DevilsDigest: Coach, let's start by discussing the safeties signed in the 2005 class. What can you tell us about each of the following players?
Zach Catanese: "He's here right now doing a great job in spring workouts. He's doing everything that's is asked of him. He's big guy, and when watched film on him not only does he play great defense, but he also has a good nose for the ball in terms of eye-hand coordination picking up balls. Made a lot of plays on special teams. Has a lot of athletic ability for a big guy. Looks like he'll be a low-maintenance guy. We're gonna find out in the spring what kind of player he is."
Derron Ware: "Another big guy who was highly recruited out of high school. Played his first two years at Michigan State. With the coaching change he decided to leave. Looks good on film, and he obviously played big time college football. When he was here on his visit, you could tell by talking to him that he understands football. He'll be a good veteran guy for us. The key for him is to do a lot of work now back home. He's gonna come here in the summer to work with our guys, so hopefully he comes in shape. He hasn't played football last year, so it's critical for him to work out on his own."
DD: When you look at the 2004 season from a safety perspective, how would you rate this group's performance?
DF: "Number one, in general the defense played much harder and much faster. We cut out a lot from a scheme standpoint, and that helped. The safeties in particular, obviously Riccardo Stewart did an awesome job making first team Pac-10. He's great leader that gives you everything he has, and he'll be greatly missed. Manny (Emmanuel Franklin) had a solid year, and started every game. I was really happy with what he did, and now he needs to expand from that and take over Riccardo's role as the leader. He's real fired up about getting a sixth year of eligibility."
"Josh Barrett played a little bit. He started four games in place of Riccardo. Three of them he played the whole game. He did fine, and will do better next year. Unfortunately he had the shoulder surgery, so he'll be out the second spring in the row. It's the same shoulder that he injured, so that's always a concern. But he's a good player with a lot of range and speed. He can only get better."
"Maurice London didn't play as well as we anticipated. Now that he has been in the program for a year, he needs to step it up. He needs to have a good spring and off-season, so he can finish out with a good senior season."
"Rodney Cox is a guy that played last year as a freshman, and did a real good job. For a walk-on he did an awesome job. He played a lot on special teams and we'll see what he'll do in the spring. From an experience standpoint, he probably has an advantage on the guys that redshirted. But he's still unproven. Other than Manny, all these guys will have to prove themselves in the spring. We're not gonna set a depth chart – they'll all get a lot of reps. We're not gonna wear out Manny, but will wear out the others because we have to find who can play from that group. It will be a very competitive spring."
DD: What kind of void does Stewart leave now both on and off the field?
DF: "He was a guy that knew everyone on the team from incoming freshmen to seniors. He knew their names, what town they are from, what high school, what mascot…he took the time to know everything that was going on in the program. He had a physical presence on the field. Scarifying his body rubbed off on a lot of people. He's guy that played in a lot of pain his four years here. He had a lot of surgeries, he missed a lot of games, but he sacrificed his body every week. Obviously, coaches love those guys. He's definitely gonna be missed."
DD: When you look back at the seamless transition Franklin made from corner to safety, did it surprise how well he played in his first year at this position?
DF: "I was surprised. He's the one that came to us and said he wanted to move. He had some growing pains in his first few years here, and I wasn't all that fired up (smile) to take on some issues he may or may not have. But the time I worked with him he was awesome. He's very enjoyable to coach, hard worker, great enthusiasm, and he's a great leader. I was also surprised, from a physical standpoint, that he was physical as he was. He wasn't known as a physical corner, and obviously he had the brain surgery, so we were hesitant. As a safety, you take on a lot more hitting than a corner. He didn't miss a practice or a game, played on special teams, he was awesome."
"Now, if he wants to get to where he wants to go, and if our teams wants to get to where we want to go, he has to still pick it up a notch. I think he will from all the indications I've seen."
DD: Can you expand on the effect that changing to the 4-3-4 scheme had on the safeties?
DF: "It cut at least half of their techniques. In the other scheme, one of the guys was always a down safety – like a third linebacker in the box. He had to learn all the box run reads, he's also a blitzer, he had to play the curl and the flat. Last year we play with two high safeties, and they all they had to do is play ‘quarters' or ‘halves.' They spent much more time on their specific techniques, and didn't have to cross train. That was the biggest change."
DD: What can you tell us about the players that have redshirted, such as Daniel Varvel and Angelo Fobbs-Valentino?
DF: "Both are long range guys that are good prospects. We also moved Jeremy Payton from wide receiver, and he's another tall guy that's a good prospect. He has great hands, great body control, and a great competition. We'll see how physical he'll be in the spring. Because he played on offense, the defensive coaches got to see him a lot and we like what we saw. Myrio Davis will also move to corner."
DD: What are your goals as whole for the safeties group for next month's spring practice?
DF: "Just like every year, we need to develop more depth. We need more guys that can play. It creates more competition in practice and makes everyone better. Our backup safeties have to be better special teams players. We can't have our starters on all the special teams. So depth and having backups contributing on special teams are our two biggest goals this spring."
Q&A With Coach Dan Fidler
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