Q&A With Coach Mark Carrier

The cavalry is on its way. The injury bug has hit the Sun Devil cornerbacks hard, but a four-man group in the spring could be nearly tripled come Camp Tontozona. ASU's cornerbacks coach talks about those topics and much more in this exclusive DevilsDigest interview.

DevilsDigest: Coach, let's start by reviewing the cornerbacks in the 2005 class. What can you tell us about the following players?

Mark Carrier:

Chris Baloney (pronounced BAL-uh-nay) – "He's a guy that played with Jamar Williams in high school. A very gifted athlete. He was a track guy that could flat out run, and was one of the fastest guys in his area (Houston, Texas) coming out of high school. A tall big kid, which you'd like to have because we have tall wide receivers. One thing I can say about this whole group, that they are all track guys and very athletic. They are very versatile. Chris played some safety, and in the highlight tape, you see that he isn't afraid to stick his face in there. We prefer him at corner, and I think he'll be a nice addition."

Grant Crunkleton – "He's probably your prototype shut-down cover corner. A lot of cat-like quickness. Has very good footwork. A true student of the game. He wants to know everything. We like his competitiveness, and he comes from a very good program at Mullen High School (Denver, Col.), which produces a lot of good players."

Travis Smith – "He's a long-arm and long legged guy. A track guy, but not as fast – probably in the 4.5 or 4.4 range. He had a great season at wide receiver. He's a guy that will only get better, and like everyone in this group a quality, good-natured kid, that's competitive."

Keno Walter-White – "From a personality standpoint, how do you not like this guy after being around him for five minutes? I think he'll fit in really well here. He's a world-class athlete, and if he really honed his skills 100% on it he would be a great track and field athlete. He can't wait to get here, and you like that because he wants to compete. He's a good returner, so he can contribute there too."

DD: It seems that these days it's a very popular trend to try and acquire that 6-foot plus tall cornerback. But there must be more that goes into the success of a cornerback besides being the same height as the wide receiver they are defending…

MC: "You have to look at what you're playing against. A few years ago, not that you wanted a small player out there, but the prototype corner wasn't the same because the receivers were different. The game has changed, and you're seeing more and more taller receivers. You have to match that. Half the time, pass plays are jump balls. The highest and also the most competitive guy will win those battles. But even though you want the taller cornerback, you have to have someone who's also very competitive and a great athlete. You can be a great athlete and run, but if you can't compete it really doesn't matter. You have to have the competitive edge. The playing field gets leveled if you have all the physical attributes to match the mental attributes and the competitive nature."

DD: Looking back at the 2004 season from a cornerbacks perspective, how would you evaluate the group's performance?

MC: "There's no doubt that there was improvement, and a change of philosophy from the year before. As the season went on, the guys really started believing in what we were trying to do. They were more aggressive. We looked at all the big pass plays of the season, and we were in position to make the play. When you go back to a year ago, guys were running by our guys. That wasn't the case this year. A lot of times we were right there at the right spot and we just had to make the play. We did play sound and made plays when we had to. To me, it was a stepping-stone, and we have to take it into the spring. Even though we won't have that many guys there it will get cranked up even higher. They understand that and they expect that from themselves."

DD: Can you talk about departing cornerback Chris McKenzie? It seemed like any JC transfer, he really came into his own his senior year…

MC: "Here's a guy that if you asked him, probably wished he had one more year right now. He really understands what it is all about. As the season went on, his confidence really went up, and he got better. He had his ups and downs, and I'm a big consistency guy. Even though you had a big game, you build on that – not rest on that. As a football player, you have to manage not only the football part, but also your studies, and just living in general. Chris really learned that time management and the work that he has to put into practice to be consistent. I'm very emphatic about practice, and my players know that. That's a big part of the game and that's how you get better."

"When he started to understand that he benefited more than anybody. In the begining of the season he was more shy talking to me about things, but as time went on he was more vocal about what he wanted to do, and he came to me with suggestions. He gained more confidence, because I was allowing him to do some of the stuff we discussed. It's not my way or the highway. Initially, that comes out from me because there's a standard that has to be set."

DD: You must be elated that R.J. Oliver was granted his sixth year of eligibility, but his health situation is a concern. Can you talk about his prospects this year?

MC: "I'm excited he got the year back, because he really dedicated himself. He had a real good spring, a pretty good summer, and you could just see his confidence growing. And then he goes down with the injury…he deserved to get the year back. Now he's gonna graduate from college. I don't care if you don't play another down, but if you don't get your degree in six years you just wasted some good time. So, we're all excited about that."

"From a physical standpoint, talking to coach House (ASU's strength and conditioning coach), I know that R.J. is not one not to work. He'll do whatever it takes to get back – I have no doubt in my mind. We're just gonna wait and see how he comes back to playing cornerback – quickness, speed, confidence…all those things are gonna come into play. So for him it will be a patience game. I told him that I'm looking forwarded to seeing him at Camp T. That's the goal for him, and I'm not worried about anything else. I told him that if I see him limping I'm not gonna put him on the field. He has to be at 100% and he understands that. If he's 100%, he's going back out there. There's no doubt about that. I come from the school that you don't lose your position because of injury."

DD: Unfortunately, you have two other injuries to major contributors in this group – Chad Green and Josh Golden. Are they also scheduled to be back at Camp T?

MC: "Those two should be ready to go on June 1st. That's a good thing, and we're excited about that. We could have held off on their surgeries, but those two guys played through injuries week in and week out. That's a testament to their toughness. Those surgeries will take care of their nagging injuries, and if you talk to them you'll never see two happier guys after surgery in your life than those two (smile). They had so much to deal with physically and mentally because of those injuries. Now they feel that come summer, they're gonna be 100% healthy - something they couldn't say the last two years. So, we'll be down in our numbers in the spring, but you look at what's gonna happen this summer - all of our guys will be healthy, and we'll have great depth."

DD: So right now, the starting corners in the spring will probably be Mike Davis and Uriah Marshall

MC: "Yes, and we'll have Littrele Jones and Myrio Davis. We literally will have four guys and we can't afford to lose anymore. I think I have to get back out there (smile). Rudy Burgess keeps on telling me that he can play corner, and I'm not doubting him. He has proven me that he can do anything that he puts his mind to it. We tell our guys to go out there and not hold anything back. If my eight-year old son is out there, I expect him to compete as hard as he can to win. Everybody has to feel that way. Even guys that won't be there in the spring have to be disappointed that you're not there and be ready to compete when you are out there. As a defense, to get where we want to be, no matter who's out there – they have to feel like they're ‘the man' that's gonna make plays. Because come August, one thing that wasn't there last August - it will more competitive. And I'm excited about that. I'm gonna have at least eight guys that can play. The beauty of all this is that you can't go through the motions. You'll be judged every practice, and every time you're out there it's an opportunity and you'll be graded."

"If you don't pull your weight, you may not get a chance to go back out there. The guy backing you up, will see that as an opportunity for him. I'm all about letting my guys know what's going on before I step on the field, so there's no secrets or hidden agendas. If this guy is the better player – he'll play more. That breeds competition, and I want to have that problem. When I go to coach Miller (ASU's defensive coordinator), and he asks me who are your top guys, I want to tell him I have six guys. That's a great problem to have because you have depth at your position and you can interchange. It keeps the guys competing, and makes us a better defense."

DD: How would rate Mike Davis' performance in 2004, and what about his role as the veteran corner in spring practice?

MC: "The thing with Mike is that he came in and played at spot at times. When he practiced well he played. He did get to play in the bowl game and compete. I think this spring will be very good for Mike, and he'll be the guy. More importantly, he's a senior. I told him that my expectations of my seniors are huge. They get more leeway from me, but they also get treated harder because I expect them to lead. They don't necessarily have to be a verbal leader, but they should lead by example. Do all the right things, because the younger guys will follow behind. Mike will get a lot of reps and a lot of looks. He knows they'll be a lot more bodies in that meeting room come August. He has a really good chance to establish himself early, and he understands that. He has an opportunity to get ahead, and he understands that he needs to take his game to another level."

DD: What are your expectations of the two redshirt freshmen Uriah Marshall and Myrio Davis?

MC: "I always tell my players that the hungriest guys out there should be the guys that redshirted. I know that from my own experience. I couldn't wait to get there on the field, and get my chance to play. I expect them to get into a competitive nature mode, and learn the system. The beauty is that we're bringing is somewhat a same system, with some new stuff. So they'll be starting from scratch. I want to see how competitive they are and how they finish plays. Again, because of our numbers we don't have depth. But the guys that are there, will get a lot of chances and a lot of experience."

DD: Lastly, you concluded your first year of coaching at the collegiate level. Is it everything that you thought it was gonna be?

MC: "It was a lot of things and more than I thought it was gonna be. The one thing that didn't surprise me was the hours. It didn't faze me. I'm one of those guys that when I'm here, I'll stay as long as I need to be. I'll go home when it's time to go home. I don't worry about how many hours I'll work. My family is well understanding of that."

"Recruiting was a lot different than I remember it. It's something else with the kids and parents…much more cutthroat than I remember it. They're a lot of things that go behind the scenes that people don't realize. In my opinion, there's no love out there. Other coaches laugh at me when I talk about it because they have been through the wars. But for the most part your enjoyment is seeing your players work hard at it, and achieve it. You can't explain how satisfying it is. Seeing those guys finish like they did at the Sun Bowl – it was priceless."

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