Spring practice is generally a weird beast because you're not really quite sure if you're learning anything from what you're watching. Like there's always this nagging feeling that what we're watching won't really matter when fall rolls around because half the players contributing and excelling aren't quite as good as the players who are standing on the sidelines hammering a tire (more on that later). This was particularly true during the previous coaching regime, where we'd hear great things about random name that wasn't a regular rotation player, then never hear from any of them again.
I'm not sure if that situation will be true with Sonny Dykes. Dykes has already said that great performances from his walk-ons on and off the field will be rewarded with scholarships, and other players not performing up to par in both respects will lose them. So there does seem to be an increased sense of competitive and integrated camaraderie between all the football players that might not have been there before.
While many of the top performers remain the usual suspects, particularly defensively (Kameron Jackson being aggressive and strong in coverage, Mustafa Jalil coming back strong from injury and swarming toward the ball-carrier, Nick Forbes plugging up the interior), don't be surprised to see a walk-on or two work their way up and impress through spring, and potentially see the field this fall. Just not sure where that is yet.
Wednesday's spring practice featured several of the more interesting football rituals.
- Injured players like Jason Gibson and Austin Clark trying to split a tire in a half with an axe. Seriously, I wish they were on our side of the field so I could show you the tape, but I swear this is the Miyagian lumberjackery that was occurring on the other side of the field.
- Safeties stacking up on safeties in a defensive rotation. Literally, there were four defensive backs lined up, and then behind them were four more defensive backs lined up like squads of Koopa Troopas. I think they were planning to eat the field.
- The defense engaging in taunting of the offensive unit because they couldn't tackle anyone since they weren't in pads. THERE WAS A BEAR FIGHT! That occurred on the other side of the field. I presume they were talking about the latest controversies occurring in Downton Abbey.
- Jared Goff getting sacked three times in about three plays when non-contact was being somewhat enforced. Half-convinced this was a freshman hazing ritual.
We may not be in contact this spring but nobody is more pissed off than me n @legendarygibby9 Comin back stronger than ever! freakin grindin— Austin LaRue Clark (@austinc54) February 28, 2013
Ingram gives an impression of Zach Kline that slayed me. Please watch and enjoy.
McClure talks about his recovery from injury (which appears to be going well).
Nam's tweets of the day.
Nam notices things that I never notice, so here are some of his best tweets or observations. Like punt formations.
The shield of the punt protectors has slightly changed. One guy squatting to the side rather than shielding. twitter.com/GoldenBlogs/st…— GoldenBlogs (@GoldenBlogs) February 28, 2013
They're using the same "3 protectors" that we all saw last year, but one of the guys stands upright and un-set until the snap.— Nam Le (@OneLifeOneMic) February 28, 2013
Honorable mention for football stuff.
"You want to be covered early, but open late." Overheard instructions by one of the coaches [Likens?]— Nam Le (@OneLifeOneMic) February 27, 2013
Looks like the run plays are a lot of zone/stretch stuff, some power runs, and draws. That's all we're doing right now on offense.— Nam Le (@OneLifeOneMic) February 28, 2013
Quarterbacks exist, therefore they must be analyzed
Sonny turned most of the action over to the second unit of Cal quarterbacks in the stable. Kyle Boehm and Jared Goff received the majority of the scrimmage reps. Zach Kline saw a few early, Allen Bridgford and Austin Hinder got a taste late.
Honestly, there were times when Goff looked like a top three performer. His high school offense best matches what Sonny runs in college, so I saw some very accurate throws and a good job of distributing on medium throws. He was not absolutely assured confidence-wise (the feet stayed in place in the pocket). But he had one of the nicest throws of the day (right between two defenders into his intended guy) and he has accuracy.
Not so much was Kyle Boehm. Boehm has a very football-ready body; you examine his frame and he just looks like a solid quarterback. But the performance has yet to measure up so far. He's got a lot of work to do in a short period of time.
Coach Dykes appears to be ready to trim the rotation, so expect Boehm to be left off the shortlist. Things remain open with Goff although I expect they'll want to leave him off too, because his body will need plenty of conditioning before it's ready for a football field.
One of the most popular practice plays that was instilled in practice were variations of a play we should see quite often: Four verticals. It's one of the staples of the old Airraid attack and figures to be featured prominently in Strawberry Canyon next fall. You'll see all eligible receivers (four wide receivers, with the running back the safety valve) distribute themselves all over the field and ensure the proper spacing for a high percentage pass. The quarterbacks all tried their best to operate those plays, with varying degrees of success.
Another play that we'll see more of is the outside zone read out of shotgun (with an occasional mix of power). The outside zone is pretty familiar to Cal offensive linemen (it's only like the play we ran 80% of the time the last half-decade of the Tedford era), so it might just be something we're using to ensure the offensive linemen aren't totally confused to start camp before we insert more varied plays in our book. For the most part, the running backs are keeping (there weren't any quarterback runs I remember the first two practices), so it seems more about getting the execution of the plays down pat rather than reading anyone yet (there haven't been too many zone-read plays as of yet).
Up to this point we've only seen basic handoffs to the running back, but it looks like we'll see a lot of cool stuff happening in this play. Cal did use the diamond formation once last season (successfully) before shelving it for reasons unbeknownst to humanity, but now it appears it'll be stapled into our football diets. Expect to see plenty of diamond next year as a staple.
Grant Marek, Rivals: "The starting secondary in the 11-on-11 offense/defense drills: Jackson, Avery Sebastian, Alex Logan, and Stefan McClure. Starting linebackers: David Wilkerson, Nick Forbes (who looks to have the Mike spot locked up), and Khairi Fortt."
Jeff Faraudo, Bear Talk on Dykes's presser: "On the placekicker job: "We’re just going to open it up and compete and see what happens. That’ll go into two-a-days. We’ll come out of spring ball thinking, `Here’s our thoughts on kickoffs, here’s our thoughts on long field goals, here’s our thoughts on short field goals.’ In the ideal situation, somebody handles them all. We’ll kind of see how it plays out. A lot of that changes in the fall when you see whose leg wears out.""
Nam Le (hey Nam!), Bear Insider caught up with center Mark Brazinski: "Our last (year's) offense was really intricate, really thick. This one's much simpler. Once you've been through the offenses that I've been through, it's easy to conceptualize it - and just go. Just go play football. It's nice."
Press conference video
Sonny Dykes, wearing a hat I haven't seen before. Anyone have one of these?
Here's our current running back platoon of Darren Ervin and Jeffrey Coprich.