Devils Digest: Coach, with the season opener coming up on Thursday, can you give us your evaluation of the defensive line?
Ted Monachino: "From a numbers standpoint we are not where we should be. From a depth standpoint we are in good shape. I think we got more players now in our second unit that are going to be effective and viable Pac-10 football players than we ever had. Of course we are missing some of the seniors that we had a year ago, but the guys that we have right now are doing a great job of stepping up their leadership roles. They practice hard, they practice with pain, and that is very encouraging."
DD: The move of Jimmy Verdon from defensive end to defensive tackle seems to be panning out quite well…
TM: "It has been really good for Jimmy to move inside. He was a good athlete at end and he's an outstanding athlete at tackle. He brought a lot of toughness with him as well. We would never have known about that toughness, because all he had to deal with until now was a tight end. Now he's getting doubled-teamed, he's having gap schemes and down blocks run at him, and he has responded exactly in the right way. He's also a gap and half closer to the ball in both the running and passing game. We think that with time when he grows more into the defensive tackle position, he will get better and better each week."
DD: This move was a result of a desire to have Kyle Caldwell as a full-time defensive end. Have you've been pleased with that role change as well?
TM: "Kyle has won that job in the spring with his practice habits and off-season conditioning work, and was able to hold on to it. We have to get Kyle into a position where he's 100% full speed healthy again. Two-a-days will do that to guys in my group and a lot others, where you get chipped away and beaten up. I think having the one-a-days will help him a lot to start showing the things he's done in spring and fall practices."
DD: With all the concerns over the defensive tackle position, having a player like Gabe Reininger can help put some of those concerns to rest…
TM: "One thing we know is that we're not hurting for tough guys at nose (tackle). It doesn't matter whom we play there, all the guys have totally bought into what we want to get done, and they're all though. Jordan Hill may not weigh as much as Reininger does, but he's a tough son of gun. I trust him with everything I have. Quency Darley and Dewayne Hollyfield will both be good players. They're ahead of the learning curve, but both are behind from a conditioning standpoint."
DD: What other players at the defensive line do you expect will make an impact this season?
TM: "Mike Talbot has put himself into a position to play. When the game is still in doubt, he's not strictly gonna be a mop-up guy. We need him. He had his best performance in the last scrimmage (this past Wednesday). Mike has the ability to improve almost on a daily basis, because he's such a young guy as a defensive end. He receives the coaching he got from the day before, and gets better. We're always correcting new mistakes with Mike and that's good. If we continue to do that he'll get more and more polished as we go on."
"Some of our veteran down line guys…Brett Palmer, Kyle Kingsbury I'll never be afraid to put into a game because they will do what we ask them to do and they will try hard to do it. We have plenty of guys that I trust."
DD: From a pass rush versus run stop perspective, which aspect do you feel more comfortable with as you evaluate your group at this time?
TM: "Anytime that there is scrutiny on a position group, of course I am concerned with both. I think from a pass rush perspective we are better than a year ago, because athletically what we have been able to do is juggle around our guys a little bit. In the running game, I think that Reininger makes a big difference in how we approach the run game. I think Jordan Hill changes the way we approach the run game and we can be equally as effective."
DD: How does the 4-3 alignment change the approach of the defensive line especially in regards to the run game?
TM: "It helps a bunch because our linebackers are fast, active, get downhill in a hurry. The 4-3 defense allows more people closer to the line of scrimmage. The more people we can get closer to the line of scrimmage, the faster double-teams have to disengage and block the second line defenders. Coach Guy is coaching those guys to get downhill and make plays. That helps my guys get singled in the run game. A lot of times when you play a two-linebacker system or if we are playing guys off the ball that aren't running downhill we never get those double-teams disengaged. That is not going to be an issue this year."
DD: What were your goals going into the season and how many of these goals have been achieved right now?
TM: "I think in terms of position goals we just wanted to see how many guys we could get ready to play in the first football game. I think that this goal has been achieved because we got a good number of guys that are. In terms of any other goals, from fall camp…we said we wanted to compete and be tougher and I think we accomplished both of those in a major way after about our third day in pads. The number of complaints, not only from my guys but from other groups went down considerably when they realized that everybody is sore but we are all going to play through it."
Q&A With Defensive Line Coach Ted Monachino
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