Q&A With Safeties Coach Dan Fidler

ASU's safeties were the group that had to make the most adjustments in the new 4-2-5 scheme implemented this year. Judging by the outcome of the 2001 season, it has been a sharp and unfriendly learning curve for this unit. How does safeties coach Dan Fidler evaluate the performance of his players? Fidler talks about that issue and others in this interview.

DevilsDigest: Coach, when the final whistle blew at the UCLA game, did you fell more a sense of relief that a trying season has come to an end, or a sense of eagerness to start planning for the 2002 season?

Dan Fidler: Whenever a season is over, you're always looking forward to next season. You think about trying to find ways for your team to get better, to coach better, finding ways to get the program better, and have your players producing better. So, in that sense I was eager to start working on next season. As a Football coach, this game is your life. In that sense, I wasn't happy to see the season end. That's what we do for a living - play games.

DD: The safeties, along with the rest of the defense, didn't have the season that everyone thought we're going to have. In your mind, what were the key problems that plagued the safeties this past season?

DF: The number one thing we need to do is make more plays, and be more of a factor in the outcome of the defense. We needed to make big plays, like sacks and interceptions that can turn a game around. From a physical standpoint, we need to improve our speed. From a mental standpoint, we need to get the confidence that we can make the big plays.

DD: I wanted to ask you about some players in specific. Let's start with Jason Shivers. By all accounts, he had a tremendous year. For a true freshman to lead the team in tackles is unheard of. What's your take on Shivers' season?

DF: In my 22 years of coaching, that's the first true freshman I had start for me, let alone lead the team in tackles. Obviously, he had a good year. He's very mature, and worked hard to play early in the season. By the end of the year, physically and mentally he started to wear down a little bit. I know he'll be much better next year, because he'll be better prepared for the rigors of the season. He'll be bigger and stronger. I look forward to see his growth in the off-season.

DD: On the other hand, few players on defense had a more disappointing and regressing season than Willie Daniel. Would you say that he, out of all the safeties, had the toughest time adjusting to the 4-2-5 scheme?

DF: It's hard to say. I can't compare his performance last year to this year, because I really didn't watch any game film on him. I do know that throughout his career he has had various injuries that he battled through, but he's a hard worker who fights through stuff. I think he played fine, if you take in consideration all the injuries he was battling this year. I don't know if he had a hard time playing in the new scheme, compared to the others. Guys like Jason and Riccardo (Stewart) haven't played another scheme in college, but Willie did. The way I see it, Football is Football. You either get off blocks and make tackles, or you don't. I don't think it matters where you line up. So, it's hard for me to say if the new scheme was a plus or a minus for Willie.

DD: Other two players I wanted to discuss briefly are Al Williams and Riccardo Stewart. How would you sum up their 2001 season?

DF: Al played fine. He's a great leader and players on the team really respect him. He's a hard worker, who's aggressive, and makes a lot of plays. He just needs to stay on the field more. There were about five games this year, where he had to come out because of various injuries. If anything, that would be my biggest disappointment, because we need him on the field to be successful.

Riccardo as a redshirt freshman did an awesome job. He was playing all safety spots. He's undersized at 5'9" but he still ended up like third on the team in tackles. He just needs to continue and grow stronger, and get confidence. But I was happy the way he played.

DD: In the 4-2-5 scheme, Willie and Al were asked to play much like linebackers who are focused on primarily stopping the run. As you mentioned, it was a new and different scheme for them to play in. Do you think their adjustment to their new assignment was probably one of the key factors in the defense not performing better?

DF: Everyone has a role in this defense, and everyone has to make plays regardless if you're a defensive lineman, linebacker or safety. I don't think defensive scheme has anything to do with anything. It's just a matter of playing with an attitude, running off blocks, flying to the ball, and making tackles. So to me, it's not so much the defensive scheme that causes a player to make or not make plays.

DD: Some fans have criticized this scheme, because he has two safeties playing close to the box, while exposing our young and inexperienced corners on a island. Do you agree with this criticism?

DF: I think in a lot of defensive schemes today, people try to out number the players on the offensive line, and force teams to throw the ball. Even in a traditional 4-3 scheme, your safeties are quarter players who're lined up over the tight end, and the corner is still on an island. The only way you can prevent a corner from being on an island, is if you roll them up closer to the safety. We play the quarter player system more than people think we do – we align that way at least half the game. So, I don't think leaving the corners on an island or not was a factor in our defensive performance.

DD: One player that I know fans are excited about for next year us safety Joey Smith. It seems that he was scout team player of the week for the entire season. How do you foresee his role in the defense next year?

DF: Joey is a guy that has good speed and good strength. But he really hasn't played safety in high school. He does have the physical tools we're looking for. On the scout team, he's just reading of cards and reacting. Next year, the key is how quick can he pick up our system, and how he plays in it. It's hard to say how he will do from that standpoint. But from a physical and attitude standpoint he's everything we're looking for.

DD: Do you think the fact that you're returning your core key players, aside from Daniel, will help your unit perform better next year?

DF: On our defense as a whole, we only lose three starters – both defensive tackles and Daniel at safety. So, it's a plus that we have all these players coming back. They should be more comfortable in the system, and way more advanced going into next year.

DD: Overall, are you're excited about next year and the prospects of the safety group?

DF: You're always excited and optimistic about next year. As coaches, you always try to a better job preparing your players, and you hope your players improve too. We're going to have a lot of the same faces back, with some new ones, so that's exciting for us and I'm looking forward to next season.

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