March 16, 2012

Malzahn wants to take ASU to another level

The Arkansas State Red Wolves began spring practice earlier this week for the first time under new head coach Gus Malzahn.

The team was scheduled to hold their second practice this morning, but the practice was canceled due to lightning in the area. Instead, the team did a walk-through in the Convocation Center before being released for spring break.

Following the walk-through, Malzahn sat down with to discuss his thoughts on the practice he was able to hold with his team, in addition to several other items.

"I really like the attitude," said Malzahn."Our kids were really excited to start spring ball which was really encouraging to me. We're still in the evaluation process right now, so we are just learning our guys and being very basic in teaching them the offense and the defense, and at the same time evaluate everyone."

While Malzahn and his staff has not had ample time to find any stand out players, he has been pleased with the effort of at least one player so far.

"Obviously Ryan Aplin is a natural leader that the team really responds to," said Malzahn. "Other than that, we haven't really been able to see any stand out players just yet."

While the Red Wolves ran a pretty fast paced offense last season under former head coach Hugh Freeze, Malzahn is planning on running an offense which is faster than what fans witnessed last year.

"Our plan is to run the fastest offense in college football," said Malzahn. "We have to learn practice that way first. Our guys thought they were playing fast, but our expectations are for them to go a lot faster. They understand that now, and I think that the next time we have a full practice, they will be ready to go and will respond to the speed we expect them to go at."

"Any time you run a fast paced offense, it is about execution," he said. "You have to execute, and get the ball to your best players to make a play. The pace is a big factor too. I'd say those three factors combined are really what we are looking for offensively.

Fast paced offenses have been the calling card of Malzahn from the time he coached high school football in Arkansas, all the way through his current collegiate coaching career. It is something that not only opposing defenses have to prepare for, his own defense must prepare for it as well.

"We're going to have a no huddle defense," said Malzahn. "We are a no huddle team; no huddle specialists. We're going to play fast and aggressive on both sides of the ball. [Defensive coordinator] John Thompson, that is right up his alley. He likes aggressive football, and it is kind of his personality. So, that is a very good fit for us, and we are going to have that attacking style defense."

Malzahn also stated that fans can expect to see similarities in last year's defense under Dave Wommack and this year's under Thompson.

"They will be similar in that those two [Thompson and Wommack] came up together," said Malzahn."I'm not going to say that it is going to be so similar other than it is not a complete shot to the system because those two come from the same defensive tree."

Malzahn has several goals for the program that he would like to reach while he is head coach of the Arkansas State Red Wolves. He spoke about that as well.

"Ultimately, we want to be a Top 25 team every year," he said. "They won 10 games last year, and showed that you can win here. Now, our goal is to keep that consistent, and win on a consistent basis."

One of the biggest parts of building a winning football team is obviously recruiting. Malzahn spoke about this as well.

"It's all going to start in the state of Arkansas," said Malzahn. "Our goal is to recruit this state like it has never been recruited. We signed 11 in-state players last year, and we look for that number to increase each year."

"I'm a big believer in the high school coaches and the players in this state," he said. "Our goal is to keep as many kids in Arkansas as we can, and that is what we are going to do."

He also touched on the in-state class of 2012 in which he just signed.

"I think we signed some really good players," said Malzahn. "They will definitely help us, there is no doubt. Fredi Knighten is the state player of the year. He was a target of ours from day one. He was a target of mine even when I was at Auburn. He is just that special type of player who has the ability to influence a program."

"I like Dezmond Stegall as well," he added."We are very impressed and very pleased with the type of player he is, and his upside is really good. [Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee is really excited about him. Then you can throw the rest of the guys in, and they all can play at this level, and they are all good people."

With the team taking off for spring break, Malzahn spoke about what he told his team before he let them go.

"The thing about it is they have a practice under their belt, and we have had meetings and all of that stuff," said Malzahn. "They at least have a brief idea of what we are expecting, and we will come back after spring break and have a fresh start, maybe re-teach some things, then get it going."

"The biggest thing we are looking to accomplish out of spring practice is to evaluate out players and create a two-deep depth chart," Malzahn added. "When you are starting something new, half of the battle is putting your guys in the right position to be successful. So, we're evaluating our players and at the same time trying to come up with some sort of depth chart so when we go into fall camp knowing what we already have. Then take our signee's and mesh them all together."

One thing that Malzahn has mentioned that has caused a lot of talk and message board banter since becoming head coach is the idea of playing a game in Little Rock.

"We definitely want to make that part of the future," said Malzahn. "Obviously this year the schedule is full, but we want to play a BCS type opponent in Little Rock, and to do well there. There are a lot of ASU fans in this state who are not in Jonesboro, so we want to give them another option, and I think it will do nothing but give our program more visibility."

He also spoke about moving his family back home to Arkansas after coaching out of state for several years.

"I'm an Arkansas guy, and an old Arkansas high school coach," said Malzahn. "So, to be able to come back home is a really good feeling. I've been able to speak at a couple of places, and everywhere I go I know people, so it brings back old memories. You are home, and close to your family, so it is a really good feeling."

The team will make up today's canceled practice once they return from spring break.

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