In many ways, 2011 was a tale of two seasons. Over the first eight games, the Sun Devils went 6-2 and were cruising towards the Pac-12 championship game. Then the calendar flipped to November, the bottom fell out, and an 0-5 finished soon followed.
Just about every facet of the team took a downturn during that final stretch, but the pass defense took the brunt of the criticism. Over the first eight games, the Sun Devils allowed an average of 240 passing yards per game and a total of nine touchdowns. Over the final five, those numbers ballooned to 325 and 12.
Such struggles were not from a lack of talent. Starting cornerback Deveron Carr has NFL-caliber size at 5'11" and 193 pounds and has shown stretches of being a shutdown defender. Heading into his senior season, the team will need him to capitalize on his sizable talent.
I recently sat down with Carr and talked to him about the struggles of last season, the changes in both the scheme and culture of the program, local recruiting, his thoughts on the upcoming season and much more.
Brad Denny: Obviously many areas of the team fell off during the end of last season, but in your opinion, what happened with the secondary in particular that resulted in those late season struggles?
Deveron Carr: I feel like it was a lack of consistency. I feel like a lot of people weren't on the same page. We were down and out on ourselves. The coaches were down on us. I feel like we didn't believe in ourselves, and too many people were on their own trying to make plays. We were not one, we were not a unit. When you ball a fist and you take it all apart, everything folds. You're not as strong anymore. If you have 11 guys on the field and 11 minds, it's just everybody playing for themselves. Seams come open, guys score touchdowns, people get beat deep. We had a shot to be great, and we lost it.
BD: One of the team's biggest losses last season was the injury to fellow corner Omar Bolden. How has playing with him made you a better player?
DC: The guy brought a lot of stuff to the table for me. He brought a lot of tools for me as a knowledgeable corner, as a hard working corner. I still look up to that guy, because he's moved onto the NFL, doing bigger and better things than college ball. He has reached his goal in life, and I feel he's still striving for more. His work ethic and knowledge and mindset, his ego he has for the game and his confidence brought a lot to the table for me. Coming in as a young guy, as a redshirt, watching him play was great. He was an idol to me. I wish him good luck at the next level. I'll be watching and I'll buy an Omar Bolden jersey and be repping it to the fullest. That's my guy, he's like a brother to me.
BD: Since Todd Graham's arrival, he's made a major effort to change the culture around the team on seemingly every level. How do you feel this transition has gone for both you personally and the team as a whole?
DC: The transition period for me hasn't been too hard. I'm used to working hard. Growing up in a home where everyone had to be well disciplined, this is not too hard for me. Some guys I feel like it's hard for. I can tell you one thing; the workouts are most definitely harder and challenging. We work to fail, we don't work to survive through a workout. To have that mindset, we want to be great. A lot of people don't come everyday to work to fail, they work to survive. Work to fail is when you become great. I've never worked this hard in my life. Last year, it was a little more relaxed. Don't get me wrong, the workouts were hard. We had more rest time. I don't feel like Gris (current strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold) really gives us rest time. He might say he's giving us two minutes and thirty seconds between 300-yard shuttles, but really it feels like one minute and thirty seconds [laughs]. We're out there dog tired. We have 14 reps left and we feel like we're about to fall. We're not working to survive, we're working to fail.
BD: One of the more interesting changes being made is on defense, where the new mentality focuses on attacking the offense. How will this new emphasis on rushing the passer and making plays in the backfield ease the burden of the secondary?
DC: As they say, the more pass rush you get, the more picks you get. That'll most definitely boost the level of the secondary. Getting picks and making plays. We're coming. The front seven is coming all the time. Pressure on the quarterback results in bad decisions, he makes bad throws. He's getting hit, he's getting banged up. His arm isn't as strong as the beginning of the game. It forces the ball to come into my hands or any defensive back's hands. It's exciting to me, and I can't wait to see it happen.
BD: From strictly cornerback's perspective, compare last season's defensive scheme with this year's. What aspects excite you the most?
DC: They're kind of similar. This year's scheme is "get the job done", instead of last year when they made it a little more difficult than they had to be. These secondary coaches and this defensive plan that we have now is easier. It's not hard, it's not difficult. They're not throwing too much at you at one time. They are throwing this at you and saying "Look, get here, do the job, and you're done." Last year it was more difficult. "You gotta be between the lines, you gotta be here, you gotta be here at this certain time." Now, "get here, do the job, make a play". We are getting the job done, we are working hard to win, we are working hard to be a unit. We're earning respect every day. Do the little things right and the big things will come. It's easier.
As far as us playing "key", which means if the receiver runs anything seven yards and out under, the corner takes him and the safety takes the number one receiver. The schemes are the same. Cover three is the same--no man beats you deep. You do the same things. Instead of last year and how we'd start at the line on number one, we're bailing. It's kinda like we're disguising. When the ball is hiked, we deep thirds are back there already. We're not backpedaling, we're outta there already and that makes it easier on a corner. We're downhill on anything downhill and we're not having to backpedal out of there.
BD: With Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson having very good springs, you three have the potential to form a potent trio at corner. How do you feel the Sun Devil corners are poised to take on the pass-happy Pac-12?
DC: I feel like we have the tools to be great. We just have to continue to work hard on and off the field, especially in the film room. We have to be able to anticipate things coming. We gotta be able to read body language and everything coming, and that comes from film study. Watching the receivers. Any stance, any movement, any alignment, we should know what's going on. That's all film study. I feel film study is most important. Then when we get out on the field, then we transfer what we learned there to the field, and that's what makes great corners.
BD: How has it been working with secondary coach Chris Ball, and new cornerbacks coach Joe Lorig?
DC: Coach Ball is a great dude. Coach Lorig, he just became our coach, so we're getting to know him day by day. I feel like he knows what he knows what he's talking about. I don't think any Division I, Pac-12 school would hire any coach that didn't know football. No one is out here lacking knowledge. They know the game, that's why they are here. They are here to coach us and make us great players and send us forward. There is no doubt in my mind that anyone here today is a great coach. I'm just ready to be a notebook and learn and take it all in and be special.
BD: What are your thoughts on heading up next month to Camp Tontozona and what effect that can have on the team?
DC: Honestly, I feel like it's going to be hard, but it's something we got to do. I remember going to Tontozona my freshman year, it wasn't easy. One thing it did was bring the bond of the team closer. You don't get Internet or cell phone service. The only people you have to talk to are coaches and players. It's a great time to learn about your coaches and teammates. If you don't know somebody, reach out and talk to them. Learn about your teammates and make that bond strong so it's hard to be broken. Once you come together, they is no turning back. Great teams, they're together. I feel like Camp Tontozona is one of those times that everyone comes together and bond and creates that force field and go forward from there.
BD: One of the major changes Todd Graham has made since arriving has been to place a greater focus on in-state recruiting. As a local player (Carr played at Chapparal), what are your thought on ASU reclaiming it's long lost spot as the destination for Arizona's top talent?
DC: It's an awesome deal that he has changed the program to focus from outside Arizona to in Arizona. That's pretty cool. I feel like these past couple of years we've let a lot of great athletes get away, when I feel like they should have been here. I know I came here because I didn't want to leave my family. I love Arizona, that's where I'm from. A lot of my family are natives. I came here because I didn't want to leave my family. I feel like a lot of athletes feel the same way. Maybe ASU didn't offer them, or ASU didn't offer what they wanted, so they let them slip away. There's no reason we shouldn't get the great athletes. Another thing--we weren't winning games. A lot of people don't want to come to a school that isn't winning. We gotta put the Ws up there to be able to recruit and get the greatest athletes. It's good Coach Graham came in, because he's here to prove himself. He's bringing in great athletes and he's not won a game. Come season time, when we put those Ws on the board, we'll be bringing ASU back.
BD: What are your major goals for your senior season?
DC: My number one goal for my senior season is to be a great tackler. I feel like I can cover and I can do a lot of things great, but I'm lacking tackling skills. I've been banged up a little bit, but sometimes you have to put that to the side and say "If you don't tackle, you're not going anywhere. If you do, you're going somewhere." If you tackle and you get hurt, it wasn't meant to be. That's my mentality. Ballskills, pressing cats up. Just being more physical as a corner. I feel like I have the body. I'm a bigger corner, a taller guy. They put me on the faster receivers, the bigger receivers to lock them down. Believe in yourself, have confidence, put your nose on somebody. Bat a couple of balls down, pick a couple of balls. Put your nose on people and it becomes easy.
BD: The overriding theme since Coach Graham's arrival in December has been "Speaking Victory". How do you define that term?
DC: When you wake up with a positive outlook on everything everyday. Manners. Discipline. "Speaking victory" is winning everyday. When you workout, the workout doesn't beat you, you beat it. In the classroom, the homework doesn't beat you, you beat it. You respect your elders, you help people out. You do community service, you respect your mother. You respect everyone around you. The way you dress, you are kept well. You're not sagging, shoes are tied, pants are on your butt, belt is on. You stay clean, you are presentable. Respect everybody. That's winning everyday. Helping people is winning everyday. Not taking from people, but giving to people. Be disciplined. Workouts are a state of mind. You're going to come into your workouts, and sometimes you're not going to want to do them. But I'm going to let you know now, you're not going to beat me, I'm going to beat you.
BD: What do you feel is the one X-factor-whether it's a player, scheme, mentality-for this team to succeed this fall?
DC: State of mind. Being together. Discipline. Coming out there as a whole. Playing with heart, with pure heart and being smart. Athleticism will only take you so far. There's a lot of athletes at this level, but the ones that go on to be great, to be Hall of Famers, they were smart. They worked hard on and off the field. They worked hard and they studied film. They were disciplined and came together as a whole. They cared for each other as one. They saw the man in the chair next to him, and maybe he didn't like me, but I loved him. We bonded and we became a family. Being a family is the X-factor of this team. Coming together as one is playing as one. Speaking victory.