Here are our takeaways from the Arizona State Sun Devils spring media day from various coaches and players. Spring practice begins Monday, February 24.
Head Coach Herm Edwards
Edwards talked about what he is looking forward to watching in spring practices, that start on Monday for ASU.
“How guys grasp the offense and the defense,” Edwards said. “All eyes are going to be on Jayden, we know, and we get that part. But besides Jayden, when you think about it, the wide receiver group, they are not all here yet.
“That will be an interesting group to follow and long and behold as summer rolls around, we anticipate having five tight ends. That’s kind of new. Defensively now, we will dabble a little bit more with a four-man front. The Tillman guy is still here but he is more of a strong safety in this scheme.”
Edwards added that 12 to 13 of the freshmen from the signing period are already enrolled in school and have become familiar with the team’s daily schedule.
Edwards was asked about Daniels entering his second year and what people will see from year one to year two.
“Now, he has to become more of a leader, and we talk about that,” Edwards said. “He understands now. Last year he wasn’t asked to do anything, just play quarterback. You’re a freshman quarterback just don’t turn the ball over. He did a pretty good job of not doing that. This year, he knows that all of sudden when you look at our team, there’s only nine seniors. What’s good for him, is he is in an offense that is different but he’s a quick study. He likes it, he gets it, and now he has to do that, along with being a quarterback. He has to lead and be a quarterback which he is ready for.”
Offensive Coordinator Zak Hill
Hill talked about maximizing the best parts of Jayden Daniels game in his offense. But part of it just comes off of Daniels own abilities and his decision making.
“The fact that he’s athletic, make plays from the pocket, he can extend plays,” Hill said. “At the end of the day defensive coordinators have to deal with a lot with Jayden. It’s not just he can throw from the pocket, he can run, take off, a design run...He picks things up quickly. He puts a lot of pressure on a defense.”
Hill also admitted that based off the depth the Sun Devils had, he might not be able to fully install his offense in year one.
“Once we get into the fall it’ll be a different mix,” Hill said. “I know those receivers are trying to prove themselves now knowing there’s a bunch of guys coming in...it’ll affect some of our personnel groups.”
Co-Defensive Coordinator Antonio Pierce
The freshmen class on defense brought in by Pierce in his first year, Sun Devil linebackers Merlin Robertson, Darien Butler, safety Aashari Crosswell and defensive end Jermayne Lole is now the veterans in the locker room. That experience has their expectations set to the highest possible level by Pierce.
“I’m glad they’re finally upperclassmen. Those (first two years) of training and going through growing pains I’m done with that,” Pierce said. “Those guys have played a lot of football. Even the young guys we have coming on in the spring they have an upper hand on the freshmen I brought in three years ago.”
Pierce was also asked about the NFL that has pursued him and the reason behind why he stays in Tempe. The players and well the Rose Bowl have something to do with it.
“The kids. There’s 22 guys I have recruited,” Pierce said. “...I’ve had their backs that I’ll be here. I’ve been in the National Football League. I was fortunate enough to play a good amount of time, Pro Bowl, Super Bowl, make some good money. I’m not chasing that dream..I’ve never been to the Rose Bowl, that’s something I really look forward to. Helping this program, this team, this year hopefully get there.”
Co-Defensive Coordinator Marvin Lewis
Lewis established that his job this season is to help build the bridge for Antonio Pierce to become the full-time defensive coordinator. He doesn’t plan on making recruiting trips, mostly to not upset his wife, and just wants do to the job he was brought to Tempe to do. Grow young coaches.
“Part of the growth here is to have Antonio continue to grow and one day have the opportunity to be a coordinator and so I’m here to help him grow into that,” Lewis said. “We’re looking at this as an opportunity for me to really put the structure and everything in place and then hand it off.
“It’s part of why I was brought here. To help and aid the coaches in any way that I could. This is just another step in that.” “There’s no question about (Pierce stepping into a bigger role)...He’ll continue to develop and he’ll have an opportunity to really reach all the goals that he’s set for himself.”
Lewis will also be an asset to the transition for the Sun Devils into using more four down linemen instead of the 3-3-5 defense that left when Danny Gonzales and Tony White did.
“We’re trying to work hard at collaborating on everything and we’re putting things together in a very quick manner,” Lewis said. “I think part of the direction from Coach Edwards in the offseason was to look at more conventional four-down stuff and try to utilize our personnel and basically be able to recruit to it. Once Tony left the change became immediate.”
Quarterback Jayden Daniels
Daniels enters his second year as the starting quarterback for the Sun Devils. This year, the offense will be learning a new playbook under Hill and Daniels wants to master it all before the season starts.
“Meeting with Coach Hill every time I can and get as much knowledge as I can from him,” Daniels said. “He knows his offense that he mastered...”
Having gone through a whole season now, Daniels feels even more experienced as a quarterback and looks to be a leader with Edwards leaning on him.
“I feel like I’m that much more experienced,” Daniels said. “Playing 12 games, you see a lot of stuff from different teams: a lot of different athletes and what defensive tendencies are. You start to see those types of things. Moving over to this year, from year one I got a lot of help. This year, i’m more of a leader and more vocal. Just going out there and building the trust from the team again and building a relationship with all my new teammates and just going out there and having fun.”
Running Back Daniyel Ngata
Ngata was one of three recruits, along with Elijah Badger and LV Bunkley-Shelton, to commit on television to Arizona State this season. Despite wanting to commit earlier in the year, Ngata understands the positive benefits of the exposure.
“It felt real good to commit at the Under Armour (All-American) game,” Ngata said. “Just get Arizona State out there. To know that we got good players coming in with me and Elijah.”
Ngata has already started to form a bond with fellow four-star freshman running back Deamonte Trayanum and running backs coach Shaun Aguano.
“Me and Deamonte stay in the same building, we talk about all the plays, all the installs, the practices, meetings all that stuff. It’s good chemistry building up,” Ngata said. “Coach tries to get all the info in. He does a really good job just making sure we know everything. He’ll meet with you any time of the week, any time of the day.”
Cornerback Chase Lucas
Lucas has high goals for himself for his senior season. There’s a reason he decided to come back and he wants to take on those goals.
“I felt like there were things that I didn’t finish here,” Lucas said. “There’s a lot of things I feel like I need to work on. I feel like there’s a lot of things coach Herm and coach Lewis can help me with. I like the fact that we’re changing our defense a little bit...I feel like this is going to be my year just to buckle down and get what I need to get done.”
For the third time in his career in Tempe, Lucas will need to adapt to a new defense. The new scheme is making Lucas become more versatile and moving around much like Kobe Williams last season. He even joked about playing linebacker if asked to.
“At the end of the day I feel like in life if you’re more available then the better outcome you can have,” Lucas said. “Whatever you want me to play, whatever you want me to do, you want me to play nickel, play safety, play corner, I’ll do it. If you want me to play linebacker I’ll try it, ain’t no guarantee I’ll get the job done...I need to know the whole defense if I’m going to be the captain.”
Linebacker Darien Butler
Butler is entering his third year as a starting linebacker for the Sun Devils. The linebacker group has had the luxury of coach Pierce being their guy, now the whole defense gets to experience his passion and drive.
“I’m very excited,” Butler said. “I know that the energy that AP brings it is going to make this defense a lot more exciting to watch. We are going to be faster, stronger and we are going to do everything the right way. We are going to try and perfect everything that we do.”
Butler added that players want to play for coach Pierce and Lewis because they work hard every day for the team.
Butler was a captain for the Sun Devils last year and this year he wants build upon his leadership with the rest of the linebacker group.
“It’s got to be a different type of leadership,” Edwards said. “The older guys, we have to lead these young guys and let them know that there is a standard here. Let everybody live up to that standard and everybody has been on the same page and I feel like we are building something special.”
Defensive Line coach Robert Rodriquez
Rodriquez was the final coaching hire to the Sun Devils staff this offseason. He comes from the Minnesota Vikings and is ready to coach under Edwards and Lewis.
“It means the world,” Rodriquez said. “I understand that they have had movement here. I’ve tried to tell the players that I’m not trying to chase money, I’m not trying to chase anything, but establishing a tradition of great defensive players here. I owe Coach Edwards and Coach Lewis for giving me this opportunity.”
Being the newest member of the coaching staff, Rodriquez has watched the defensive line from afar on film to understand his players and what to look for.
“I’ve watched them play,” Rodriquez said. “What we look for with the Vikings and what I look for as a coach, is a skillset. You have to trust yourself as a coach nine times out of 10 to say that ‘Ok if this guy can’t do it, I can teach it.’ The hard part about what we do, it’s not going to be easy to learn, these guys are going to have to do it 1000 times, 10,000 times to become experts at it so their body starts reacting to it. Once they do, that skillset will take over, I’m looking for a skillset before anything.
“You are looking for length and speed, yes, but can they bend? How do their feet move when they make contact? That’s the stuff we look for in the draft.
“The second thing I’m in the process of doing now is bringing them in and getting to know them as people. Every individual learns differently. If I’m a cookie cutter coach and say I do it this way, then I’m going to reach three of you but one of you gets left by the waist, but he may be the Hall of Famer. He may be the guy, but I don’t reach him because i didn’t take the time to learn his learning and what motivates him.
“I learned that from Andre Patterson (co-DC for the Vikings) day one, everybody learns differently, and everybody sees the world differently. I got to get to know them as people a little bit and that helps me as a coach. I’m a communicator and I’m going to make sure I’m a teacher and I’m somebody who will show my work ethic every day, so you have to match it. It should be evident in the room how hard work coach works and how detailed I’m going to be, that’s important to the players but my process is get to know you and get to know what motivates you and how do you learn.”