Q&A With Coach Grady Stretz

Going into spring practice the defensive line was one group which offered opportunities for newcomers and seldom used players to capture starting roles. However, no one could have predicted some of the personnel moves that took place with the Sun Devils front four. Devils Digest visited with ASU's Defensive Line Coach Grady Stretz to discuss those matters and others.

DevilsDigest: Coach, how would you assess the performance of the defensive line in spring practice?

Grady Stretz:"I think the group made steady progress through out spring practice. Luis Vasquez will be a nice addition and I think you could see his confidence grow as he began to develop the kind of technique you need to have at this level. Athletically, he's gonna be a force for us and I'm very excited for his future."

"Dexter Davis obviously has a lot of experience starting for us last year and he continues to develop and become a solid defensive end for us. Michael Marquardt is going into his senior campaign and I'm expecting big things from him. We're still trying to find out who will step up at the other defensive tackle position."

DD: Speaking of that other defensive tackle position, Saia Falahola was moved in the middle of spring practice from the offensive line and thrown into the fire at a new position. Granted, he hasn't played much there but what are your thoughts about his performance?

GS: "Saia did a nice job. He's a physical presence and a good athlete that can run well. He showed he can make plays, like he did in the spring game. He really did a nice job through out the spring and will obviously continue to compete and give himself a chance to go out there and play a lot of snaps. He hasn't played that position since his sophomore year in high school, so how he continues to develop and learn the position will determine if he has an opportunity to start for us in the future."

DD: This year the team has a new Defensive Coordinator in Coach Craig Bray. How much of an adjustment has it been for the defensive line under his scheme?

GS: "I think it has been a pretty smooth adjustment. Naturally, there are obviously some new things they have to get used to and learn. But point-technique football is point-technique football, where you attack the line of scrimmage and do your best job to penetrate and knocking the O-Line back. Other than that, there's a lot of new terminology. But I have a good conscientious group of guys that have picked everything up quickly and are willing to put in the work to keep up with the pace."

DD: Two players that many thought would have a better spring than they did were Alex Asi (formerly Fa'agai) and Zach Niusulu. Both were coming off redshirt years that they took due to injury. Do you think that their health heavily contributed to the fact that both played on the third team for most of the spring?

GS: "Both of them need to step up their work ethic and understand what it takes to play the position at this level. Both of them have a chance to help us in the future, and a lot of the things are new to them with the new scheme and they also have some new techniques to learn. They do have a foundation underneath them and they understand how everything works. Now it's just about applying themselves and making an effort to improve on a daily basis."

DD: You mentioned Luis Vasquez and how well he played as spring practice progressed. How about the other JC transfer, Eric Tanner, – were you pleased with what you saw from him in the spring?

GS: "Eric did a nice job. He really did improve a lot during the spring and he will continue to compete there on the right side behind Dexter Davis. He'll battle Wes Evans on being a backup there. He's a conscientious kid that's trying to do right and he gives good effort. He's doing a nice job with transition from junior college."

DD: You stated that you want the whole line to step up more as a unit. But between defensive tackle and defensive end is there one group that concerns you more than the other?

GS: "There's a lot of time to be told yet. They'll train over the course of the summer, and after that we'll get into two-a-days where they have a chance to improve themselves on the field. But nothing glaringly jumps out at me with one group over the other. We just have to bring along the new guys that came from junior college or redshirted from last year, and work with guys like Saia who changed positions and make him a player that can play at the Pac-10 level. I think all those guys will step it up during two-a-days."

DD: Granted, it may be early to predict this, but with how the defensive line is shaping up with the current personnel, can you see some of the incoming freshmen making an early impact?

GS: "We'll see. Asking those young players to help us win games is sometimes a lot to ask. But we obviously recruited these guys for a reason and they'll certainly have that opportunity to play right away. It just all depends how quickly they can develop. If they can come in and beat out, for example, a defensive tackle like Michael Marquardt or David Smith, who are listed as the starters and the guys I'm most comfortable with…it shows that they have what it takes to compete. We'll just have to wait and see how it goes."

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