The most promising development in Year One of the Speaking Victory Era in Tempe was the turnaround on defense.
After years of a passive 4-3 scheme, the defense evolved into a multiple front force, and became one of the elite and most ferocious units in the nation, ranking second in both sacks and tackles for loss.
Defensive coordinator Paul Randolph is the man behind that success, and he was a guest on this week's Speak of the Devils podcast. During the interview, I asked him for his evaluation of five of the most important players for this terrific unit, and he had some interesting things to say about his stable of stars.
On Brandon Magee: For him to have gotten hurt a year ago in camp and to be able to come back as a fifth year senior, a leader, a more experienced and mature football player really was a blessing for us coming in as new staff. He's been every bit of that. He's been a leader on the field. In the Territorial Cup game against UofA, he had 17 total tackles in the game, so he played lights out. He's been a leader on the field, but he's also been a leader off the field for us. Really stepping into that role and being a captain for us. Just all the things that come with it. Hopeful when he needs to be. Working his tail off. Showing the guys how to do certain things. No doubt, we're going to miss Brandon Magee.
On Will Sutton: Hard work. We started out the season in the spring, the guys probably thought we were a little bit crazy. The tempo and the way that we worked and things of that nature. Then when they reported to fall camp after working with our strength coach Shawn Griswold, they were in shape and ready to go to work. They had that workman's mentality. With that in him, I think Will worked through camp, worked through the season, and he got better as the season went along because he was working at it. He practiced hard, and then on game day, if you practice hard and see all the looks you need to see, everything is easy and moving in slow motion. It allows you to make a lot of plays. No doubt that the work ethic of our team, as a unit, everyone was doing what they were supposed to do, everyone was where they were supposed to be, and Will benefited from that and made a lot of plays which was really great for us.
On Carl Bradford: What you saw was a young person maturing and gaining confidence and an understanding of the system as the year went along. He got better with each passing week and each passing game. There's no question he fit that system for us. He's athletic. He's tough. He can play on the line and he can play in space. I think that this being his first year, having made the plays and having the production that he had this season, as he matures in the system and gains even greater knowledge of the things we're trying to do, I think his upside is unbelievable. I can't wait to watch him realize it.
On Jaxon Hood: It's funny. All spring long, he was just "Coach, all I want is to play as a freshman." As you can see, he went way past that point. After that, it was his work ethic. Working every day, on his own. I talked to him everyday after we signed him, and he told me that he was working out two to three times a day. "I want to play as a freshman. I want to play as a freshman." He's brought that work ethic with him. Those were the things that we thought he had when we were recruiting him, and then no doubt knew that he had, because he showed us during the season. But his work ethic, his character and his confidence in himself, those are the things you got to have when you're a freshman playing in the Pac-12. Not only did he do that, but he was more of a defensive end/outside edge guy in high school and he played the nose tackle position for us for the entire year. For us, his work ethic hasn't changed. He's working his tail off. He understands that that is what is going to make him highly successful in this league. With his work ethic and his commitment to being great, I think the future is even brighter for him.
On Junior Onyeali: When we first got in, I met with him and he told me "Coach, I want to be here. I want to be a Sun Devil." He just worked his tail off away from football on improving Junior. And he did. He did a phenomenal of doing that. He joined the team back in the summer and worked his tail off. He had really good production early in the year. He still is not realizing his potential. That right there is exciting, because he's still working his tail off. As long as he's working, he's going to continue to get better and improving on the football field. I think his greatest improvement was on Junior, on his outlook, on the way he works and things of that nature. He's done a good job for us both on and off the football field.
Listen to the full interview here, including a rundown on how to stop Navy's triple option and a detailed recruiting update.