Coach Randolph on the state of the Devilbackers

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Antonio Longino rushes the passer By Brad Denny Antonio Longino rushes the passer By Brad Denny
De'Marieya Nelson (11) works on pass rush moves during practice. By Brad Denny De'Marieya Nelson (11) works on pass rush moves during practice. By Brad Denny
Antonio Longino By Brad Denny Antonio Longino By Brad Denny
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's one of the most pressing questions of Arizona State's fall camp: who will take over at Devilbacker?

The Sun Devils felt they had the answer in signee Darrius Caldwell, but after the junior college transfer failed to qualify, the search for Carl Bradford's heir was reignited.

Over the first week of fall camp, tight end De'Marieya Nelson has seen extensive time at the position, earning praise from the coaching staff for his explosive athleticism. But with a need for Nelson to continue seeing reps on offense, Antonio Longino has also run with the first team defense in recent days. Add in the talents of Chans Cox and Marcus Washington, and the position is most certainly one that continues to work itself out.

I caught up with Devilbackers and defensive ends coach Paul Randolph after practice to get his take on where this position, one of the most crucial to ASU's attacking style, stands as the team opens up work at Camp Tontozona.

This past Saturday at Media Day, Coach Graham said that he envisions De'Marieya Nelson playing 40 snaps on defense and 25 snaps on offense per game. Two days later, he seemed to reverse course and indicate that he'd be back primarily on offense. Where is Nelson right now?

Randolph: “Right now, he’s a starting Devil for us. He’s also a starting tight end. He’s that talented, athletic, gifted, and he’s working to be great at both of them. Right now, we need him. They need him. Coach Graham is going to put a plan together so that we can maximize him where we don’t overuse him. I think that is the most important thing. On the defensive side, he adds that element of speed, explosiveness, and playmaking ability that we’ve had in that Devilbacker position since we’ve been here. He possesses those traits that we are looking for. A guy that can impact the quarterback, TFLs in the backfield. He’s an explosive football player."

How has Nelson handled the transition back and forth between offense and defense?

Randolph: “He’s done a great job. It starts with attitude, and he’s had a spectacular attitude, a championship-type attitude. It’s like a sponge. He’s trying to learn the Devil, the defensive line, the outside linebacker plays that he can learn. Naturally on offense, he was there all last year so he has a good handle on that. I think he’s progressing along extremely well. He’s picked up the defense extremely fast, and we have a complicated defense. The more reps he gets, and the more he continues at it, the more comfortable he’s going to become, and the more productive he’s going to become."

Antonio Longino has seen most of the first team reps at Devilbacker lately. How has he looked at the position, and what does he bring to the field?

Randolph: “I like my two guys I have at that position. They are battling it out. Antonio was progressing through practice and the scrimmage extremely well. There’s a few things that we need to clean up from the scrimmage extremely well. He’s a playmaker. He’s an edge guy. He played a similar position in junior college, so he’s used to being off the edge and making plays and just causing havoc in the offensive backfield. That’s what our Devilbacker does. Having played a position similar to it, he’s picking it up really fast, and is seeing it and understanding the blocking schemes. It’s going to allow him to be an explosive football player for us."

Chans Cox and Marcus Washington have also seen time at the position. How are they progressing?

Randolph: “I think I have a great group of competition. Chans Cox is coming along extremely well. He’s working his tail off. He wants to play. Marcus Washington is just a tough son of a gun. He works hard, he’s physical, he’s aggressive, he’s elusive. He’s learning how to pass rush for the first time in his life, and he actually has some skills to do that. With those two guys continuing their progression along, I think I’m going to have about four of them by the end of the season that we feel comfortable with and that are going to be playmakers for us."

If the team played today, who would get the starting nod and how would the reps be divided?

Randolph: “De’Marieya is the starting Devilbacker right now. There’s no question about that. But, the offense is going to have to use him also, so right now Antonio and De’Marieya are battling it. Marcus can take reps. He’s had a really good summer camp. Chans is progressing like we need him to progress. All of them could play, but by the time camp is over, we’ll have that best one. He’ll be ready to go."

Coach Graham has repeatedly said that he envisions the look and usage of the Devilbacker to change this year. What do you feel will be the biggest differences?

Randolph: "The body type and skill set. Carl was a big, strong, powerful guy. He power cleaned 400 pounds plus. They are just all different body types. Where De’Marieya is a tight end, H-back, 3-back type guy. He has a really athletic skillset. Things like that that we are doing schematically to help those guys be successful. We look at it every single day. Coach Graham will say ‘OK, I think this is right for each one of the guys. This right here is going to allow them to play the position.’ It’s a position that is evolving everyday based on who we have. That’s one thing Coach Graham does a phenomenal job of doing is assessing our talent and the skillset of each one of our guys and then developing a system to fit the skillset of our guys."

With about two weeks left until the season opener, what are you most wanting to see from the Devilbackers throughout the remainder of camp?

Randolph: "Continuing to get better fundamentally. We’re going to play Weber State. It’s going to be a good opponent to play. The biggest thing is for our guys to get better and to get us better. We talk about get Sun Devils better. That’s the most important thing, our fundamental technique. Our footwork, our hands, our keys, our block destruction. That’s just fundamental football. As long as we can improve upon those, I think we’ll be progressing the way we need to."