Three New Views: Meet the Football Staff Additions
By Griffin Fabits, Walter Cronkite School Class of 2021
Coach Herm Edwards has tinkered with his coaching staff since his team last played in December, announcing the addition of three assistant coaches in January.
New offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh, linebackers coach Chris Claiborne and recently promoted tight ends coach Adam Breneman are each of them eager to make their mark on Sun Devil Football.
Cavanaugh possesses a background that spans nearly four decades of experience. Claiborne, the former USC Trojan and eight-year NFL veteran, has prominent ties to Southern California, an area ASU continues to pluck talent from. And Breneman, the 25-year-old tabbed as a rising star in the industry, is determined to develop and produce NFL-ready prospects.
Each at different stages in their respective careers, Edwards has reeled in three unique additions who are steadfast in their pursuit of making ASU a perennial contender in the Pac-12 South Division.
"I'm really excited to work with this group," Cavanaugh said. "I've watched quite a bit of film and we've got to continue to work hard to develop those guys."
Stepping into an offensive line room that's rich in talent and experience, Cavanaugh spoke Wednesday about the brand of football he's planning to bring to Tempe. It will center around a theme of toughness and technique, he said.
"I want to be really physical and obviously establish the run game and protect the quarterback when we're throwing it," he said. "To me, repetition is the greatest teacher. We're going to work hard on all that stuff."
Prior to joining the Sun Devils, Cavanaugh made stops at Syracuse, Oregon State, Nebraska and also in the professional ranks with the then San Diego Chargers. Responsible for the development of a handful of NFLers, the situation he's inheriting in Tempe proved to be the best possible fit for him, he said.
"They're a physical group. I've gotten to meet them, but haven't worked with them yet, so I'm looking forward to that," he said. "I had quite a few conversations with [offensive coordinator] Zak Hill and was really impressed."
On the flip side of the ball, the Sun Devils were eyeing a linebackers coach who would fill the void left by Antonio Pierce, after he was recently named the team's defensive coordinator. In Claiborne, Edwards has his man who is capable of just that.
"Antonio Pierce did a great job developing those guys," Claiborne said Wednesday. "There's going to be some new tweaks I'm going to add to that. Our coaching style might be the same to them, might be a little different, but at the end of the day, it's just getting them to be more consistent and more productive as possible within the defense."
Once a game-changing linebacker at USC, and then a first-round NFL Draft pick in 1999, Claiborne previously served on his alma mater's staff. When the Sun Devils kicked off their 2020 season against the Trojans at the Coliseum last November, Claiborne had a front-row seat to the potential of ASU's defense.
"They played a hell of a game. Defensively, they did a lot of great things, they just need to finish," he said.
"I'm really, really excited about it."
Claiborne cited his ties to the SoCal area -- as a former player, former USC coach and former high school coach -- as a massive strength that he brings to the staff. The Sun Devils have, in recent years, established themselves as a big-time player in the recruiting scene there.
Enter Claiborne, committed to "bringing in as great of talent as I can at the linebacker position," and the Sun Devils are poised to continue to recruit well from California.
A year after joining the staff as a graduate assistant, Breneman made quick work during year one, which was enough to join the staff full-time in January.
"It's a fun staff to be on," he said. "I'm definitely blessed to be one of the coaches.
Breneman, the former University of Massachusetts tight end, is overseeing a group that brims with potential. A unit headlined by returner Curtis Hodges, the Sun Devils also added Oklahoma transfer Jalin Conyers, the former four-star high school recruit.
And in Breneman's tight ends' room hangs a sign that reads 'versatile.' It's the mantra he aims to instill into his guys, a style of play that could transform the offensive unit as a whole.
"I think at tight end, you're judged on your receiving ability and blocking ability, you have to be smart, you have to be able to pass-protect, you have to be able to do a lot of different things.
"My goal is to be for all of them – Curtis, Jalin, the young guys – is to develop as true, every-down tight ends. There's guys you don't have to take off the field when you're going to run the ball, guys you don't have to take off the field when you pass the ball, guys who can be real, versatile tight ends. I know that's kind of my goal for the spring, is to develop them."
Breneman touched on the excitement of operating under offensive coordinator Zak Hill, the man who helped guide the Sun Devils to a conference-best 40.3 points per game in 2020.
It is, as he tells recruits, an offense you want to play in.
"There's opportunities all over the place to catch the ball, to make plays, to make big plays in the run game, in the blocking game, pass-protection, and then to be impact players when the game is on the line and hope the ball gets thrown to us.
"It's a fun offense. Coach Hill is great. He's brilliant. He's one of the smartest guys in this building."
A shortened 2020 season provided lots of spark and plenty of optimism for 2021, which is set to commence with spring ball in several weeks. Each of the three new-hires are eager to get their hands on a roster that's expected to contend for a conference title in the fall.
"I think we have a great product to sell," Breneman said. "From a coaching staff standpoint, the NFL-model with Coach Herm, a great location, but really, when it comes down to it, it's a great fit for a lot of these guys football-wise."