Q&A with Coach Ted Monachino

DevilsDigest sat down with the Sun Devils' defensive line coach and addressed the group's performance last year, the position changes on his unit, and the goals set forth for the upcoming spring practice.

DevilsDigest: Coach, what can you tell us about the defensive line members of the 2004 recruiting class?

Ted Monachino: David Smith – "David is a guy that we liked from the very beginning. We were never concerned about David from an athletic standpoint, but based on some of the things we knew from an academic standpoint we were concerned. (Hamilton High School's coach) John Wrenn knew that David had a ways to go, but he always tried to convince us that David had the juice to get it done – and he did. We're real happy he's a Sun Devil."

Quency Darley – "When you look at the intangible things that you look for in a football player, they aren't any better guys out there than Quency. He leads the bible study on his campus, he's the RA of the football floor in the dorm, and he's an excellent football player with a great deal of understanding of the game. We couldn't be more excited to have Quency."

Wes Evans – "Wes is a guy that's an upside guy. Josh Barrett (former teammate at Reno HS) gave Wes a glowing recommendation as a guy he would love to have on his football team. Measurably, he has all the things you're looking for. Once you tie in height, weight, strength, speed, toughness with Josh Barrett's recommendation, all of a sudden you feel good about the guy. As we went through the process and learned more, it became more obvious that he's a guy that we needed on our team."

DeWayne Hollyfield – "He's a diamond in the rough. He's a guy that had the talent to be recruited all over the country out of high school, but needed two years of maturity and academics at the junior college level. When we look at DeWayne on film, we're glad he ended up going to school where he did – not many people go there to recruit. So, he slipped in between the cracks and we felt we were lucky that a whole lot of people weren't in there recruiting him. It didn't take long, watching him on film, to see that he had the skill and talent to be productive at this level."

DD: How would you sum up the 2003 season from the defensive line perspective?

TM: "I really liked the overall productivity of Shane Jones, and the overall toughness of Brian Montesanto. The thing I was really pleased with, for lack of a better term, was the ‘violence' level that Gabe Reininger was able to show on the field. I think that brings an attitude and toughness to our defense that helps us a bunch."

"Jimmy Verdon continues to be one of the most dominant players that we coach, that never shows up in the stat sheet by the nature of the job that he does. Ishmael is just starting to get immersed at a rush end and he'll be real good at it. The things I thought we would be better in going into the season were true, because from a technical standpoint we improved a lot. We didn't nearly take as many chances as we did a year before. Our players understood that without doing their jobs, it would be difficult for the third and fourth level defenders to do theirs. We got a lot better in defending against run blocks and seeing different things that we were suppose to see. So, just the evolution of the package, the evolution of the position, it continues to move in the right direction."

"Did we underachieve? Yes. Were there high expectations? Yes. Were those expectations founded in fact or founded in a lot of conjecture or prediction..? We really thought we would be better than we were. But I think a lot of the guys that did get a chance to play and compete will help us in 2004. After watching the scout team, Brett Palmer got a chance to get a lot better. He does things from a measurable speed and strength standpoint that make you believe that he can be a great player some day. We took a 250-pound defensive tackle out of high school, and everybody thought we were crazy. Well, he's almost 290 now."

DD: When you talk about the unrealistic predictions for the 2003 season, do you think the whole issue of replacing Terrell Suggs on the defensive line played into the performance of last season?

TM: "It played a huge role, just because Terrell wasn't just a leader from a production standpoint obviously, but he was a leader from a practice standpoint. You ask anybody, and they'll tell you that you're only as good as the players leading you and at the same time weak as your weakest link. When Terrell decided that he's not coming back for his senior season, our team changed just from an enthusiasm standpoint and of course from an ability one too."

DD: Kyle Caldwell is someone that had a rough start to the season because of his injury, but as the season progressed it was easy to see why the hype over him was justified. What do you think of his performance last year, and what do you expect from him in 2004?

TM: "Kyle did exactly what we thought he would do. When a freshman can play with confidence, he can play like a senior. When a freshman doesn't have production early and doesn't have confidence, every play becomes a struggle. In the UCLA game he started out strong and played great the whole game. Other games, when he was frustrated early, it carried him the whole game. I don't think that will be the case this year. He'll be able to have a shorter memory, get through one rep at a time, and understand that offensive linemen in this league are pretty good and he has to take what they give him."

DD: Much has been said about the fact that the team didn't recruit as many defensive tackles as they needed. Do you feel that this is determent going into this season or will it just sort itself out?

TM: "I think it will sort itself out – we have no other option. Is it (the lack of DT's recruited) over hyped or overblown? No, I don't think so. We didn't make the numbers at my position. We were on all the right guys up until signing day, and a couple of guys go the other way. But we have a great group of guys that we signed. I think it all goes back to how early we get started on our defensive linemen during the next recruiting classes. We need to be able to project guys further out, instead of only recruiting and only seeing those guys that have a lot of polish as high school juniors – that's the film we're looking at right now. A guy may not look like Jevon Kearse, but may look like Jimmy Verdon three years from now. Those are the guys that we need to find. We have to do it every year, because we're always gonna have that need. Next year we're gonna lose four guys again. We have to make sure that we're in position on signing day to have a great class. "

DD: The bodies at defensive line that you do have coming in, will be here in the fall and not in the spring. How much of an impact will that have in spring practice when it comes to defensive tackle?

TM: "From a defensive tackle standpoint, yes it will have an impact. But what we've been able to do is make a couple of personnel changes that will help us. Conor Banks is going to move inside. He's a guy that has always fought body weight, because he takes the weight room very well. He's a guy that can weigh 285 pounds, and not look like he did gain an ounce. So, we're gonna let him lift, and let him be as big and as strong as he needs to play inside. Connor was an average athlete out on the edge, but he's way above average inside. Just like Brain Montesanto was."

"The other guy I'm really anxious to see how he progresses is Jordan Hill who will also move inside. Both will probably anchor the ‘three-technique area', while Brett and Gabe will be the two guys that will play in the A-gap."

DD: How do you plan to go ahead and correct the issues that need to be resolved on the defensive line come spring practice?

TM: "I think the biggest thing we need to do now is make what we do fit our players on every down, not just on some downs. I think what guys want to do is play hard and play fast. We're gonna simplify some things. We're gonna cut down and rebuild. We'll be pretty basic and static in some of the things that we look like we're trying to do. It's just like any lake you drive by. It looks pretty clam on the surface, but there's a lot of life going on below the water."

DD: What are your expectations and goals going into spring practice?

TM: "Our number one goal is to teach. We've have a huge need to teach guys to be every down players. Gabe Reininger played in every game, but playing behind Shane and Brian, most of the time he wasn't the difference maker. He has to be that guy now. We have to teach Connor Banks and Jordan Hill to play inside. We have to teach Ishmael Thrower to take advantage of what he knows. We have to teach Jimmy Verdon about the things that have kept him from being productive, and still do his job."

"Number two, we have to teach toughness. I think we have continued to do that, but we have to make that a goal. Be able to teach and coach toughness is huge. Not only from an individual standpoint, but also from an attitude standpoint. I think we have a goal of competition. We have to create competition, not only offense vs. defense but also player vs. player. We have to create it between Jimmy and Kyle, and between Gabe and Brett. Those are our three goals – we have to teach, we have to compete, and we have to get tough."

DD: When you talk about attitude, you think yourself or this group could thrive if they had that proverbial chip on their shoulder?

TM: "We can play that thing any way we want to play it. I don't know that we were beat to death in the media or on the Internet – those things don't matter to me. I know we did a good job of doing the things we were asked to do on defense. Were we as productive as the year before? No. I think we can use that as fuel to motivate some guys. Other guys see straight through that, and know it's smoke and mirrors. Those guys know that no matter what was said, they will line up in the leverage and their job is to kick that guy's tail on offense across from them."

"With some guys I'll need to push that button and say ‘you know those guys that wrote about you and how you stunk? They were right.' But the guys that are warriors will continue to be treated as warriors."

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