Matt Lubick: "He's a guy that committed to us early. I had a chance to coach him in our camp and I loved how he performed. He played running back in high school, but had adjusted very well to the safety position and did a lot of things naturally. Has great size and speed, and is a tremendous athlete."
"Another thing that's really exciting about him is that he's very smart. He's a 4.0 student who learns very fast and has a great work ethic."
DD: And the other safety signed, Matt Tucker, is already on campus…
ML: "He's very similar to Shane and both have the prototypical size you want in a safety. They're both 6-2 plus, can run, and have a great frame where they can put on more weight. Matt is doing great here in his first semester, and he had adjusted to everything very well. In our conditioning drills we can see that he's not afraid to compete. He also learns real fast."
"Both guys are very hungry and both of them are really going to have an opportunity to be in the lineup this fall."
DD: When you currently look at the safeties group , how would you evaluate that unit?
ML: "Very talented, but unproven. The biggest knock on the group is inexperience, which is out of their control. But they're working very hard, are eager to learn, and as a coach that's all I can ask for. By no means are any of those guys where we want them to be. It's just a matter of them getting reps and they'll continue to get better. "
DD: Wanted to touch on some of the returning players, starting with Jarrell Holman. He's a player that perhaps went through a rough transition as a JC transfer but in some aspects was a late bloomer and was starting to put things together last year…
ML: "Yes, he did do some good things when he had the opportunity to play. He needs to become more consistent. He realizes that he has to become more physical. He's a very intelligent football player, as far as recognizing sets and formations and reacting to them. He's a guy that we're counting on to help us this fall."
DD: Clint Floyd was one player that perhaps was a surprise to not redshirt, especially because he played at a position that he wasn't projected to be in. When he did find his niche at safety, he made the most of his playing time…
ML: "He's a player that practiced very well, learns very well, competes hard, and does a good job in man coverage. He's very physical too. The thing with him is that he's young and the safety position is pretty new for him. He played all over the place in high school, and he was able to pick up things well and a lot of things came natural to him."
"It was unfortunate last year when he got hurt, because he was really starting to come on and get playing time. It was a slow process healing from the bruised kidneys. He was really becoming a starter for us. But he's now 100% healthy and ready to go. "
DD: You talk about unfortunate injuries derailing progress, and Max Tabach is another player you can probably throw into that category. As he recovers from his knee injury are you optimistic about his future?
ML: "Yes. He's another guy that needs experience. He's pretty much like a freshman, even though he played one year at a junior college. He got some reps, and he's going to get better. He did good things when he was in there, and is another player that needs to become more consistent. He has a good attitude, athletic ability, and sees things well. My challenge to him, and all of the safeties, is that we have to become a more physical group."
DD: One player that I know a lot of people are excited to see at safety is Keelan Johnson. He's extremely athletic, and you can probably make the argument that if he started fall camp at safety rather than wide receiver, that he wouldn't have redshirted his freshman year. Do you also share that optimism about him?
ML: "I'm pretty confident that if he started out for us at safety that he would have played. But to his credit, he's very unselfish. He used to play wideout at high school, and is a pretty good receiver. But he felt that he could help our football team more at safety and that's an unselfish thing to do. His decision to move to safety was more about helping the football team, than his own personal goals. Has a tremendous upside, picks things up real fast and is very self-motivated. He's in here watching film all the time. He's been awesome in practice and you can see that he can be a special player for us."
DD: As you enter spring practice next month, what are your overall goals for the safety group?
ML: "Like I said earlier, become a more physical group than we were last year. Develop more confidence and understanding of what we're trying to get across, so they can play fast and showcase their athletic abilities."
DD: Shifting to recruiting, when Coach Erickson talked about the latest class, he said that even though it may not be ranked as high as the previous group, he feels just as good about the 2009 class as he did about the 2008 one. As somebody that obviously has been heavily involved in the recruiting process, do you feel that this group has a lot of what some may call ‘diamonds in the rough' players?
ML: "You never know until a year or two down the road how good your class is going to be. It's an inexact science. You obviously do a lot of evaluation on the players, but you never know until they get here how they're going to do."
"I've never met a coach who said that he's been unhappy with the players he has signed. So, we're excited about these guys. One thing that we have bought in with Coach Erickson is that we're not concerned with the recruiting rankings. If they're good, then it's obviously good publicity for the program. But our philosophy is that we're not concerned about the players we lost to other schools. We want to make sure that the players we do get are good football players."
"Coach Erickson has made a living (for example) with the success he had at Oregon State, with recruiting classes that were not ranked highly. We had players in those classes that weren't four or five stars and now play in the NFL. We try to be thorough in our evaluation process; we see how they fit in our team and our system. We felt that this year we got a lot of players that fit our team, our chemistry, our system offensively and defensively. We think we have players in this class that will help us this year."
DD: When you were on the recruiting trail, did you face challenges that you didn't face the year before because of the team's 5-7 season record?
ML: "To be honest, not really. This year, we had more early commitments than we ever had here. When guys commit to you before the season, that's one of the biggest challenges in recruiting - make sure those guys are still coming to your team. It's a tribute to those players who showed a lot of loyalty and the outcome of our season didn't even faze them. We haven't lost even one committed guy."
"I do think it obviously helps when you do have a good season. Kids want to be part of something special, but they also understand the circumstances. So to me, the 5-7 season didn't affect our recruiting."
DD: The recruitment of five-star linebacker Vontaze Burfict was naturally well-publicized. As someone that was involved in every step of the process, would you agree that his recruitment was the most challenging process you ever encountered with any player you pursued?
ML: "Yes, because whenever you go after a player who so sought after it's always very challenging. Anytime a kid from Southern California has ties to USC, grows up as a USC fan and ends up committing to USC, it's always a challenge to try and have him keep an open mind and give you a legitimate shot."
DD: Can you talk about the positive implications tied into Burfict's signing with ASU as far as building a pipeline to Corona Centennial, one of the top programs in the state of California?
ML: "The guys on our team from Corona Centennial were obviously major factors, and made Vontaze comfortable about coming here. It's not just that they are here, but also that they're doing well in all aspects on and off the field. They have been more successfully academically at ASU than they have been in high school, and all those guys played as freshmen. "
"Our best ambassadors of our school are our players. So if we have players that Vontaze has a personal relationship with and trusts, and those players have found success here, that's the best pipeline we can have."
"Another neat thing about getting players from schools like Centennial, (Chandler) Hamilton, Tesoro (Calif.) is that they come from winning programs. They have great practice habits, they know what it takes to win, they're hungry to win and all that rubs off to other guys."
DD: It's obviously very easy to be impressed by Burfict's highlight tapes, but what skills and attributes in specific does he bring to the table?
ML: "He has been one the most dominant players in California since he's been a junior. He's a tremendous athlete at 6-3 245 and runs a 4.5, and those numbers are real uncommon. He's above the norm in every aspect of the size/speed ratio. On film, he stands out every single football game. He dominates every single game and is a tremendous competitor."
"A big testament to him is that when he went to all these All-Star games, playing with the elite high school players in the country, he stood out amongst them. He dominated that competition too. The Hamilton head coach, Steve Belles, coached the linebackers at the U.S. Army All-Star game and he said that Vontaze was a man amongst boys there."
DD: As someone who has had a lot of success as a recruiter the last several years, what do you think makes a coach a good recruiter?
ML: "It's hard work, but the one thing about recruiting is that it's never one coach, it's a team effort. Each and every coach gets involved in the recruiting process. The thing that helps us is that we got a real team oriented, non-ego recruiting staff. Everyone is out there to help each other. We do a good job in getting the whole staff involved."
"I think that a lot of the accolades I get are unfair, because it's not just me recruiting the players. It's the whole staff that's involved in the recruiting process."
DD: What general recruiting challenges do coaches face today that they didn't deal with let's say eight, ten years ago?
ML: "I don't think it has really changed in terms of the circumstances, demographics, players' families…the only thing that has really changed in the last ten years is the Internet. It has become a lot more involved in recruiting, and with that the exposure that recruits get it lets you keep up with what's going on with them. We use the Internet as a resource, but at the same time it doesn't play a part in the evaluation process."