Q&A with Coach Dirk Koetter Part II

In the second and last part of this exclusive DevilsDigest feature, Koetter points out the redshirt freshmen he expects will make their mark this season, the effect that new offensive coordinator Roy Wittke will have on the Sun Devil offense, and the correlation between a successful spring practice and a productive Camp Tontozona.

DevilsDigest: Which redshirt freshmen, on both sides of the ball, do you expect will make an impact in 2006?

Dirk Koetter: "On defense, it will be interesting to see (defensive end) Dexter Davis get his chance in there. The two corners, Grant Crunkleton and Travis Smith. At safety, even though they're not redshirt freshmen, there are four sophomores, Jeremy Payton, Uriah Marshall, Angelo Fobbs-Valentino and Rodney Cox. Rodney Cox and Antone Saulsberry got their medical redshirts approved this week, so they're technically sophomores. Chad Lindsey is a sophomore at linebacker, and the jump for him between how Jamar Williams played as freshman and a sophomore, and Chad will possibly be a starter. "

"On the offensive side, it's more clear cut. You got four redshirt offensive linemen that are foaming at the mouth to break in, but we still have a veteran group. At the O-Line we have Zack Krula, who's still recovering from his ankle and won't be there at all. Stephen Berg is recovering from his shoulder being cleaned up. He will be available but we'll probably pull him out of contact. Andrew Carnahan, because he's a construction management major, we had to make a decision whether he was gonna take a lot of afternoon classes in this spring or next fall – we choose this spring. So, all three won't be in too much this spring and that opens the door for Shawn Lauvao, scout team player of the year, Richard Tuitu'u has had an extremely productive off-season, J.D. Walton is a Grayling Love type of player that will play both tackle and center, and Thomas Altieri who's a true center. We already mentioned the two redshirt freshman, Smith and McGaha – they had nice off-seasons."

DD: Four new assistant coaches have come into the program in the last few months. How have they integrated thus far with the rest of the staff, and what impact does it have on preparing for spring practice when you have so many new faces?

DK: "We have four new full-time coaches and two GA's. Because we haven't practiced quite yet, integrating new coaches into the ASU Coaching philosophy – that's what we have been concentrating on these last couple of weeks. I'll be able to evaluate that (integration) when we start practicing. The thing I like a lot, that I have observed from the off-season, is that all these guys are good teachers, and are energetic and passionate about football. I didn't want to lose any of the four guys we lost and I didn't want to lose our two GA's. But you're gonna have change in college football, especially with what's going on in the NFL with salaries escalating. "

"Sometimes a new energy, and when I say new energy it doesn't mean more energy but new energy, and slightly different teaching and motivating style can be a shot in the arm and be a healthy thing. So, if myself and the other coaches I had involved did a good job picking the right guys to fill these spots, then the change is good. Our basic schemes won't change, but the way some of our groups will coach will change. I'm real happy with the four new coaches, and I'm real happy with the two new GA's."

"Fans don't realize it, but GA's do so much behind the scenes work. Some people think that a GA is a throw away position, something that you give to a former player to reward him for a great career. That's not true. They have to be grinders and tireless workers. They're coaching because they want to learn and eventually move up. Some of our former GA's…Jeff Kopp is now a full-time coach at Utah State. Eddy Zubey just got named the head football coach at Westwood (high school in Mesa), Scott Huff has a full-time job at Boise State. Robby Snelling is an offensive coordinator at Butte junior college. So here come Charlie Ragle and Josh Brown, a little older guys, but I'm real impressed with those guys too."

DD: One of the new assistants is offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke. What has he brought to the offense so far and even though he has to fit the team's offensive philosophy, what may we see different that would be attributed to him?

DK: "The part of what you will see different – initially those things will be pretty subtle. Coach Helfrich and I were together for nine years – the longest tenure I have ever been associated with, either as an assistant or an assistant with me. So what this will do is bring a fresh set of eyes to the quarterback position and that spreads out, with the offensive coordinator title, to a fresh set of eyes on the total offense. Everybody has a tendency to get set in their ways. So here comes Coach Wittke, who has been coaching college football for 20 something years. 13 of those years he was at Eastern Illinois, who was a high-powered I-AA offense. He was at Arkansas for three years, where he wasn't the main shot caller, and coaches quarterbacks. But he got to sit back and observe other ways of doing it, playing against top notch competition."

"What Roy has a done a great job of so far is challenge, in a good way, why we do certain things the way we do. Again, that's a very healthy positive thing, for someone to make me explain why we do certain things on offense."

DD: What are your thoughts on the APR graduation reports, in which the football team had a high score? What are the immediate effects that the state schools will feel in terms of recruiting, scholarships, etc.?

DK: "The APR is here to stay. We came out the best you can come and we didn't lose any scholarships. When teams lose scholarships, and fans look at team X that we're gonna play against that lost scholarships, the selfish side is saying ‘Good. They lost scholarships.' But you are taking away opportunities from kids."

"APR is the long run is a good thing, because it will lead to higher graduation rates. There's a downside, and that is that it will force coaching staffs to get rid of some guys, earlier than they would probably have in past. If a guy isn't being productive on the field, not fitting in chemistry wise with the team, and he's an academic risk – a coaching staff will be much more apt to let that guy go and try something else, than risk him falling below the APR cutoff and costing you a scholarship after he leaves. If a player flunks out after the fall semester, not only do you lose his scholarship for the spring, you lose it for all of the next year. With parity in the Pac-10, you can't afford to give scholarships away."

DD: Do you feel that with an established offense and an above average special teams unit, that the fate of the 2006 season rests on the shoulders of the defense?

DK: "Absolutely. We absolutely have to play better on defense. (defensive coordinator) Coach Miller will be the first one to say that. No one is happy finishing 114th (in the country) – that's just not gonna cut it. Everyone can say that, but how can we fix that? That starts with re-establishing ourselves as being fundamentally sound. We have to figure out which 11 can we trust out there to do the right thing, and who are the best second 11. Whether it was in the pass game or run game – we gave up way too many big plays. We gave up big plays when we played base defense. We gave up big plays when we were blitzing. We gave up big plays when we were playing zone pressure."

"We have to re-examine as coaches, are we trying to ask them to do so much and who are the 11 guys we can trust to do the right thing and make sure that we're fundamentally sound. If we do that, our defensive stats will climb and it will help us win more games."

DD: Lastly, when you look at spring practice – do you view the performance as a prelude to fall camp, especially with so many players being held out for various reasons, and how much can 15 sessions of great spring practice affect Camp Tontozona, if at all?

DK: "That's a good question. So much of college football is confidence. When we were talking about an earlier question…we were very confident early in the season last year, and after a couple of heartbreaking losses we had no confidence – the Stanford game was the epitome of that. But then, as Rudy Carpenter came in, we gained confidence as the season went on. So, I think players gaining confidence in themselves, their teammates and the schemes in spring ball – definitely carries over into the summer and then to Camp T. But we also have to be realistic – the days of having all your guys in spring football are over because of academic responsibilities, needing to heal your body up…so, I think within the integration the new staff, you have to realize that the 90 or so players you have out there – they will be progressing on different levels. It won't always gel perfectly in the spring, nor does it need to."

"But Brandon Smith is a key player for ASU's success, just like Justin Tryon…wherever Rudy Burgess lands, he will help us – we know that. But what we have to figure out is can Jamaal Lewis play wide receiver? Can Brandon Smith take that 4.3 speed and be the home run threat we've been missing since Shaun McDonald? Can Justin Tryon be that shut down corner against the big time receivers in the Pac-10? Those questions will be answered daily, and by the same time all the players that nobody has heard of like Dexter Davis, Shaun DeWitty, Derron Ware moving to linebacker…there will be some guys that really evolve into their roles and some that will fall by the waste side. That's where spring ball really helps you."

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