Q&A With Coach Grady Stretz

During the 2008 season the defensive line was, relatively speaking, one of the brighter spots on the ASU team. The latest recruiting class has infused even more talent to this unit. In this Devils Digest exclusive interview Sun Devil defensive line coach Grady Stretz reviews his position's performance last season, talks about the newcomers to his group and recruiting in the state of Arizona.

DevilsDigest: Coach, let's start by talking about the four new defensive linemen added to the team in the 2009 class.

Grady Stretz: Corey Adams – "Corey is one of the few young men that comes out of high school and most people think that he has been in the (college) program for quite a few years. He has a great frame, extremely athletic and strong. I spent a lot of time watching him and other players at Saguaro (high school) and I'm impressed with his personality.

"I'm very anxious to get started working with him. He has a ton of upside and just like all players making the transition from high school to college there's a lot of technical work that he needs to put in to get him ready to play. But he has the physical abilities and attributes you're looking for in a young man coming out of high school and we're extremely happy to have him on board."

Dean DeLeone - "Dean is a really good athlete and has been out of high school for a while. So first and foremost I'm excited about his athleticism that he will bring to the field, but I'm also excited about his maturity and I know that he'll be extremely coachable. He looks like he's been living in the weight room for a while, and with his dad having played in the NFL he knows the amount of work he needs to put in. He's very eager to play here and we were able to have him come here instead of Oregon at the 11th hour.

"He runs extraordinary well for a defensive end. It will be a little different once we get him out there in pads in the spring, but he has some speed. The change of pace will be a challenge, but I think he will be able to surprise people. He's a late bloomer, and he has a sense of urgency because he knows he has a two-year window and we obviously brought him in from junior college so he can play right away."

Greg Smith – "I continue to mention this with all the incoming defensive linemen, he's another very athletic player. He's very explosive, and has a real good get-off and changes direction very well. He played a lot of different positions in high school. Everyone by now is aware of his background and the tough upbringing he had, and the kid had stayed focused throughout all of this and I'm very proud of him doing so despite everything he has been through. He has a lot of development to do when he gets here, but he's another kid that has a ton of upside to him and hopefully he's a diamond in the rough."

Will Sutton – "Will is a heck of a high school football player. He's the kind of guy where you turn on game film and he's there making a ton of plays and there's something to be said for that obviously. He runs well and he's the type of defensive tackle we have been looking for. He's going to be a guy that will be very productive before it's all said and done. He comes from a great program (Corona Centennial) and obviously has a lot of teammates here that will help him adjust fairly quick. He has a chance to come in and get some things done early."

DD: The 2008 season was obviously a rough one for all position groups, but it seems that the defensive line under the circumstances played well at times…

GS: "Well, we're obviously disappointed that we didn't go out there, dominate and win games. So we know we have to do a better job technique wise and executing. I think we have a good group that worked very hard. For the most part we were blessed and were pretty healthy. We pretty much ran a four-man rush for most of the season. We didn't get enough pressure, which we obviously hope to get more of this year.

"We'll expand and elaborate in the spring as the personnel develops here in the program and we get the right guys out there doing what we need to do and being effective at that. But again, we have a good group of guys that worked hard and I think did a solid job. I'm encouraged in the direction we're headed in."

DD: Dexter Davis had another solid season as one of the sack leaders in the conference…

GS: "Dexter is technically very sound. He's a guy that continues to be focused on developing, and he is putting a lot of extra time in the weight room now. I think he realizes that his college career will be over before he knows it and he has that sense of urgency. So he has been adamant putting the weight on, being more physical at the point of attack, and also continue to be as polished of a football player as he can. He's been a great player year in and year out and I have high expectations for him."

DD:As a senior to-be. Have you been impressed with his leadership skills?

GS: "He's coming along as a leader. As we mentioned and discussed in the past, he's not a verbal kid. But work ethic, especially right now in the weight room, in conditioning drills, he's doing the right things and has certainly stepped into that leadership role."

DD:It's one thing to come out of high school with a lot of accolades, as defensive tackle Lawrence Guy did, but it's another thing to live up to those expectations as a true freshman. How pleased have you been with his production, especially in the late part of the season?

GS: "It's hard sometimes to bring in a true freshman at defensive tackle and have him play well right away. But he's a gifted kid and as the season went on he kept on getting better and better. As a freshman he was a lot further ahead than we maybe expected him to be. He's still has a lot of developing to do, learns a lot of fundamentals and technique, but he was able to make plays, and be fairly physical. We'll just continue to have him improve in the off-season and stay focused, and as long as he does that he'll be fine. I'm pleased with the direction he is heading in."

DD: You've always talked about James Brooks as a guy that has a ton of potential that just has to put it all together. Do you think he improved in 2008 from the year before?

GS: "At the end of the season he did put a lot of things together and he has a lot of good things ahead of him coming up this season. For James to be the type of player we envisioned him to be, he's getting very close. He did work very hard in every practice, and we started to see some of the carryover take place towards the end of the season. He was rotating with Luis (Vasquez) and Luis was a senior, but James still played a decent amount. I'm excited about James."

DD:Another underclassmen who played well last season was Jonathan English, who unfortunately wasn't able to finish the season because of a knee injury…

GS: "That was tough. He had his ups and downs during the season, but he persevered and kept on battling and started to play a very decent amount. Next thing you know he's running 40 yards down the field to tackle a player and tears his ACL.

"He has dealt with a lot of adversity in his life, and I know he'll stay focused. He's already doing above and beyond the call of duty to get himself ready and get back on the field. It's gonna be a long haul and it's an extremely tough position to have an ACL surgery and be able to bounce back from, with the pounding that he and the rest of the defensive line takes. But he has the right attitude and work ethic and it will be interesting to see how quick he makes it back."

DD:Can you touch a on the players that redshirted, Zeb Togiai, Toa Tuitea and Otis Jones and how they came along on the scout team?

GS: "Zeb and Toa came along very well. Zeb is very athletic and there are things we continue to work with him from a discipline and intensity standpoint, but he has progressed and I like what he brings to the table athletically. Toa has a tremendous work ethic and has a lot of ability. He reminds me of Luis Vasquez if we had him here as a freshman. He's extremely smart, coachable and pays attention to detail. He played some tight end on the scout because we needed help there and he'll do anything you ask of him. But we need him at defensive end depth wise and we need to get him going early there in the spring and see where he is and get him ready to go.

"Otis has a chance to go in there and be one of the two starting tackles next year, as well as some other new guys and other returning players. He's physically very gifted and doing a great job in the weight room. All three guys that redshirted are doing very well and we'll see how they do in the spring. It's going to be great competition. "

DD:When you look at all the players returning and those joining the team later this year, who it be fair to say that the depth at tackle is better than it is at end?

GS: "I think we'll be young at defensive tackle, but with all due respect to the guys that have coached since I've been here, we have great talent there and I'm very excited to coach that group. Athletically we're much improved than we were a couple of years ago. It's a good amount of depth, just not a whole lot of experience.

"At end we have Dexter and James, and having Dean here is a real gift. So when you add them to Jamaar Jarrett who played here last year, along with Toa, Jamarr Robinson and Greg Smith as a freshman we'll see how it goes."

DD:As being one of the main in-state recruiters in the program, are you pleased with the Arizona players signed in this class especially after a 5-7 season, and was it hard to convince players in your backyard that ASU was the place for them?

GS: "I don't think the 5-7 (record) was too much of a factor. We head an opportunity to start on those guys early on and being here a couple of years as a staff, we have established relationships. A lot of these young men were around here when we were 10-3 two years ago. So they've seen the program inside and out, seen the facilities, the academic opportunities and have been indoctrinated into the program through our recruiting efforts. We are really excited about the ones we got, and as Coach Erickson always says you can't worry about the ones that you don't have."

DD: Going into spring practice next month, what are your expectations from this group?

GS: "As we go through spring I'm looking for players to develop. We have a decent amount of experience there, but there's also a lot of talent and inexperience. So there's a lot of work cut out for us. We're young, but athletically we're an exciting group. I think we'll get the job done with what we have and be a strong group upfront. "

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