Jeff Tedford Should Consider Re-instituting Scout Teams


Remember this seemingly innocuous piece of news from the beginning of the season?

The Bears aren’t going to utilize scout team players as much this season. Instead, coach Jeff Tedford wants to simulate the speed of real games more effectively, so he’s going to have his offense and defense go against the real defense and offense. So the Bears will still be going against the opponent’s schemes, they will just be doing so against presumably better players.

Tedford said the No. 2 defense will serve as the scout team for the No. 1 offense, and the No. 2 offense will do the same for the No. 1 defense. So if the Bears are going up against a good defensive end one week, the offense could see someone like Trevor Guyton on the other side, not a freshman on the scout team. Tedford believes practicing this way will have his players better prepared for games.

In the meantime, younger  players who are redshirting that typically would be on the scout team are instead going to run plays against each other.

Tedford said he is making the change not only to better simulate the speed and tempo of a game, but it’s also another way to put an extra focus on competition at practice.

I think this has helped us in some ways, but it's also hurt us in others.

1. Less practice time for offense and defense. So before, practices were like...

1st & 2nd team offense vs scout defense on one side of the field.
1st & 2nd team defense vs scout offense on one side of the field.

Now, what do current Cal football practices look like?

1st & 2nd team offense vs 2nd & 1st team defense on one side of the field.
3rd & 4th team offense vs 3rd & 4th team defense on the other side of the field

See a problem?

First and second team units see the field about 25-50% less playing time during the week.

Instead of the first and second team offenses and defenses seeing the maximal amount of practice time (3 hours apiece), because the 1st team offense is now playing the 2nd team defense rather than the scouters, the 2nd team offense has to practice with them for substitution purposes.

In a sport where practice time is crucial (the NCAA has a timecap on how many hours a coaching staff can prepare with their players), we are ceding valuable hours for our players for the "sake of a competitive environment", or whatever.

2. Development stagnates. And this is the main rub. When the second unit is mainly running the , their motivation goes down. They're not running our plays, our game, our scheme. They're running the opposition's plays, and they are at a loss at what to do.

Thus they (a) aren't capable of seeing the field, which (b) fatigues our starters, and in turn (c) puts more pressure on them to succeed on their own, because they're going to be seeing the majority of the snaps on the field.

But this is a negative feedback loop! Because the second unit struggles so much in practice, they see the field less, which makes them more unmotivated to get things going...and thus doesn't properly prepare the first unit for in-game situations. Ever wonder why our offensive line gets raved about in practice and then looks so crappy on gameday, or why our defense always looks so promising but gets torched for 135 points in three losses?The second unit doesn't challenge them effectively because they want to play with our playbook, not simulate the opposition's. Any good plays the first team makes don't matter at all.

It's probably true that they're playing well on the weekdays. It's just for all the wrong reasons.

3. Second unit is wholly unprepared. One of the reasons we might not have seen our second unit on the field earlier in blowouts is because they've looked so bad in practice. Is it really a surprise that Beau Sweeney and Brock Mansion aren't ready at all this year? They've been too busy trying to learn the playbooks of other teams that they haven't had enough time to immerse themselves in our own stuff.

Ditto the defense.  We don't substitute our defense as much as in previous seasons. This might be because Pendergast is an NFL guy and doesn't believe as much in substituting players, but in general we seem to be leaving a lot of defensive talent out of games (outside of maybe the secondary when we go into five or six deep coverage). Hence you'll see a lot of our starters playing in extended garbage time, and not enough of the second unit guys.

 

4. No dedicated scout teams means no dedicated scouting. Although this isn't as big a deal, our third and fourth units are now totally unmotivated. Generally in college football, the whole purpose of having so many walk-ons on our team is to provide a dedicated squad that's ready to simulate the opposing offense and defense. With not much real action against the main team and not as much dedication to scouting, their purpose is diffused.  They end up running the Cal playbook more than the second units, which is a waste, because maybe about one or two of these players will be seeing the field this season (mostly freshmen and walk-ons). Perhaps they'll be more prepared a year or two down the road, but how does that help us now?

The whole point of scouting is to get teams ready for the opposition, not to have great practice results. Jeff Tedford has focused too much on what happens in practice that he's forgotten about the most important thing about college football--Saturday performance.

He should go back to the drawing board here. We've shredded bad teams with our new practice regimen, but have been uncompetitive against good opponents and at times just looked totally unprepared for what they've thrown at us. Whatever he was trying to obtain from this new scheme, I'd suggest returning back to the way things were.

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