Welcome to a new feature here on CGB. Your humble Sacramento! correspondent recently joined the Sacramento Grid Club, a rather historic organization of Cal fans who have meet weekly during the fall to talk about the Golden Bears for the past 63 years! What, you might ask, are the advantages to joining such an organization? In addition to controlling the British Crown and keeping the metric system down, each week you can watch a replay of last week’s game with no commercial interruption and enjoy hearing from three different guests: One Cal coach, one Cal media member, and one media member who follows Cal’s upcoming opponent.
If you live in the Sacramento area and want to talk football every Wednesday evening with a group of friendly, die-hard Cal fans, I highly recommend that you join up! All of the information you need can be found here, including an impressive list of upcoming speakers very much worth hearing live, such as Sandy Barbour, Jon Wilner, Akili Smith and ROPE COACH, to name just a few.
This week’s guests included Cal defensive backs coach Al Simmons, Cal broadcaster Todd McKim and Nevada broadcaster Chris Vargas, and a very unexpectedly famous (and timely) guest. Hit the jump for more from this week’s meeting:
Meetings usually begin with a coach graciously taking the time to call in and take questions. Secondary coach Al Simmons has been with Cal for a total of six years and is in his second stint in Berkeley. While at Cal he's coached players like Deltha O'Neal and Syd Quan Thompson, which is proof enough of his coaching skills. Here are his responses to various questions:
Note: For obvious reasons, all guest responses are paraphrased based on my notes and best recollections.
On how the secondary has changed under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast:
There haven't been any big changes from 2009, though CBs are tending to press up more. The biggest change for the secondary is the increased emphasis on pressuring the QB, something that obviously makes his job easier! He and coach Pendergast haven't changed any of the fundamental or mechanical instructions they give to the secondary.
What was the rationale behind moving Chris Conte and Josh Hill to safety?
Chris Conte was actually going to move to safety before the 2009 season, but a training camp injury prevented him from practicing the position, so he stayed at CB for most of the year. But the coaching staff felt his tackling style suited the safety position well. As mentioned by other sources, Josh was moved to safety because of his understanding of the defense. CB is easier to play mentally than safety, so the coaching staff puts lots of value in understanding the scheme.
What is the status on Steve Williams's injury?
Steve will be unable to play in Reno, but they are very optimistic that he will return against Arizona. Darian Hagan and Marc Anthony will start at CB, and Bryant Nnabuife will back up both of them. In an emergency Josh Hill can slide over from safety to play corner as he did in 2009.
When asked about defending the pistol:
Their RB is an impressive north/south runner, and Kaepernick is impressively elusive. But he's not just a runner - he has a pro quality arm, so the defense has to be ready for the pass just as much as the run.
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After Coach Simmons finished it was pointed out that there was a football celebrity in the crowd - none other than Mike Periera, former vice president of officiating and current Fox sports analyst! Mr. Periera was kind enough to describe a rather recent controversy in the NFL, and even kinder to give me the OK to tell you all about it. Thanks Mike!
As many of you Jahvid Best, Zack Follett and Nick Harris fans know, the Detroit Lions were victimized last weekend by a rather obscure section of the NFL rulebook. Fox hired Mr. Periera for the express purpose of asking his opinion on tricky ref situations, so as soon as the play was ruled incomplete and a review was announced, he was brought onto the Detroit-Chicago broadcast and asked how the referees would/should rule the play.
Now that sounds like a sticky situation to me. The NFL tries to write rules that are as black and white as possible, but there is always room for interpretation. It would be juuuust a little awkward if Mr. Periera predicted the wrong decision by his former colleagues. When asked by the broadcasters what the call should be he explained the rule, took a deep breath, and said "I think the call will stand as incomplete." He then described how he held his breath, worried that the refs would change the call and make him look like an idiot, and described his extreme relief when the head ref announced that the ruling on the field was confirmed! When I asked him if I could retell his anecdote he said "Sure - but only because I got it right!"
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Next up was the evening's live speaker: Cal TV personality Todd McKim. I'm sure most of you recognize Todd from his radio sideline reporting, from Cal basketball radio, or from the new weekly Cal Coaches Corner show. Because he gets to work so closely to the team he seemed very in tune with everything going on, and like you would expect from an experienced broadcaster, was very entertaining and engaging. Here are his answers to some questions.
Re: Concerns about the altitude in Reno
He's not worried about it, and recalled that Cal has played at similar altitudes with no problems. The team always has oxygen on hand in case the unexpected happens.
When asked to describe Nevada coach Chris Ault:
He's a real old school coach, but also an innovator credited with pioneering the middle WR screen and the pistol offense.
When asked which Nevada players to watch for:
Colin Kaepernick, of course. He's an impressive athlete with a great arm - he threw a 94 MPH fastball in high school, and after working on his mechanics in college has harnessed that strength on the football field.
Nevada has a 6'1'' 245 pound defensive end named Dontay Moch who was clocked running a 4.18/4.23 40 yard dash(!?!?) and was a 200 meter sprint champ in Arizona.
When asked about the Nevada crowd:
I'm going to bring a poncho and umbrella because I heard they sell beer.
When asked about how other schools are talking to Nevada to learn aspects of the pistol offense:
It isn't working for UCLA because they don't have any bullets!
On Keenan Allen:
He spent tons of time with Marvin Jones during the summer bridge program learning plays and the offense - they would be in front of a chalk board with Keenan soaking everything up.
When asked about what kind of preparation and homework he has to do to get ready for a game:
Preparation in a way is harder now as a sideline reporter, because he has to spend lots of time digging up interesting stories, while as a play-by-play guy he mostly had to focus on knowing names and numbers. Sometimes a sideline reporter can be caught off-guard. For example, sideline reporters are not supposed to go into the team designated areas between the 25 yard lines. Once, when Cal was playing New Mexico State, the Aggies gained 14 or 15 yards on 3rd and 15, and Joe Starkey asked Todd if they had made the distance. Unfortunately Todd was 25 yards away from the play (even though he was as close as he was allowed to get!). But Todd remembered that the NMSU coach was known to go for it on every 4th and one play, so Todd saved himself by saying "I'm not sure Joe, but I guarantee you that if they are short they'll go for it!" And he looked pretty good when NMSU sent the offense back out on 4th and one!
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The final guest was Chris Vargas, part of the Nevada football broadcast team. Here are some of the questions he answered:
How excited is everyone to play Cal?
Lots of excitement, from both the community and from the team. The word you keep hearing is 'opportunity.' Nevada hasn't capitalized on recent opportunities to beat BCS teams, but with Cal coming to Reno they feel they have another great chance.
How was the execution against Eastern Washington and Colorado St.?
Although Nevada won easily against EWU, Coach Ault was very critical of the effort and execution, particularly in regards to the 24 points allowed, and he tore into the team afterwards. But Nevada came back with one of their most complete team efforts in recent memory with a 51-6 demolition of Colorado St., in which they scored a touchdown on nearly every drive of the game.
What kind of defense will you see Nevada play?
They try to keep the ball in front of them, and contain enough so that their offense can outscore you. Expect lots of zone coverage and occasional zone blitzes.
What is the run/pass ratio for the Nevada offense?
In 2009 the run/pass ratio was somewhere around 70/30, but in 2010 it has been 50/50. This is a deliberate effort by the coaching staff, because they felt that in 2009 Nevada couldn't pass the ball well enough to come from behind, and that the team really suffered in obvious passing downs.
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So stay tuned Cal fans. Next week's meeting will include John Crumpacker from the San Francisco Chronicle, Head of football operations Mike McHugh and Ryan Finley from the Arizona Daily Star. If you're in the Sacramento Area, join up!