DevilsDigest: Coach with spring ball just a couple of weeks old, and with camp Tontozona just three months or so ahead, how would you characterize the state of the team?
Dirk Koetter: I think we're definitely making progress, and like I said before sometimes that progress isn't evident to people on the outside. The depth of where we're at, didn't hit me until late in the season. I didn't realize some of the things that would have to change for us to get this program to where everyone wants it to be. We're going to be extremely young and inexperienced in key areas. But, I still think that we have talent in a lot of areas. Our top players are among the best in their position in the Pac-10. We still through recruiting have to solve our overall depth this year, as it applies across the board. Then again, a lot of the teams have that problem.
DD: Are you pleased with the progress of the team since the end of last season?
DK: I'm pleased with a lot of things. We didn't incur any injuries to anyone during the spring that would require them to miss time in Tontozona. In tangible things you can measure, we got stronger and faster, and more athletic in areas that we needed to. I'm happy with the fact that we improved in our three T's: teamwork, tackling, and turnovers. When you say turnovers, I mean takeaways. We did better in that area, but every time you have a takeaway in spring ball, it's at the expense of your offense. We did OK with turnovers last year, but our defense has to improve in takeaways, and it definitely did this spring.
DD: As the offensive coordinator of the team, how would you assess the team on this side of the ball?
DK: The offense has the furthest to go. If you break the three areas where we are right now, in special teams we're light years away from where we were this time last year. We have a great kicker in Mike Barth, we have a lot of explosive return guys, and we have a lot of good players doing the dirty work in the box like Josh Amobi. Defensively, we're a much better tacking team. We have a lot of players returning from last year. Offensively, at the two positions where you need experience the most, quarterback and offensive line we're inexperienced and that's a concern. There's no way for us to talk our way out of it. The only way to get experience in those areas is to play games. The good news is that nobody is a senior in those positions, so after this season most of these guys we have at least one more year of playing ahead of them.
DD: Deep down, is it frustrating to you that a year later you're still in the same predicament after spring practice not having a clear-cut #1 quarterback?
DK: The difference is that last year, we didn't know which way we were gonna go, and we said that all three quarterbacks would get equal reps in Tontozona. This year we have a depth chart with Chad #1, followed by Andrew and Andy. Chad played his way to being the #1 guy. So, I think we're not in the same predicament that we were last year. We won't make the mistake that we did last year, because we learned from it. It's a lot easier if the players separate themselves, and it's not a decision made by the coaches. You like it to be a clear decision that everyone can tell, and if it's not it's not.
DD: You mention how crucial the offensive line to the success of the offense, and also how inexperienced they are. Do you feel that this group is making strides to be a cohesive quality unit?
DK: Oh yes. We had 8 guys who were over 300 pounds last year, and all of them are now under that mark. A big question mark was how we get our best five players on the field. We had to make changes, and we put our most experienced offensive lineman Regis Crawford at tackle, even though he may be better suited at center or guard. With Tim Fa'aita we hoped that he would grasp the offense, and hold on to his position, and he did that. I should mention that all the five JC guys really make our team better. I couldn't be happier with them. The spring game format hurt the o-line, and Tony Aguilar was hurt, so the line didn't look that good. This is something we'll just have to continue to work at.
DD: Having time to evaluate the level of talent on the team following spring practice, do you expect many of the newcomers this fall not to be redshirted?
DK: It's gonna be very though for a true freshman to come and play right away, no matter what kind of depth chart you have. They're just not that many freshmen that will make an impact on a Pac-10 level. With that said, keep in mind that we have three JC guys coming in. Out of the three, Aaron Austin at tight end and Matt Mason at defensive tackle will make an immediate impact this year. Louis Areyan will be at offensive tackle and out of these three positions, that's the hardest one to learn. If he can get into the mix, so be it. But he has a tough position to learn in a very short period of time. Out of the true freshmen, we may need a little depth at safety, so one of the new safeties could play right away. Terry Richardson at wide receiver and Mike Davis at corner may be good enough not to redshirt. The freshmen that usually don't redshirt are at the skill positions, not the linemen.
DD: Last season was a tough one to say the least, but you said you drew many positives from 2001. What are those building blocks that you talk of?
DK: Our sense of team – playing for each other and for Arizona State University has come a long way. That's something we have to get back. Where we lost that? I'm not exactly sure. From pretty much the Washington game on, our team had deteriorated very quickly. We played a lot of young players last year. Our corners went through baptism under fire. At some point they'll be the strength of our team. R.J. Oliver had a good a spring as anyone out there, along with Terrell Suggs and Josh Amobi. They all really stood out. R.J. was literally going head to head with Shaun McDonald all spring.
DD: When you look at the offensive and defensive performance last year, would it be fair to say that the team's problems lied more with the defense than the offense?
DK: Yes, I would agree with that. But Football is a team game, so you really can't talk about the team like that. In term of execution and raw numbers, we did better on offense. There were games, like Stanford, where we should have scored more points. If you have to win a game 55-54 or 7-6, it doesn't matter - it all counts the same. Even though our defense was criticized heavily after the Stanford game, offensively we had many opportunities to score points that we didn't take advantage of. That goes back to the team aspect. You take a game like Washington, we played well on both sides of the ball and came back to lead after three quarters. But in the fourth quarter both our offense and defense didn't capitalize on their chances to put the game away.
DD: You recently mentioned how you were blindsided by the fact that last year several players on the team didn't buy into the system, and weren't playing for each other or for the school. Was it really a case of the players putting up a front for through the season, or was it a case of you being aware of the fact and choosing not to bring it to the forefront?
DK: By the time I became aware that some of the players weren't buying into the system, it was too late to do anything about it. There was some doubt after the Stanford game, but we came back to beat Oregon St., and we we're 4-2 going in to the Washington game. We could have beaten Washington and be 5-2, and they're were 2-3 teams after Washington we should have beat. Should have, could have…somewhere in those last five games, things started to snowball. There were some things I could have brought to the forefront, but by the time I knew about it but it was beyond the point of no return.
Koetter Speaks Part I
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