Q&A with Coach Dan Fidler

In 2006 the safety unit was at the forefront of the dramatic turnaround in ASU's defense. Even with the loss of Zach Catanese, this defensive group shouldn't lose a step in the future. In this exclusive DevilsDigest interview we sat down with the Sun Devils' safeties coach to look back at the performance of his group of players.

DevilsDigest: Coach, the defense improved leaps and bounds from last year and the safeties were a big part of that. When you look at your group as a whole, how would you assess the safeties' play in 2006?

Dan Fidler: "In terms of the defense overall, the biggest difference to me from last year was that everyone was much more assignment oriented and team oriented. Guys stayed in their gaps…we played with a lot of young guys and they bought into the system. The defensive linemen and linebackers fit the gaps like they were supposed to and that made it easier for my guys. That's the biggest thing I noticed from day one. As a defense we played hard, believed in each other and never gave up. We had some slip ups here and there, but for the most part we did get better every week."

"From a safety standpoint, you start with both Zach (Catanese) and Josh (Barrett) and they both had very good years. The best combination of safeties I had since I've been at ASU. Both are very bright, hard workers on and off the field. They're low maintenance, actually no maintenance, type of players. Ryan McFoy has done an awesome job and has a great future. He's a big time player. Jeremy Payton got better as the year went on. We were four-deep for the first time since I've been here. It's just been a charm for me and one of funnest years of coaching. The players were so easy to coach this year."

DD: You talk about Zach Catanese and Josh Barrett and the fine season they both had. What in specific did each of them bring to the table in 2006?

DF: "Zach is an extremely versatile player. He can do so many things for you: play linebacker so he can play on tight ends at the line of scrimmage or blitz, he can play in the box as a linebacker…he hardly makes any mental errors. On special teams he can do just about everything."

"Josh Barrett is a phenomenal athletic specimen. The fastest player on the team at 225 pounds. He's very smart and also a player that can do so many different things. He can cover both in man and zone defense because he has the great make-up speed that most guys don't have. This is the first year I really had two safeties that could do just about everything. Josh could play corner, you could play him anywhere you want on special teams, and he's a great blizter."

DD: There was much anticipation for the arrival of true freshman Ryan McFoy and delivered right away. What's your take on the season he had and were you surprised at the immediate impact he made in his first year?

DF: "He's very football savvy, very tough…just a good football player that played a lot of football with his brother (USC's Chris McFoy) from a young age. He's physical, a good tackler, and has a nasty streak in him."

"We were hoping that what we saw on tape when we recruited him…that he could do in games. You hope that for every player, but we had real high hopes for him. I guess I'm a little surprised at any freshman that can come in and contribute that much. We played a lot of nickel, so he was practically half the game on the field. We consider him as a starter. He kept on playing better every week."

DD: You talk about playing a lot of nickel defense with McFoy on the field. Did you find yourself perhaps playing more nickel this season than last?

DF: "The nickel is always predicated on what kind of offense we face. If we see a two-back team, we're more in base personnel, and if we see a one-back team we're more in nickel. The one thing we did do this year, because of our safety group – we played a lot more dime with four safeties. When we went to dime Zach or Josh were playing at linebacker. Again with all the versatility we had, it gave us the flexibility to play four safeties."

DD: You mentioned Jeremy Payton. Can you speak a little of his development and his overall play this year?

DF: "When you expect to be the next guy in and you're not (because of the emergence of McFoy) you have a little setback. But he fought through that setback and kept on getting better. He has a great work ethic and attitude. He can cover people very well, and when we went to dime he was more the cover safety. We rotated him at nickel too. He just shouldn't be satisfied in playing nickel and work on being a more complete player, which will get him on the field a lot more."

DD: Can you talk about some of the safeties that either redshirted or seldom played like Troy Nolan, Angelo Fobbs-Valentino, etc?

DF: "Troy was hurt in the spring and I could tell he wasn't ready in fall camp – his rehab just took longer then expected. He's been on the scout team, but he's a good tough player and a good tackler. Angelo started contributing to us on special teams which was good to see. He needs to keep developing so he can be more in the rotation, but he did a good job when he was in there playing. Rodney also needs to develop more as a player."

DD: When you look at your bowl opponent Hawaii, you probably see a team that not only passes the ball so well but also has a solid running game. What kind of challenges can this team pose to the safety group?

DF: "Obviously they have a great quarterback and passing scheme and that's gonna be our number one challenge. We know they'll get some yards and we have to make sure that they earn all them and not get too many yards after a catch. We need to force then into bad plays and turnovers, but they'll be able to move the football because they have moved the football on everyone this year. We just need to tackle well, not give up big plays and when we do get out hands on the ball take advantage of it. Our top four safeties will definitely see a lot of playing time, so they should be excited for the opportunity to go up against this team."

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