower than USC, but we were able to fit him in under some caps that USC doesn't have available.

Daniel has never been asked to do some of the things we're asking him to do in our defense. He's very talented, and has great potential. I don't know when he will be a real contributor to win games. His conditioning and strength hasn't been great, but I'll give him this – he's willing. That's the biggest part of it. If a guy is willing to work hard, there's no telling how good he can be. I wouldn't rule out him bulking up and becoming a defensive tackle for us, but right now we're projecting him at defensive end. We need more help with our ends. We got some good sophomore ends, and we need more depth and experience at that position. We always are looking to recruit better players than what we have right now.

DD: Not to jump ahead already to next season, but it's no secret that recruiting defensive tackles this year is at a premium.

TM: It's a huge priority for everyone on our staff. Our coaches know that whatever region they're recruiting, they need to find some quality defensive tackles. If they do find some, they pass on the information to me, and if I give the stamp of approval to recruit him, it goes to coach Guy (the defensive coordinator), and if he approves we go after that player.

We've been very well received with our phone calls to recruits, and I don't think we'll have any problems finding quality tackles to replace our seniors. The only thing that we'll face is that experience is a very big part of playing the position. People that are born and raised in the inner city don't have a problem with that. Playing defensive tackle is very similar to being in the inner city (smile); it's the same deal. It's a 60 minutes fistfight and if you're not experienced in that, it takes a while to get used to. So we have to find some guys that even though may not have a lot of experience, can still compete.

DD: Like all Football teams this past weekend, you had a forced bye week. What were the positives and negatives you take from this layoff?

TM: We had 40 practices, but only one game. We need to play games, but we did exactly what needed to be done. Our kids, staff, and the nation weren't ready for games this past Saturday. I'm in full support of the Pac-10 decision to postpone our game last week. On the other hand, it's going to be real good to play a game this week, and start to put some of the tragedy behind us, and get back to the business of playing Football again.

DD: Not to imply that the defensive line played poorly in its first game, but did the extra week let you improve some areas and further implement the scheme you're trying to play?

TM: They always say that you make your biggest improvement between your first and second Football games. We would have done that if we played at UCLA last week. So, now we had two weeks to improve. Based on what I've seen the last couple of practices, we've ironed out everything that we need to iron out and we should be even better against Stanford than we would have been last week against UCLA. To play as well as we did in our first game, and know that you made great strides since then, is very exciting. We have great kids, and probably the deepest and talented position on the Football team. I'm very impressed the way they played. When you have talented guys that played awesome right off the bat under a new staff and a new system, and they achieve what you promised them eight months ago, there's no other way for them to go but just play great Football from here out.

DD: You mentioned the new defensive scheme, and it would seem that in our 4-2-5 system, there really wouldn't be much difference in the way the defensive line plays compared to the common 4-3-4 defense. Is that true?

TM: You can set up those numbers any way you want to, 4-2, 4-3, 3-4. We're a 4-2 defense, because people label defenses by the number of defensive linemen and linebackers. In reality, we're a 4-4 defense, with our two outside safeties. Anytime you can cover multiple offenses from your base defense, you have a lot advantages. We never get out of our normal set. I ran all the different defense packages out there, and I can tell you that we can pressure from more looks in the 4-4 defense, than all the other defenses combined. We always have guys close to the line of scrimmage, and close to the box. We can match up our personnel to exploit a lot of defensive schemes. We've been able to do that for two years now.

DD: Much has been said about the depth and leadership of all the senior defensive tackles. How does a sensational player like sophomore Terrell Suggs, fit in as far as a leader on the line?

TM: Terrell is a leader period. Not only does he lead by example, like we want all our players to do, but he's also a vocal leader. Sometimes you don't like the guys that try to be a vocal leader, but don't have it in them. Terrell does. He's so charismatic. The way that he plays and the pace that he plays with, is infectious. Kids want to be part of that. Terrell is the consummate team guy. He loves playing. He loves practicing. He pats guys on the fanny when they beat him, and expects the same when he beats them. He brings a different tempo to every drill. When he's in there, guys know that they better bring their best, because if they don't he'll embarrass them.

The first impressions I had about Terrell were some not very flattering pre-conceived notions. And all those things said about him became farthest than the truth as can be. He cares greatly about his academics. He's a team player, and loves to practice. Those are all the areas I was told that he wasn't good at. I was happy that I was told wrong about him. He prepares during the week, like he plays on Saturday. That's why he's so good.

DD: One of the oldest Football anecdotes out there is that a strength of a team is measured "up front" with the offensive and defensive lines. Do you feel pressure as a defensive line coach, knowing that the team's defense will play as well as the defensive lines does?

TM: Every assistant coach in his program believes that as far as his position goes, so does the Football team. I would be lying if I said that I didn't believe that about the defensive line. It's been refreshing working with coach Guy, because he believes the same way I do. I'm sure the guys coaching the secondary know the importance upfront, but when their units give up a play it can go for twenty yards or even a touchdown. Well, when my unit gives up a play it may only go for only four yards. But those four-yard gains hit me pretty hard. I agree 100% that the game is won upfront. I try to instill in our guys that wherever we are on the field and near the ball, that's where the game will be won or lost. If we don't do our job every down at full speed, it will be hard for the guys behind us to do their job. I guess I'm a little partial to my position. But I know that if you can't stop the run, you can't do all the other fun things we like to do. My guys stop the run. We did it last game, and we'll continue to do it until somebody schemes well against us, That team will have to have a lot better guys than we have to beat us.

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