Q&A With Coach Ted Monachino

An old football cliché says that when it comes to defense <I>It all starts upfront</I>. Thus, much of the turnaround that the ASU defense has experienced in 2004 has to be credited to the team's front four. In this exclusive DevilsDigest interview, ASU's defensive line coach reviewed last season, and talked about the challenges and goals for the 2005 campaign.

DevilsDigest: Coach, what can you tell us about the defensive line members of the 2005 recruiting class?

Ted Monachino: Dexter Davis – "Dexter has an unbelievable motor and plays as hard as any kid, maybe even harder, than any other high school kid I've seen on film in a long time. He's probably in an Ishmael Thrower mold – a guy that can come in and pick up the system quickly, dependent on any physical issues he has to work through in terms of his size. He played at 230, but he had to lose weight to wrestle (Davis is a two-time state champion). If he can get his body weight back, I think he can compete right away for playing time."

Jameon Hardeman – "Jameon is just the opposite of Dexter in terms of what type of player he is. Again, a great effort guy, but more of a wrecking ball defensive end. A guy that can collapse the pocket and play with great leverage. Does a nice job with his hands. I got to watch J.D. Walton and Jameon practice for their All-Star game, and I thought they were the two best players on the field. I'm excited about Jameon."

Shannon Jones – "Shannon is the last of the Jones brothers. Shane was a great player for us, and Shannon is the one with the most ability coming in. What he has to do is prove that he's tough physically as Shane was. Shannon had fullback skills in high school, and was a good football player on every team he has played on. He started every game at Sierra College and they never lost."

Will Kofe – "Will is a little like Jimmy Verdon. He has played a lot of different positions, based on what his body does. He was a linebacker in high school. At Montana State he was a big linebacker, went away on a mission, and now he'll be a defensive end or a defensive tackle. A low center of gravity player that can really play with his hips down. Looks like he's two feet tall in his stance."

DD: What are your thoughts on how the defensive line performed in 2004?

TM: "I think with the change (to a 4-3-4) it really helped us as a front having a third linebacker in the game. It forced some of those double teams to disengage a little faster than they had in the past. The way those three linebackers played made our jobs a little easier. From a production standpoint, we were down a little bit from where we were. But in terms in changing plays and making things happen, and putting guys in position to make plays they did a better job. A very disciplined group that had very few mental errors, and no effort errors. They played hard and did things right. I'm very pleased, but I think we just scratched the surface in terms what we can be here defensively."

DD: With the question marks that were surrounding the unit coming into the 2004 season, did you feel a great sense of satisfaction, maybe even validation for what this group has achieved?

TM: "I think what we have proven is that we have a group of guys, from top to bottom, that aren't afraid to be blue collar and overachiever type of players. Did I achieve some personal satisfaction from it? Winning nine games, with two 265-pound tackles – you bet. But the thing I will tell you is that you can't measure the heart of a man. The guys that I had the opportunity to coach, especially those five seniors – I'm very proud of the legacy they left in our program and the foundation they built in terms of being disciplined and really understanding the team game."

DD: When you talk about legacy, can you expand on the contributions that Jimmy Verdon and Ishmael Thrower had in 2004?

TM: "Jimmy made a huge sacrifice for our football team last year. If you had to actually go back and read through Jimmy's story, most guys probably wouldn't believe it. It does prove what kind of player he is. He isn't into anything but winning. Whatever it takes to win, he's willing to do. Having a guy that started close to 30 football games at defensive end, and ask him in his senior season to move to the three-technique – a lot of people would tell you to take a hike. Jimmy wants to win and knew what was best for our football team, and that was to make that move. I think having our young guys see a proven veteran player and respected player in our league make that sacrifice will help us long term."

"Ishmael is a guy that thank goodness when we got him he got that redshirt year – it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He did some things on junior college film that we didn't have a player on our team could do. I showed coach Koetter one play, and that was Ishmael batting a screen pass, and the guy still caught it, and Ishmael chased him down on the opposite hash mark for about 45 yards down field. He had the extra year to feel comfortable in the system and gain some weight. He is a guy that's going to be the steadying force on your defensive line and we needed one of those. He served that purpose very well."

DD: When you look at Jordan Hill, he may be the most surprising player on defense, with his successful transition from linebacker to defensive tackle. How would you rate his production in 2004?

TM: "The thing you can't forget is that Jordan was a good football player before he moved to defensive tackle. What we did, we gave him an opportunity to go from being an average athlete to an exceptional athlete. If you had to define a football player – Jordan Hill is that guy. Tough, smart, willing to do everything you ask of him. I wasn't surprised because Jordan is a guy that every day last spring wanted to stay after and work on something. Surprised? No. Very pleased? Yes. And that guy is just scratching the surface on how good he can be. At 265 pounds he was really good at some things and not so good at others. At 280 pounds or more, they'll be a lot of things that he wasn't so good at that he'll be able to improve in a hurry."

DD: As far as Kyle Caldwell goes, how would you evaluate his 2004 performance and is he poised for that breakout season many are expecting him to have?

TM: "We hope so, and our job right now is to get Kyle to take the next step. He's come a thousand miles from where he started, and that's not to say anything negative about what he had done before he got here. His billing coming in here was probably too much. There's was an awful lot of expectations on a young kid, and to play at this level you have to have a certain skill set. He didn't have that skill set, he's developing it, improving with very season – not only during the regular season, but also in the spring and winter. What we have to get done with Kyle is get passed those little nagging things that keep him from performing."

DD: Taking a look at the two JC transfers from last year, Quency Darley and Dewayne Hollyfield, they probably didn't play as much as you wanted them to. What's your take on their performance last year, as well as their prospects for 2005?

TM: "Both were great contributors. You're right; they both should have played more. But we got into a situation where we would get teams into second and long, third and long, and these guys weren't very good pass rushers. To take a good pass rusher out, and to put in a guy that deserve more reps, to me that doesn't make sense. I want to win games like everyone else. Those guys were great team players for us. I never saw them once with their lip out. They wanted to play more, and I wanted them to play more. But the situation just didn't allow them to be as successful as they needed to be. Both those guys will compete for starting positions in the spring. Darley is certainly a tackle. Hollyfield may be the next Jimmy Verdon, a guy that can play both spots."

DD: Can you talk about the players that played sparingly or redshirted such as Brett Palmer, Wes Evans, David Smith and others?

TM: "Anytime you go into this time of year, and you lose your senior class, you got to hope those young guys that were deeper in the depth chart rise up and progress like they're suppose to. Brett Palmer has enough skill to be a good player for us. Right now, he hasn't shown it to this point, but we're gonna get it out of him. He has some technical things he has to get better at, and that's what spring practice is for, especially for a young guy like Brett. We can't forget that he's only a redshirt freshman."

"Wes Evans has an awful lot of skill. He's fighting a little of a body weight issue right now. He needs to gain his weight back – he was ill during the holidays. I think he'll be able to contribute substantially next season."

"David Smith is a bit of an unknown. When I did get a chance to work with him at fall camp, I saw that he had some intangibles that were really encouraging. It would be nice to see him settle into a position and get into a little of a groove and see how far he can go."

"Mike Talbot has great skills. He's just learning the position, and as a senior hopefully his urgency will pick up and he'll be able to figure it all out and get in there and contribute. Kellen Mills is a player I'm really excited about. He has an unbelievable work ethic, and is putting his body into a position that he will be able to compete."

DD: You mentioned losing five seniors, two of them starters in Verdon and Thrower, do you feel that 2005 will be a season where you build on the existing foundation or with so many players that have limited experience maybe the task will be more like starting from scratch?

TM: "We absolutely won't be starting from scratch. If I didn't feel that way, I don't think I would have a job here very long. We're gonna get it done with the guys that we have and the guys we have coming in. I'm not gonna look at it as rebuilding or retooling. The foundation is being laid, and it's our job as players and coaches to take the next step and start building a house."

DD: What are your goals for the group as a whole as you go into spring practice next month?

TM: "The first thing we need to do is learn the package. We're in a little bit of a transition from Brent (Guy) to Bill (Miller). It's not gonna be completely overhauled, and we're gonna do similar things to what we've always done. When you look at it, all we did is change a name of a player from a year ago from a down safety to a Devil backer. Those concepts will stay the same. But they'll have to learn the new concepts. Second thing they'll have to do is to continue and build on the toughness training we have started. We have to get those young guys caught up as fast as we can and get them ready to compete."

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