DevilsDigest: Coach, can you talk about the three linebackers signed in this recruiting class?
Brent Guy: "Justin Burks played in the same high school district as (ASU running back) Mike Williams, so we knew a lot about him through Mike. That helped a lot. He's very strong; good blitzer on film, which I like, and just has good Football instincts. He's a guy that makes a lot of plays. It's sometimes hard for guys to come in and learn the system, and that's why it's critical that we got him for 15 spring practices. We hope that by Camp T he has a chance to run the system like the rest of the guys."
"Mark Washington is physically 245 pounds. He's in great condition and very strong. The only thing that will hold him back is how fast he can learn the system. He's gonna be very competitive for us."
"De'Andre Johnson physically is challenged right now. He's just not in good shape. It will be the hardest on him to be physically in shape, and when you try to catch up physically it's hard to do the mental catch up too. All three fit the system and the things we try to do. We're excited not only because they're all athletic, but also because they give us a lot of depth. We're still gonna play three linebackers in our two-linebacker scheme, and now we have some depth for our rotation."
DD: 12 of the 22 2003 signees are on defense, and are all distributed evenly among the various positions. What's your feeling about the defense overall following signing day?
BG: "You're always selfish, and we did want one more defensive end. We did feel real good about it. The one position that shocked us was cornerback. We didn't think we could get two JC guys like we did with a lot of speed, and one high school kid for our depth. Safety is a position where you're always hunting for guys, and we feel good about the players we got. Losing three linebackers allowed us to recruit three linebackers and get more depth there."
DD: Out of all the positions on the team it would seem that you face the biggest challenge coming into this season – since you have to replace three senior linebackers. How much of an uphill battle do you feel you have on your hands to get this linebacker core ready for the 2003 season?
BG: "Fortunately, competition will help us sort it out. It comes down to the guys that can make plays, and that sometimes that clears things up easier than people think. The best problem for me is not knowing for sure who the guy is, and having more than one like I did a year ago. I had three starters in two positions, and we rotated those guys a lot. There's always a big deal about who's the starter, but the snap count of Mason Unck, Solomon Bates, and Josh Amobi was very even unless someone was hurt. They each averaged 45-50 snaps a game. This year, the percentage of players who played a lot of snaps last season is very small. Jamar (Williams) played less than 30 snaps, most of them early in the season. The nice thing is that we have a lot of depth, and Ishmael Thrower is another guy that people forget about. He's very athletic, and just doesn't have the experience. It's gonna be great to have all this depth to work with."
DD: With all the accolades that Burks comes with, and looking at your depth chart, would it be fair to say that it would be a shocker if he wasn't your starter in the first game of the 2003 season?
"It's hard to say if Burks will start the first game of the season. Bart Hammit was out this year (due to injury), and people forget about him. He's been in the loop, and he's been in the system for a year now. He probably knows the system better than Jamar (Williams) in some ways because he's practiced in it for a longer time. There's a lot that can happen in that position. Jordan Hill is a player that's gonna surprise a lot of guys when he gets out there. A lot of it is gonna depend on the ability to pick the system up. I think all of them have the ability to play in the system. Otherwise, we wouldn't have recruited them."
DD: You talk about guys fitting into the system, and yet some thought that to some extent the three senior linebackers, as good as they played last season, didn't completely fit the 4-2-5 scheme. Now it seems that the linebackers recruited along with those coming back do fit that scheme better. Would you say that's an accurate statement?
BG: "I think the thing to remember is that only Solomon really didn't fit the mold. He was recruited as a "Mike" linebacker, but he did get better fitting the scheme as the season went on. You always have to have speed on defense, and once he lost the weight people found out he was faster than some thought he was. He came out at the Hula Bowl weighing 232, and that shocked some guys."
"Josh and Mason did fit the mold because of their speed to the edge. They just haven't done it that much in their career. Once they got the repetitions, they did fit the mold. If you look at Mason Unck through out the season, you see how he progressed. Right now they're a lot of people looking at him. I feel that the new guys fit the mold, and now it's just a matter of them understanding the scheme. That's the biggest obstacle."
DD: How would you sum up the performance of the linebackers in 2002? This seemed like one of the stronger units on the team last year.
BG: "We found out that when we had to step up against the running game, we had guys that could do it. We had some disappointments like the Cal game, but going into the Kansas State game we were still in the top 25 in the nation against the run. We didn't intercept as many balls, but in our scheme you just don't get that many balls thrown in the middle of the field – they throw to the edges. But we made some big plays when it counted. We didn't play prefect, just like any position out there. I'm really gonna miss those three guys. They were leaders for me anytime I needed them to be. They were never selfish. When Josh and Jamar were hurt, Solomon and Mason played the entire Cal game, and that was a physical game. They were all mentally tough, and showed a lot of courage. Those are the things I appreciate about them."
DD: When you look at the defense overall in 2002, it appears that as a group they made giant leaps from two seasons ago. How would you assess their performance.
BG: "We turned over the ball so much better towards the end, and gave ourselves a chance. We do have concerns in the points given up, and we have to cut those numbers down. Right now, we're studying all the scoring drives that occurred, and see how and why they happened. We'll find the situations that we have to work on the most, and address that in the spring. We have a lot of players that played a lot of snaps last year, and we're counting on those guys to help the others learn. We have to be a dominant defense. We made progress in turning the ball over, but we have to be more dominant. If a team is on your 10-yard line, you have to make them kick a field goal."
DD: What other goals do you have for the linebackers in specific, and the defense in general for spring practice?
BG: "With our system you worry a lot about communication. That's the hardest thing for the new guys to do. As a linebacker you have to set the front, and also get communication from the safeties. That's why you see our linebackers tapping their hat in a game – that means they got the secondary call. So, now I have to train them to do all the little things that I didn't have to worry about a year ago with three seniors. Once you get comfortable with that, you get comfortable with the pass read and the run read. That's one thing that will sort out the guys real fast – knowing what their roles are."
"Overall on the defense, obviously when you lose a guy that made 24 sacks for you (Terrell Suggs) that's a void we have to fill. We learned a great lesson in the Holiday Bowl – attitude has a lot to do with this game. Our guys on defense played with a chip on their shoulder, and found out that when they played that well that they could play with anybody. That proved to be a good lesson. Now we have to carry that over and pick up where we finished. We can't back up and start teaching guys to play with vigor and tenacity. I except the older guys to start that way, and help bring up the younger guys up to speed."
DD: In your first year at ASU the 4-2-5 defensive scheme was maligned over and over. Last season, your defense played very in this alignment and virtually silenced the scheme detractors. Deep down, do you feel sweet redemption over this reversal of fortunes?
BG: "No, I really don't. In our first year people said that we're not playing in a good system. In any system you play in you got to get off blocks and make plays. We weren't doing that the first year. You look at the tackle charts last year, and everybody progressed. Twenty years ago the 4-2-5 is the 4-4 defense. It's not anything new, just a new name. Twenty years from now they might call it the 4-4 monster stack (smile). People have to understand that just the name changed. You have to believe in this defense, and coach Koetter believes in it because it presents problems. We'll continue to get better at it. It's no secret that our corners have to cover in this scheme. Once they do that, it all helps."
"A lot of people ask me the same question you did. I have no animosity toward people. It's a great topic and keeps you guys' jobs (in the media) going, and it doesn't hurt my feelings (smile). Don't worry about it (smile)…"
Q&A with Coach Brent Guy
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