Last year the Red Wolves were once again a dominant offensive team. The offense broke school records and put up a ton of points on the scoreboards across the Sun Belt. However, the key to their conference championship may very well have been their resurgent defense. Heading into this season the defense looks to be loaded and ready to pick up where they left off last season. One position where the talent and the depth could be the driving force for this team is the defensive line. They are a legit 2-deep at every spot with more guys ready to go beyond that. The man in charge of managing the talent and depth of this group is Coach Brian Early. AstateNation’s 5th Quarter Preseason series continues below with Coach Early.
1st Quarter: The defense had a tremendous season last year. Coming into this season, where do you think this defense can raise the bar in its performance? – “I think you’re always looking for ways to get better than you were the day before. We set up individual plans with every guy on the defense for this summer. We covered their strengths and we covered the areas where there was opportunity for improvement. That plan is what we wanted them to focus on during the summer and on into fall camp. From a unit standpoint, you want to see if we have what it takes to be a dominant defense. We were at times last season, but now we want to see that on a consistant basis in every game. We want to be physically dominant, and I believe being physically dominant relies more on the mental aspects of the game than the physical skills you possess. Your mental prowess is what helps you attack every part of the day and every part of the game. If we can have that mindset, I have no doubt we can be dominant this season.”
2nd Quarter: How has the defensive line unit changed or evolved since the first day you stepped on campus at Arkansas State? – “I’ll tell you what, I will always believe that coaches are only as great as their players. You have to have talent. No matter what schemes or techniques you can teach, if the talent isn’t there, you’re in for a long season. The three keys to talent in this business are recruiting, recruiting, and recruiting. We’ve done a great job of that on the defensive line and are in a position where we have quantity and quality depth right now. We talk about having strength in numbers due to the way the game has changed on offense. We have to defend so many plays in every game that the days of having 4 guys up front and just rolling with them are over. You need to be able to have 8 to 10 guys that can sub in without having any drop-off in talent. I think we have that today and that will allow us to play with the energy and intensity we want in this program. We feel like we play harder than anybody else in the country and we demand it from our guys. As we stand today, we feel confident in every fresh body that we can sub into games without having to deal with a drop-off in talent. When we got here we had like 1 scholarship guy at defensive tackle. Now we have 7 in there. So our group and the makeup of our group have changed significantly.”
3rd Quarter: Which guys on the defensive line have made big strides for you from the end of spring practice up until this point in fall camp? – “I could name a lot of guys with that description. But to mention a few, Chris Odom is one guy that has had a great fall camp. He had a great spring and was a two last fall, and the guy ahead of him graduated. So we were curious to see if he could be the guy in that spot. We told him he needed to carry that through the summer to show us he could be that guy. And you know what? He picked up right where he left off and he brings it every day in practice. He plays the game the way you’re supposed to and has been virtually unblockable at camp. I’m excited to see if he can turn that effort into production on Saturdays. Another guy is Waylon Roberson. He’s completely changed his body compostion and his endurance. We’ve monitored his weight and he’s dropped it by 25-30lbs which has helped his movement and quick twitch abilities. I think he can play on Sundays if he keeps improving. Also, getting Robert Mondie back can’t be ignored. We didn’t get to see him in the spring or summer so we wondered what shape he would come back to camp in and he showed up in the best shape he’s been in since he arrived here. He didn’t lose a step and will be a key player for us this season. So those are 3 names that come to mind, but in reality I could talk about all my guys if we had the time.”
4th Quarter: Getting back to recruiting and the success you’ve been able to have in recruiting the JuCo ranks; how is the conversation different in a high school living room compared to the a JuCo living room? – “Well, for a junior college player, guys are there for various different reasons. Some were overlooked or under-recruited. Some are bounce back guys from 4-year schools. And then some had work to do to qualify to get into school. One difference in the conversations is the fact that for most of the JuCo guys, they’ve been through the recruiting process. They’ve had the red carpet rolled out for them on their official visits. They’ve seen all of the bells and whistles, but they’re not all interested in that stuff this time around. Those guys care about what your depth chart looks like. Those guys care about what their position group looks like. They want to know their chances of playing and starting if they go to your school. What isn’t different is the need to go into those living rooms and still sell what your school has to offer them as student-athletes. That doesn’t change one bit.”
Overtime: What was your favorite memory from this summer? – “Wow, that’s a great question. We’re not big travel vacation people. We really like just hanging out as a family and going to movies or playing in the backyard. One of my favorite movies this summer was Central Intelligence. I love Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. You know, I love just being dad and spending that time with my wife and kids. Every moment with them is a highlight to me. Coach Anderson does a great job of giving us enough time off to get away from football and recharge the batteries a bit so that we come back fresh and ready to go.”
We would like to thank Coach Early for his time with the 5th Quarter. Look for more editions of the 5th Quarter with other staff members on AStateNation.