Jamar Cain won’t blanket his guys in bubblewrap. He can’t reopen the portal to the guys who transferred away from the program. He’s not able to slap a pitchfork back onto Renell Wren’s helmet.
None of that is keeping him up at night.
“We can’t sit here and worry about things we can’t control,” he said. “Every day is another opportunity to get better. As long as we keep coaching them, they will get better. The guys we got we’ll keep working them.”
Cain, who joined the Sun Devil staff weeks before Arizona State’s spring practice session, says that they’re not fearful of depth concerns. In those spring practices, ASU struggled to run full 11-on-11 run throughs because it only had four, five guys on the defensive line who could practice.
He says they’ll benefit from running Danny Gonzales’ 3-3-5 front. His goal is to attempt to net a rotation of seven, eight guys and they should be fine. And the small group in the spring had its benefits.
“It made us way better as a unit,” said defensive lineman George Lea on the short-handed group in the spring, “Now, instead of us getting out there looking to each other, ‘what’s the play, what do we do?’ We just get a call and echo it down the line, snap, everybody got it.”
Lea is the lone senior and he’s felt no change in the transition to Cain from Shaun Nua, who left Tempe for Ann Arbor and Michigan’s DL coaching position. He attributed a lot of that to Gonzales.
Gonzales persistent to fans that reinforcements in the trenches were on their way in the fall. With that day now here, he feels comfortable with the position.
“We got a lot of talented bodies there we didn’t have in the spring,” he said. “They’re going to have to learn the expectations that we expect them to play at. That’s the biggest thing for them. There’s some talented kids in the group that have a chance to impress.”
In the spring, Gonzales hinted that ASU might even experiment with two-man fronts to help combat with the possibility of limited bodies. That idea was a lot for Cain at first after taking the job only a few short weeks before jumping into the fire.
“It was tough this spring. Trying to learn everything was tough,” Cain said. “I’m trying to learn a new defense, then also only having two defensive linemen. (I hear) ‘Okay we’re trying to run this defense.’ I was like ‘hold on, hold on, I’m trying to learn the first defense. Let me get there.’ Danny and (Head Coach) Herm (Edwards) told me ‘don’t worry about it, you’ll be okay.’ And I’m freaking out like dude I need to learn this stuff. It was a little bit difficult but now I’m more comfortable.”
Attempting to learn a new defense, with a newfound flavor after two weeks on the job. Early on Cain felt like a college student that decided to attend class for the first time all semester with the final a week away. With that much on his plate, anyone would struggle to adapt, but he’s prepped now for the long haul.
With a grasp on the defense and a good amount of bodies on the field, Cain had his next mission. Find the alpha male of the group. Seemingly, Cain and Gonzales saw eye-to-eye on the selection.
“I think Jermayne Lole in his short time here has proven how good of a player he is. He can be one of the elite d-lineman in the Pac-12,” Gonzales said.
Cain approached the sophomore about taking the role for good reason. Lole reached another level during the Utah game. In the final month of the regular season, he had four tackles for a loss in limited playing time.
He appreciates Cain asking him to do the task. Lole sees himself taking the next step for himself and others.
“It feels good,” Lole said. “It tells me that I have to work harder. He can see the potential, but wants me to actually be the alpha dog. Throughout the spring I wasn’t really practicing as hard as I can. That was one of my main goals for fall camp is practice hard. Even with my conditioning, that way I can leave something for the younger guys. (They’ll think) if he’s running to the ball hard, then I’ll run to the ball hard too.”
Lole also believes he’s better prepared this season. He thinks he’ll be on the field more because of experience and conditioning. He played his freshman season at 295 and is down to 285 he said.
Hopefully Lole will the centerpiece the Cain wants. However, the former Fresno State position coach is also excited for those repping the Maroon and Gold for the first time this season. Here’s what he had to say about a few of them:
Rice Grad Transfer Roe Wilkins
“Very blue collar guy. He needed that workhorse guy in that room. Came from a Rice program where he played near every snap. This is a guy who just wants to win. That’s his biggest thing when he got here, he just wants to be a part of a winning atmosphere.”
JUCO Transfer T.J. Pesefea
“He’s a guy from my area (Bay Area), from my hometown, that I really really like. He’ll give us depth at nose (tackle) and the defensive end position because he’s very athletic. He’s got three years left. The thing with junior college kids is once they figure it out, they’re gone. He’ll figure it out and still have another year to play here. He’ll be a guy the fans will know for awhile.”
Four-star freshman Stephon Wright
“Kid was highly recruited. Everybody in the Pac-12 wanted him. He’ll be ready to go too. His biggest thing is learning the system, speed of the game because when you’re upfront, d-line and o-line, the biggest thing to pick up is the speed of the game.”
Cain has this group as one that will be at its best with time. The kinks will need to be worked out early one, but it’ll come he says. First he needs to set the tone with this group. The first few weeks of fall camp probably won’t be fun for his guys, doesn’t mean it won’t make them better.