Q&A With Coach Grady Stretz

In terms of losing quality players from last year, no position on defense took a greater hit than the defensive line. Nonetheless, the players waiting in the wings, as well as newcomers should more than compensate for this perceived deficiency. In this exclusive Devils Digest interview we caught up with Defensive Line Coach Grady Stretz to talk about how the position in shaping up for 2007.

DevilsDigest: Coach, what can you tell us about the defensive linemen signed in the 2007 recruiting class?

Grady Stretz: James Brooks – "James is an extremely athletic defensive end. He's an Arizona guy from Flagstaff, so he's a local guy which we're obviously thrilled to death to have. He has unlimited potential. He's excited to come here and has family here which is good. He's one of those young men that has a lot of god-given ability, and already has the frame and size coming out of high school. He may have an opportunity to contribute early, but like with any young player we'll have to develop him and get him technically sound. We're very excited to have him onboard."

Jonathan English – "His situation was unique because his team went real deep into the playoffs, and he wasn't heavily recruited until January. Through his coaches' structure there no (college) coaches were able to take visits until then. We were able to get him to visit here on a weekend where some other schools wanted him to visit as well. It was a battle down to the end, but he just loved his trip and committed a few days after. Being from the New Orleans area he's been through a lot lately and has overcome a lot of adversity in his life. He comes from a tremendous program and is an extremely talented young man who's explosive, very strong in the weight room and very hard working. He's the type of defensive tackle that we like to recruit and have here in the future. We have to trim him a little bit, but he plays basketball and is a very active kid."

Bo Moos – "A very athletic player well. I keep on saying that, but you'll hear me say that about the whole class. He's a guy that can run sideline to sideline, be physical, and he's 6-1 close to 300 pounds with a real good frame. When you watch him on film he has a high motor, and chases down the football. We learned talking to the people around him and the research we did in the recruiting process that he's a very coachable kid. I think he'll be a nice addition for us."

Eric Tanner – "It's obviously great to get a few mid-year transfers, especially at defensive end where you're a little thin. So having Eric here is great. He has legit 4.5 speed, which is hard to come by for players that are 255-260 pounds. He has a lot of explosion to him and got a real good gear. He's new to the position – didn't play defensive end until he got to junior college and only played a couple of years in high school. He's still a little raw and will have some learning to do, but athletically we need to get some people to rush up field and once we get him locked up with some technique, he'll have a lot of potential to be good out there."

Luis Vasquez – "He has tremendous work ethic and is extremely productive. I'm really thrilled to have him on board. It was a real recruiting battle with him. He had numerous offers, and was always intrigued with Arizona State. We were able to keep a relationship with him over a period of time. He's here doing everything we thought he'd do. Our strength coach Joe Kenn is very impressed with him, as is the rest of the staff. He's a good athlete, who's polished and has a great understanding of the game. Being one year at Purdue, and two years at a community college he brings a lot of experience and knows what it's all about."

DD: Losing two starters from last year's team in Jordan Hill and Kyle Caldwell, you probably need to rely on a lot of players who haven't had a lot of Pac-10 experience. Can you talk about how those players will fit into the rotation?

GS: "There's certainly a transition there. We are getting some players who are coming back and have a good grasp of what we're looking for. They have a good foundation and understanding of the scheme and we have a fair amount of carryover. You just try to replace the players that left you with athleticism and speed, and I think we've done that but time will tell obviously. So the experience factor worries you, but athletically will be better top to bottom. A few of the new players will compete as heck for a starting job. They're gonna start battling it out in the spring and I'm intrigued to see how it all unfolds."

DD: Alex Fa'agai and Zach Niusulu redshirted due to injury. How healthy are they right now going into the spring?

GS: "Zach has been cleared to do everything, and continues to progress getting stronger from a shoulder surgery. The shoulder doesn't seem to be hampering him, and it will be interesting to see how it holds us when we're in pads. Alex is 100%. He got up to 310 pounds, and he's down to 290. He's done a great job getting back in shape since he's been cleared the last three months. I've been real pleased with his progress and commitment doing the things he needs to do to go out there and compete for a starting job."

DD: "How huge is it for you as a coach getting an experienced senior like Michael Marquardt who was such a vital part of this position last year?

GS: "That's a real blessing. He's one of the better tackles in the conference, and like you said has a lot of experience and is physical. He's active, plays hard and is an intelligent young man that doesn't make a lot of mistakes. His knowledge of being around the program a few years will play big dividends. We have a lot of new and young players at defensive tackle and Michael knows that I need his help to bring along those guys in a rapid pace."

DD: Are they some key goals that you would like the group to achieve in spring practice?

GS: "Right now the bottom line with a new scheme and a new coaching staff, we just need to target playing extremely fast and being active. The discipline element of the foundation has been laid, but again when you bring in a new coaching staff and some people are stepping into roles that were vacated by people by graduating, you have to make sure that they grasp the new system fast."

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