Q&A with Coach Dan Fidler

Is change in the air for the Sun Devils' defense? In this exclusive DevilsDigest interview, the ASU safeties' coach addresses that issue, as well as recaps the 2003 season, reviews the safeties in the program's new recruiting class, and shares his expectations for the upcoming spring practice.

DevilsDigest: Coach, let's start by discussing the incoming freshmen on the safety unit. What can you tell us about each of the following players?

Dan Fidler: Maurice London. "He's already here, and he has been working out hard. He learns quickly, and his work habits have been awesome. He needs to gain weight, and he's making an effort to do that. At Grossmont, which is a great junior college program, the only negative is that they don't have a lifting program. So, players don't lift unless they lift on their own. His attitude is great. We'll find out in spring ball how he will compete for a job (replacing Jason Shivers)."

Myrio Davis: "He's a big good looking athlete that played a lot of positions. When we had him at camp, we liked him at safety, wideout, and corner. He has a lot of raw potential. He makes a lot of plays, and he looks the part of what a guy should look like when coming in. Obviously, like any other incoming freshman, how quick he learns and pick up things, is the most important part as to how soon he gets on the field. Being a local kid he'll have less adjustments. I like recruiting guys that can play a number of different positions like Myrio did, versus recruiting a one-position guy. He's a lot bigger than Maurice and can play either safety position. We'll have to see what position gives him the quickest opportunity to get on the field."

Angelo Fobbs-Valentino: "When Coach Koetter and I looked at him, he reminded us of (current Sun Devil) Josh Barrett. He returns kicks, returns punts, plays running back, wideout, and safety. He plays basketball and runs track. He has good height, he's 6-1 and probably a little on the lean side at 185. But playing three sports that will happen. He has the body frame to get big quick. He was a 200m and 400m region champion in Northern California. Like Myrio he's versatile enough to play either safety position."

DD: How would you recap the 2003 season from the safety position perspective?

DF: "First of all, you always look at how the team did. Obviously, the team didn't perform up to expectations. From that point it was disappointing. Individually, some guys played better than others. I think Riccardo Stewart had a solid year. He continues to do a good job. His issue is that as the season wears on he gets injured. They're certain points of the season where he can't have a lot of contact, and that hurts your progression. You'd like guys to be better at the end of the year than the beginning of the year. In Riccardo's case, he's better in the begining of the year than at the end (smile). It's frustrating for everybody."

"Jason Shivers had a good year as well. He did a good job in a lot of areas. He played just about every play on defense and special teams. He never took himself off the field and performed at a high level. Those two guys were solid. After that, we needed guys to step up, and they didn't play up to their abilities. As a whole, because of the nature of the defense that has three safeties, we needed six guys to play (well). We didn't have the numbers to come through, and make it what we hoped for as a group."

DD: Looking forward to spring practice, what aspects in this unit do you think need to be worked on, and how will the rotation sort itself out?

DF: "The main thing we need to do is getting back to playing fast and aggressive. We need to play with confidence and just cut it loose. As a whole on defense, that's what we're gonna stress this spring – don't worry so much about taking a player on with your right of left shoulder. Just be the aggressors and have fun again. Number two, knowing your assignments. We're gonna make things less complicated for them in terms of the scheme, and hopefully that will allow them to cut it lose."

"We have a lot of young guys, which spring ball is good for because they'll get a lot reps. This is a chance for guys that were buried in the depth chart, or thought they were buried, to show what they can do. They'll get a lot of looks because they're a lot of positions open. The competition factor in spring will help a lot, and when you get more reps you develop quicker. A lot of young guys will have to step it up. I'm excited and anxious to see what guys can do. Young players like Robert James, Darnell Henderson, Daniel Varvel, and Maurice London have never taken a snap."

"Josh Barrett is another player that didn't play much, but he had shoulder surgery and won't be in spring ball. Riccardo won't do much in the spring, but I really don't need to see what he can do. But all the rest of the guys are going to compete hard, which will breed enthusiasm and excitement. After what happened last season, as coaches and as players, we can't wait to get started."

DD: As you mentioned, you're returning a fine player and team captain in Riccardo Stewart. Can you talk about his importance not only as a safety, but also as a leader?

DF: "More than anything, besides being a good player he sets such a great example for others. Sometimes you have good players that aren't setting a good example, but he has such a strong work ethic and is an overachiever. You see a guy with his height and speed playing the way he does, he's one guy that lets his body go. We need more guys like him that play with reckless abandon. Unfortunately, he gets banged up a lot and doesn't practice like you'd want him to. When you're not practicing, sometimes it's hard to be a great leader. It's a catch-22."

DD: Matt Fawley is a player that a lot of people should be excited about. He has a lot of football behind him and can play both safety positions. You must also share in that excitement…

DF: "We're all excited to have him back. We're gonna do a couple of different things with our defense. His role may not be one of the ‘high' safeties (i.e. free or strong safety). He'll be more of a down safety. He's a very steady football player, sure tackler, and does everything you ask him to do. He's a great asset. He hasn't been a so-called full time starter on paper, but plays as much as a lot of other guys. He was our fourth leading tackler, and plays on all the special teams units."

DD: Earlier you touched on the fact that the defense this year will change. Can you shed some light on how in specific the roles of the safeties will alter in 2004 compared to last season?

DF: "It's not as much of a change as people may think. Techniques and terminology will be the same. It's just that one of the safeties, the guys in our program that are the bigger safeties, will be the third linebacker if that's what you want to call them. Matt Fawley is one player that will go into that position. Lamar Baker and J.W. Lucas are some other guys we'll try there. They'll be more of ‘in the box' down type of a guy. That's something Matt has done for half of the time in the last two years."

"Half of the guys will have less techniques than they had to do in the past. For example, in the past, the ‘strong' safeties had to be half of the time ‘down' or ‘in the box' and half the time they're playing high as a true safety. Now, one of the safeties will be playing ‘high ‘all the time and one guy will playing ‘down' all the time. This will make it simpler, and their techniques should get better because they're cut in half. This will allow us not to go back and forth, in terms of substituting, between a 4-3 and a 4-2-5. So, we think that it will make it a bit more simplistic for the guys."

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