Q&A with Coach Al Simmons

Playing cornerback in a league such as the Pac-10 isn't an envious task. However, the Sun Devil players at that position held their own, and contributed to the overall defensive effort, that netted a second-place finish in the Pac-10 standings. Devils Digest caught up with their position coach to get his assessment of that unit.

DevilsDigest: How would you assess the cornerbacks' performance in 2006?

Al Simmons: "I'm very pleased with how the corners played, particularly towards the end of the season. Even though we lost one of the last three games, I thought we played pretty well during those three games. We started off OK in the non-conference games, struggled in the first two Pac-10 games, and after that we came around for a while, but had a minor setback against Oregon State."

DD: Justin Tryon was your best player this past season. Can you talk about his play and how impressive it was considering he was a first-year player out of a JC?

AS: "You could tell right away from spring practice and more so in training camp, that he could have an impact. As long as he could stay disciplined technically, I knew he could shut down some receivers. I thought for the most part he did a great job this year."

DD: One player that didn't play that much, but did very well when he was in there was Chris Baloney…

AS: "Unfortunately for Chris he didn't play after the USC game. He did a good job in the first two games, got two interceptions and was progressing quite well and got hurt the second game of the season. He was trying to get through it the next few games, but he couldn't."

DD: Just like last season Keno Walter-White had an up and down year. This year was the same, but he did finish the season stronger than he started it…

AS: "I agree 100% - he was definitely up and down. There was a time where Chris Baloney was beating him out for the starting position, and then Rudy Burgess coming from the offense…but to Keno's credit he persevered and tried to stay positive. I think the last three games of the season were his best. He did finish the season on an upward mote and hopefully he can play that way in the bowl game."

DD: You mentioned Rudy Burgess. How incredible is it that a star offensive player comes into the cornerback role for the first time in his college career and does as well as he did?

AS: "He did some good things for a little while in the spring and in training camp, but I wasn't sure if he was ready to tell you the truth. I thought he preformed better in the game than he did in practice. Maybe I should have stopped coaching him and just let him play (laughs). To his credit he did have recall of all the reps he took in the spring and in training camp and that helped tremendously. When he just relaxed and felt less pressure, he played better. Unfortunately he got hurt in the Washington game and he definitely would have contributed after that game. I hope we have an opportunity to play him on defense one more time."

DD: Do you feel that at the time that opposing offenses were picking on Burgess because of his experience?

AS: "I thought so, and that also happened to Keno a few games. The last three games of the season we played well and I don't think they picked on one more guy than another."

DD: Can you speak about the other corners that seldom played like Grant Crunkleton, Chad Green, Littrele Jones and Travis Smith and their progression?"

AS: "Travis didn't really see a lot of playing time. He did help us out on the scout team. I tried to keep him positive and I know he has a future playing at ASU. All those guys played better as the season progressed, even though their playing time didn't increase at all. The one guy that preformed well every week from the USC game on was Grant Crunkleton, and he's starting to realize what kind of effort and discipline he needs to play with. He's starting to show some confidence. Littrele played better the last few games, and so has Chad. It's a promising group."

DD: Suffice to say that everyone in your position group will be just a little busy when they play Hawaii…

AS: "Their offense is gonna keep the whole defense busy, not just the corners. They have a good group of receivers, and excellent quarterback...fortunately or unfortunately I saw them in person last year when I coached at San Jose State and you could see that their quarterback has a great arm, great mobility. He's very good throwing on the run and shows a lot of poise. We're gonna be ready for them throwing the ball 50 times a game. We gonna have to play a lot of guys in that game, so we can keep everyone fresh."

DD: The Athletic Department decision aside, how would you sum up your first year in Tempe?

AS: "It was pretty gratifying. The resiliency that our players showed was great on both offense and defense. Sometimes kids don't respond if you lose a tough game early, and they responded during the USC game. We knew then what kind of a team we can be the rest of the way. I liked how the kids battled and finish the season with a reward to go to a bowl game. I really enjoyed working with the kids and working with this coaching staff."

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