Coach Guy Pleased With Spring Defense

After a rough 2001 campaign, the fruits of defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Guy are starting to show. The Sun Devil defense is on a mission to erase the memories of last season, and if spring is any indication this goal is well within reach. In this interview Coach Guy talks assess the defense's performance, and offers his thoughts on its key players.

DevilsDigest: Now that you had time to digest and evaluate all that transpired in spring practice, what's your take on the defense's performance?

Brent Guy: "I think we improved, as you saw in the last spring game. Even though the team was divided up much differently that it normally does, we did play well. We're really pleased with all the three junior college transfers. All of them are really gonna impact our defense. We have a lot of second year players, who are now more confident with their abilities, and know much better this time around what they have to do."

DD: The format of spring practice drew a lot of negatives along with positives. Some may say it painted an unrealistic picture of the team. Where do you stand on this issue?

BG: "I do agree that they were both positives and negatives. It does create an excitement for the players, and that was a great positive. The hard thing was that because we're so thin in some areas, some kids had to play all the time. That created some protection issues, and it wasn't fair for the quarterbacks who didn't always have time to throw the ball. But because the format created some much excitement for the kids, we'll probably do it in the future."

DD: If you broke down all four defensive units, what would you be your assessment on each of them? Which players stood out in each group?

BG: "On the defensive line you obviously have to start with Terrell Suggs. He continues to learn to be a better pass rusher, and he will get better each and every game. Jimmy Verdon missed the first half of spring with an injury, but he'll see a lot of playing time. He played quite a bit last year as a redshirt freshman, and he's at a point where he will really start and contribute to the program. We're excited about him. Shane Jones really stood out too. We hope that Massianni will come back this fall to help us out."

"At linebacker we have the same three guys who played most of the snaps a year ago. Josh Amobi was just outstanding all spring. He's very athletic, and makes plays both inside and outside. Mason Unck and Solomon Bates are both intelligent players who played a lot of snaps for us, and will play a lot next year. Ishmael Thrower hasn't played much at linebacker in junior college, but he's very athletic and excellent tackler in the open field. He will be able to help us more once he learns to read and react better at linebacker. He has very good pass rush skills. Another player that played well in the spring was Bart Hammit. He didn't play much at linebacker last year, but he runs well. He makes a lot of good plays, and we're excited about him. We have a five good players here at linebacker. I should mention Connor Banks who played linebacker last year, and will play defensive end this year. He did a good job there in the spring."

"Williams and Shivers are back at safety and playing well. As I mentioned, Brett Hudson is player that will help us out a lot at safety. Riccardo Stewart is another player who will contribute a lot. He has the ability to play all safety positions. He's a very exciting guy and fun to coach. He and Terrell like to practice the most on our squad. He had a great spring for us."

"At cornerback we get back all the guys who were freshmen for us last year. R.J. Oliver played great. Emmanuel Franklin was OK. We were real disappointed in Lamar Baker, because he had nagging injuries. He just couldn't get enough work, and learn new things. O.J. Hackett had a nice spring too."

DD: You mention Josh Amobi who had an unbelievable spring practice. Why do you think that only now is he materializing his potential?

BG: "I think that just like a lot of other players on defense he was conditioned to play a certain way. It takes time to learn to read and react to a new system. He's just more confident now, and has improved his strength a lot. He's finally come into his own. He's a guy that hadn't redshirted, and I wish we could have him another year. He's a big play guy, and we're expecting a lot from him."

DD: When we asked you a while ago about Solomon Bates and what he was doing to improve himself with the weight conditioning he was going through, you said that you wanted to see how that would translate in to the field. Now that he's not a starter, after being one for most of last season, what's your take on his play?

BG: "Bates didn't start the last two games last year, so he knows that. He had a great spring, and he has changed his body. I think that he'll continue to lose weight in the summer, and we'll monitor that. If you have all that weight, you just can't run that fast. It's that simple. We've talked about that a lot. His senior season means a lot to him, and he wants to be in the best shape possible when camp T starts."

DD: Terrell Suggs said that he didn't think that the defense bought into the 4-2-5 system last year. This year, he said that it's different and that players are putting away their ego for the good of the team. Have you noticed the change that he's talking about?

BG: "The defense is playing faster and with more confidence. That's why the players feel better about what they're doing. The three things we wanted to emphasize this year were the three T's: Tackling, Turnovers, and Teamwork. That's what we taught everyday. We told the players that it doesn't matter who makes a play, it's just a matter of making the play and getting off the field. That's one of the things that we tried to do this spring, and we graded the players on those three T's."

"I don't know about buying in to the system or not. We had some things that happened to us that created some doubt...when we played San Diego State we held them to 190 total yards – so I have no doubt that the guys bought in to the system. We got some guys in a situations, where it was hard for them to make plays. We had 131 missed tackles last year, and these are the things that caused the most problems for us. I did a study for the last five years, and I found out that every missed tackle averages to an eight-yard gain. That means that you pretty much give up a first down every time you miss a tackle. We tried to emphasize that we're in positions to make plays, but we have to execute. Once guys see and understand that, we'll be better. Every guy will get chance to make a play, so we have to make sure that they execute when give the opportunity."

DD: With all the improvement that the defense has shown in the spring, do you anticipate less teaching and more implementing in Camp T?

BG: "We always start camp by teaching. We didn't teach everything in the spring. We still have some things in our package that we didn't want to emphasize in the spring, but we will in camp T. They are plays that we don't do often, and it just doesn't make sense to call them up during 15 spring practices. The biggest thing in Camp T is that everything goes so much faster, so we hope that they have a good grasp now so they can recall those things later. We're gonna face the option in our first game (against Nebraska), so we have to do things in camp T to prepare us for that. But I think we're doing well right now, and I look forward to getting even better at camp T."

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