Q&A with ASU defensive line coach Michael Slater

Arizona State defensive line coach Michael Slater just finished up his first spring on head coach Todd Graham's staff and is encouraged by the progress his unit made in March and April.

SunDevilSource: What did you think about how the spring went as you were learning about your players and figuring out your personnel? What were some of your overall impressions?

Michael Slater: "I thought the guys did a great job of opening their minds and trying the things that I was trying to teach. They weren't close-minded, they were very receptive, they did a good job of grasping the things that we were trying to get done."

SunDevilSource: Everybody has their own teaching style and technique, where did you feel that these guys were at relative to the style that you teach with technique-wise?

Slater: "It's pretty much the same, it's just the intensity that I demand from them in doing it. And with the position that we play, it's a position that we're going to get hit in the mouth or hit someone in the mouth every play and it takes a different type of mindset in order to do that. It's unlike any other position on the field. If we go a play without having contact, we didn't do something right."

SunDevilSource: I noticed you had so many funny sayings out there when you were coaching like, 'You're killing the grass,' or 'We're going to run out of daylight,' is that just your natural personality? Where does a lot of that stuff come from and do you think that that's something that resonates with players?

Slater: "I think it does because it makes them remember certain key things that I'm trying to point out to them. That is, I guess, kind of my style. I picked it up from the coaches who have coached me and the coaches that I've worked with and there's a lot of truth in the joke. That's part of it."

SunDevilSource: Did you feel like the sense of urgency really improved from day one to day 15?

Slater: "Oh yeah, no doubt, they were receptive to what I was teaching and they could see the value in it and that allowed them to really buy into it even more."

SunDevilSource: With Tashon (Smallwood) being a senior, he's had a tendency to be the guy who is out there working the longest and the hardest after practices and he's had the maturity about him. What are you initial impressions of working with him and how he fits into what you're trying to accomplish?

Slater: "Tashon is a special player, man. It's the thing that I'm trying impress to him is the consistency he needs in order to be successful at this level. In order to play at this level, the consistency he needs to have with his practice habits and again, he started a little slow and then he picked it up toward the end and really showed the flashes and was more consistent than what I was expecting."

SunDevilSource: What do you think of him (Smallwood) from a skills standpoint?

Slater: "Tashon was one of the best guys on the team defensively. His skill set is, I'd take 11 of him if I had the opportunity. He's what you want. He's very sudden off the ball and once he gets his hands on you, he's going to get off the block quick and he's got a burst in getting to the ball."

SunDevilSource: Last year they used him a little bit as a 5-tech or an end, do you think he's better suited to be a 3-technique? What's your perspective on that?

Slater: "That's what he's playing right now (3-tech), he plays the 3-tech and nose and that's where we're going to put him in position to be successful. He'll play nose in certain situations because we're trying to get the best four guys out there and he's a little more athletic than George (Lea) and Jordan (Hoyt) and Corey (Smith) so we'll put the best four out there." 

SunDevilSource: With JoJo Wicker, you said to us that he was your most versatile piece to work with because you can play all three positions, where do you think he's at right now? He was a very highly recruited guy and a Second Team All-League player last year, do you think that he's ready to take another step and what does that entail?

Slater: "Most definitely and the same thing with him learning how to practice consistently, practice is where you strain and you're more experimental with your moves as far as pass rush so you know what you're capable of in a game setting. He was a little nicked up, banged up toward the middle of spring and he's learning that he has to take care of his body, take care of his injuries and doing stuff preventative instead of reactive when you get a little bump or a bruise. That's one of the big things that I think he gained from this spring was learning to be a professional in taking care of his body."

SunDevilSource: At the nose position, Viliami Latu is gone and you had a lot of guys who were getting reps there. From George Lea to Jordan Hoyt, you've got Renell Wren who is mostly a 3-tech but I guess he could play some nose, D.J. Davidson there who has got some size and maybe just needs to get fitter. What do you think about how that position is looking right now?

Slater: "That's the thing, it's going to be by-committee right now until someone just shows that they're that much further ahead of everyone. With the style of play that we're trying to play, that we're going to play, you know those guys have to like you said, they need to get in better shape. George (Lea) has done a great job throughout the spring, he's actually lost a small child over spring and some of those other guys have lost some weight as well being able to run. That's the main thing, the name of the game is running to make plays. We're not just trying to be anchor points and hold points and hold gaps, but get off blocks and go make plays."

SunDevilSource: George (Lea) has pretty good foot quickness and overall athleticism for his size, right? What are you talking to him about, how he goes to the next level in his game? 

Slater: "He's even more so now that he's lost some weight. Just continue in the direction that he's going right now, he's made some baby steps and we just want to keep progressing and take it to the next step."

SunDevilSource: I noticed that Jordan Hoyt might be the best in executing what you're asking in a skill development period. His first couple of steps are usually pretty good and decisive and for a walk-on, he seems like he's a pretty good guy to have around, right?

Slater: "Jordan is a phenomenal young man. You know, he got hurt his senior year in high school so that's kind of why he wasn't recruited very much but he played at UC Davis before he came to us and he actually played. He's definitely not your every day, ordinary walk-on and the thing that gets him on the field is he's an overachiever. He's going to go out there and he's going to give you everything that he has every play and he's probably, he is the hardest working guy in the room right now. Guys see that and they see that it's not often your ability, because he's not nearly as talented as some of those other guys. But he overcomes a lot of that with his effort."

SunDevilSource: With Renell Wren, he's sort of intoxicating just with how big he is, how strong he is and some of his natural ability, but I saw there's a lack of focus at times, he's getting told to leave a drill because he wasn't paying attention. But at the same time, there's just so much there in terms of just scratching the surface of his potential, what do you make about where he's at and where he can be?

Slater: "Renell, he has made a lot of progress since day one. He's probably made more progress than anyone as far as his development. But like you said, he does need to do a better job of staying focused and staying dialed in and just making that next step because he's made a lot of progress. He's someone that I'm exceptionally on a lot because of his ability and what he could potentially do and it shows. Again, just being consistent with it and being able to handle success, he'll make a few plays and then he'll take a few plays off. It's something that he just has to dial in and then make the mental effort, make it a conscious effort mentally to put a string of plays together."

SunDevilSource: With Doug (Subtyl), he was so productive in junior college and then he had the year off and I know he's not that far along from a skills standpoint and needs to work on his body, do you think that he's going to be able to accelerate his development in a way that gets him on the field this year? What do you make of where he's at?

Slater: "Doug is going to be a project, we've sat down and mapped out a plan for him as far as what he needs to do over the summer and over the discretionary period that will help him. It's going to rely on him getting it done. So that's going to show me, there's a couple things that I need to see improvement on and not having to go back and have another 15 first dates when we return from spring. But he's making progress, it's just not at the rate that I'd like it to be." 

SunDevilSource: With D.J. (Davidson), what are your initial thoughts on him? It seems like he's going to be a big body and a tough guy to move off of the ball at some point, right?

Slater: "He's (Davidson) a big athlete and for someone that big, he can bend, he can run, the main thing is just getting him in playing shape. You can't play the game at 327 pounds at this level today, being able to run and things like that."

SunDevilSource: Just kind of summing things up, do you feel like you'll be playing five to six guys and rotating a lot? Todd (Graham) in the past, he's admitted this, there's times where I've put our top two defensive tackles out there for 80 snaps and it's been two much and guys have been going down in the fourth quarter, so I just wanted to gauge how you feel about it?

Slater: "That'll be one of my main responsibilities is making sure that those guys are fresh, especially in the fourth quarter depending on how many plays we play so that's something that I'll closely monitor." 

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