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ASU Football: Associate head coach Paul Randolph talks strengths and weaknesses of the Sun Devil defense

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Our Q&A with Paul Randolph delves into the challenges of replacing so many starters, the nose tackle position and his experience at Alabama.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State's defense is in for a challenge. After returning only two starters to last year's team, it's crucial for the coaching staff to construct a unit that can hold its own against Pac-12 offenses.

We caught up with associate head coach Paul Randolph, and got his thoughts on some certain players, the unit as a whole and what the Sun Devils can learn from his experience at Alabama.

House of Sparky: What have you seen out of Tashon Smallwood so far? Can he stay at that first team spot?

Paul Randolph: I'll tell you what, he's working his tail off. Coach (Jackie) Shipp is doing a phenomenal job with him. Coming in as a newcomer, there's a lot to learn. Coming in from high school to play in our system, and to do the things that we ask the three-technique to do, he's working his tail off. ... As long as his fundamentals continue to improve, he's going to have a chance to help us.

HOS: When Jaxon Hood comes back , how do you plan on using him? Throw him into the fire or ease him in?

PR: Jaxon is a wily old vet now, he's got two years under belt. But we are excited about Jaxon coming back, and getting back into the swing of things. If I know Jaxon, he'll be ready to dive in with both feet.

HOS: Who has impressed you at the nose position so far?

PR: All of them have. They all bring a little something different to it. You have Demetrius Cherry, who's getting a little bit better every day, you've got Connor Humphreys, the newcomer, the freshman, who is working his tail off, who is starting to come back around right now, getting better every day. You've got big Mo (Latu), who does great things in certain packages. I think all three of those guys are working extremely well. ... We want that guy to be a playmaker, not just a hole-clogger, and I think our guys are working to be that.

HOS: In your coaching career, have you ever had to replace as much on defense as you have this year?

PR: Surely, when we first got here, they graduated eight. So for us, it's just an opportunity for the next man to step in and go. We call it next man up, the next man has got to step up and do his part, and right now I think that's what the guys are doing. They're working their tails off, we're running to the ball better, we're getting to the ball better, we're sprinting on and off the ball better. We're in the third year of our program, and the guys are just understanding more what we're wanting and needing out of them and we're getting more out of them.

HOS: You've been apart of a really successful national program over at Alabama. What can this program learn from what you've done over there?

PR: Well to us, it's just about coming together, being a team, which these guys are growing together. They're spending time together, really growing as a team. It's about being that close-knit unit defensively, close-knit unit offensively and the special teams unit. You bring us all together and it's a close-knit team. That's what it's about: unselfish, Sun Devil brotherhood, little "me," big "team." What am I willing to sacrifice for the team?

HOS: And finally what do you see so far as the biggest strength and biggest weakness of the defense?

PR: Biggest strength is we've got guys who can fly around right now. Weakness woulf be reps. And we're giving them as many as we can, trust me. It's just about the guys getting better, understanding the system, the knowledge of the system and being able to execute.