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Q&A with Arizona defensive coordinator Marcel Yates

Hear from Arizona’s DC and linebacker coach

Marcel Yates is just one of two coaches on the Arizona Wildcats’ staff that’s returning from last season.

The defensive coordinator was retained by new head coach Kevin Sumlin, who had worked with Yates before at Texas A&M.

Yates spoke to the media Thursday for the first time since the coaching change, and here’s what he had to say.

Coach Marcel Yates is live with the media.

Posted by Arizona Football on Thursday, April 12, 2018

How’s the defense look so far?

They’ve made improvements over spring ball. We started off slow but it seems like every week they had a good feel for what we were trying to do. So we are getting better, everyday we’re getting better.

You know the process after Coach Rodriguez left, a lot of players wanted you as the head coach. First off how does that make you feel? At the same time Coach Sumlin retained you to stay here. What are your thoughts about being able to continue as the defensive coordinator here?

That felt great to have the team want me here. It felt even better when Coach Sumlin kept me here. To have a job here and kind of finish what I started feels great. We still have a long way to go but just having that head coach that I work for, already I know how he does things. For me, it’s a great feeling to have that guy here for me.

Is there going to be a change in the level of freedom that you have in implementing certain things on defense?

No, there won’t be a change. For me, I always ask every head coach I work for what they want me to run and what they don’t want me to run. I believe that he needs to know exactly what we’re doing on defense. He’s a guy that played linebacker and he’s coached a lot of football. So I’ll always ask for ideas or help on certain things that we can do better on defense.

One thing that Coach Rushing said yesterday is that when he came in he liked that you had a group of younger guys that grew up on the field. Do you see that now they’re a year older that there’s just a quicker understanding of the schemes?

Yes. They ran the system for a year so now they understand it. They know it. Now I’m not coaching up the scheme. We are coaching them more about what the offense is trying to do to beat us with whatever we’re calling. So now we kind of move from a, b, c to d, f, g. So we kind of move to where they understand exactly what they’re doing.

Some of the other coaches said for these players it’s a clean slate. Obviously you’re the one that’s retained. Do you still have that mindset or do you still look back at last year and players that impacted your defense?

Yes as far as clean slate. What I didn’t want to do is I didn’t want to be the coach that kind of put this bad vibe. If a guy didn’t play as well as we thought he should play I didn’t want him to have that over him. Because everybody gets a second chance. A guy might perform better under one than he does another. I didn’t want to paint this picture to guys that don’t know these guys, that is great or a guy isn’t good. So my input was more off the field, more about what they guy in the classroom. A little bit abut how guys work. As far as the football part of it, I wanted to give guys the opportunity to go out there and show what they can do and not paint this picture this can’t play. That’s not fair. Everybody gets a fair shot, clean slate, so for me it was important for guys to have a clean slate.

What’s it been like to reunite with Coach Rushing?

Coach Rush coached me, and I don’t think a lot of people know that, at Boise State. Coach Rushing was a physical safety at Washington State. I was a physical safety that liked to hit people. So right then and there he and I saw eye-to-eye from the start. We worked together at Montana State, I was under him at Montana State. We kind of broke off. He went to Utah State, I went to Boise. He went to the Packers. We’ve alway stayed in touch. He’s a guy in the offseason I can talk to about certain stuff. So we’ve kind of grown.

What was one of the biggest things you learned while under him at Montana State?

Probably the one thing I learned from him was the demand we wanted from our players and the mindset we wanted from our players. When you go out recruiting you’re looking for a certain type of player that you want, that fits you. With him being a physical safety and me being a physical safety we want guys that can come in here and play and fit in our mindset. That’s the same thing with our whole staff and head coach. We want to be physical. We want guys that like to hit, legally. I have to say that. We want to be the most physical defense we can be.

You coached linebackers your first year here. You went to secondary last year, you seemed pretty happy about it. Now you’re back at linebacker. The fact that you have Coach Rushing and Coach Martin, whose got lots of experience, back there did that make you feel more comfortable making that move?

Yes it did. It made me feel real comfortable. I know them both well. They’re friends first, but they do a good job. I have a ton of friends that aren’t good coaches that I’d never hire. But those guys are good at what they do. They’ve been doing this a long time. What I wanted to do is back in the middle a little bit so I can get back to the front and put my mark on that front a little bit.

Was it your idea to move or was it how Coach Sumlin wanted to shape things?

Everything comes from Coach Sumlin. He sat down and told me what he wanted, his vision. He said, “You make it work that way.” We made it work.

Now you’ve had hands-on time with Colin Schooler and Tony Fields, both were really good as freshmen. Where can they make the most growth?

They were really good as freshmen, but they also made a lot of mistakes. They both know that. Those mistakes had nothing to do with coaching so it’s not like their last coach wasn’t good. I’m not saying that. They made mistakes because they were young. They didn’t understand the game as well as they should. They made a lot of plays for us. At the same time I’m trying to get them to understand, they were freshmen all-Americans. But my goal is to get them to be all-Americans. Not freshmen all-Americans but let’s be all-Americans in the country. With that being said, they are learning the game. They are students of the game. They work hard. They work well together.

Besides those two, Anthony Pandy is a guy that’s coming along. He’s getting better, you’ll see him more and more. Another guy that’s been making some plays back there has been Jacob Colacion. He’s been playing well for us too. Those four, this spring, I’ve been really happy with where they’ve been at this point. They still need to get better this summer and during fall camp. But they’ve been doing well.

How comfortable would you feel with Jacob and Anthony in the lineup?

I’d feel comfortable. To me you have to have two deep. That’s probably where our biggest change is in our defensive front, we have depth there. So now we have some guys that can give guys a spell. For me, Jake and Anthony are two guys that have come a long way. I feel that they can play in a game for us.

And you have the studs? Who are they?

Kylan Wilborn, Lee Anderson, Jalen Harris, Jose Ramirez, and Dante Blissit. Those guys.

We didn’t see Kylan or Jalen in the scrimmage on Saturday. Was that injury-precaution type of thing?

Yeah, minor injuries. Nothing major.

One would assume you’re expecting a leap for Kylan this year?

Yes, he played a lot of snaps for us last year. His body took a beating last year. He’ll be healthy, he’ll be ready to go. He’s getting better. One thing about our guys, this team, they’re students of the game. From offense to defense to special teams, the one thing I like about this team, you see guys in here watching film all day on their own. So to take that next step, there’s not enough hours. You get 20 hours a week for them to practice, meetings, and then lift weights. That’s not enough. They have to do stuff on their own, if you care about being good.

So we’ve heard good things about Jalen but the weight was the issue. Do you know where his weight is at and do you have a goal for him?

I mean he’s put on weight. I don’t know where it is but he can come off the edge. That’s the thing we want to improve on, edge rushers that can get to the quarterback. I put it on me and coach Iona. We got to get to the point where that front seven is getting to the quarterback. Make sure our guys getting to the ball real quick. Our goal is to improve that front seven.

Are we going to see Kylan and Jalen in the spring game on Saturday?

I think so, yeah. I hope so.

It seems like watching the scrimmage the other day, you guys have more viable options at defensive tackle.

That goes to that depth. Year one when I got in, I got in on January 18th so I really didn’t have a chance to recruit. That next year we recruited a bunch of freshmen. We felt like we are going to get some kids in here that’ll make us better but we are going to take our lumps because they are freshmen. This past season we wanted to get some beef up front. We got some bigger bodies up front to build that depth. Yeah, we have more guys on the inside, bigger bodies. We have more beef up there.

Are you still doing LA or Vegas for your recruiting territory?

I’m doing L.A. Valley, Las Vegas, and Tucson.

With the coaching change, are you guys going after different types of profiles? I know they ran a similar type of offense with Coach Sumlin. Has the strategy with the recruiting changed a bit or is similar to what you’ve been accustomed to the past couple of years?

We always recruit the best players. The thing with Coach Sumlin is with his connections to Texas and Oklahoma. And Clarence McKinney, Coach Noel (Mazzone), Coach (Demetrice) Martin, I would think our recruiting will go up to another level as far as the guys we are going after, the head coaches they know. Those relationships, those connections will help us out. But I think we’ve always tried to recruit the best players.

What do you think the biggest change is with how Coach Sumlin runs to show here?

I knew that question was coming. For me it’s unfair to really compare Coach Rodriguez and Coach Sumlin. They’re really two different types of people. What they both have in common is they both want to win. Obviously the way they run their programs is different. The difference for me is I kind of know the flow and the way Coach Sumlin thinks. I worked with him at a good time. We had the Heisman Trophy winner my first year there. Then we went 9-4 the second year. My two years with him were pretty good. I hope that continues. He’s real straightforward with the guys. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He’s probably not as vocal as Coach Rod, but when he talks to the team, what he says, to me, kind of sticks. They listen to it. They’re both good coaches. They’re both great offensive minds. They’re both great leaders. I’m just happy to be here.

Overall, the defense made some strides last year. I’m sure you were not satisfied with the overall performance. What are the next steps for that group to really take it up a notch?

Stop the run, third-down defense. Our turnovers were better last year. I knew that we’d have to create that with us being undersized and lacking depth. But we need to get to where we are stopping the run and making teams one dimensional. Third down, we’ve got to get off the field. And that comes back to pass rush. That’s comes back to me wanting to get my hands on that front seven and getting them to understand that we need to get to the quarterback. When you turn on the last bowl games and see the teams that are winning, the one thing they have in common is that front four and that front seven are getting to the quarterback. They are stopping the run and getting to the quarterback. With Demetrice Martin and Rushing they can have the secondary. I know those guys have that under control, I don’t have to worry about that. They’ve played the position they are coaching. They take it personal as I would as that guy. For me it gives me a chance with Coach Iona, we spend a lot of time together on making sure we’re gap sound. Guys getting off the ball. Certain types of blitzes we want to run. Certain types of stunts we want to run. Certain fronts. He and I are spending time together trying to get that clear and getting guys to understand that this is a game of second, a game of inches. Our get-off needs to improve as far as getting off the ball. We are getting there.