Cal football: A conversation with Coach Zach Yenser

Cal offensive line! - Cal Bears Online

In which I was able to speak with the Cal offensive line coach, and learned a few things to share with you.

As many of you know, I've been tweeting about my graduate school decisionmaking process pretty openly over the last month and a half, mostly because I'm trying to have fun with it, and don't think that athletes should be the only ones to have commitment ceremonies.

Well, apparently all that tweeting about #NamWatch2014 caught the eye of Coach Yenser...

...who then invited me for lunch last week.

You'll be glad to know that I took him up on the offer today, mostly because this is where this introduction stops being about me, and more about things you actually care about.

With it being just kind of a casual lunch -- and we talked about a bunch of different things -- I didn't record the meeting that we had, but these are some of the bits that I can remember and will list for you in tidbit form:

Depth chart

  • Chris Adcock and Matt Cochran are not expected to be available for spring ball.
  • It sounded like the staff was leaning toward keeping Jordan Rigsbee at center, as he has two more years left to go and it would keep continuity there between him and Jared Goff. Coach Yenser spoke highly of Rigsbee's attitude, as well. Plays with great effort.
  • With Rigsbee at center, the team seems to be leaning toward putting Adcock back at right guard, where he used to play under Tedford.
  • A year and a half after his accident, J.D. Hinnant is finally out of a red jersey. He's been cleared to go and will be the second team center in spring.
  • Steven Moore has moved to left tackle. Given all of the above, if I had to guess, it sounds like the starting offensive line will be Steven Moore, Chris Borrayo -- another guy who they love, by the way. I was told his nickname on the team is Oso, for "bear" -- Jordan Rigsbee, and Chris Adcock.
  • The right tackle spot should be a competition between Okafor and Dominic Granado, who could be a swing tackle for either side right now. That's up in the air.

Recruiting

  • Tying together this year's three OL recruits -- Granado, Kam Bennett, and Michael Trani -- toughness and general nastiness.
  • Yenser doesn't look for how big guys are currently, but where they can be after S&C.
  • It's well known that Cal has a gold-blue-red system for evaluating recruits' academics, with gold being guys who should have absolutely no problem going to school here, blue being guys who should be okay, and red being at risk guys. Coach said that at least at offensive line, he either stays away from, or outright won't recruit guys who can't cut it academically. Reiterated the point about Cal looking for guys who can fit in with the culture and the academic expectations here, as well as limiting -- not ignoring, but limiting (and that's my word, not his) -- the amount of red recruits.

Last year/next year

  • The goal for next season seems to be starting fast -- and I don't mean in terms of momentum or early scoring necessarily, but actually winning a few games early to get the team feeling good about themselves again. My take: this is possible, with the way the schedule is set up. How probable that is, you can decide for yourself, but I don't think going 3-1 -- or even 4-1 -- is necessarily impossible.
  • There was a lot of emphasis during this conversation about continuity up front. The team was never able to get that last season, but will be able to going forward, with a good amount of returning starters. Several guys -- like Borrayo -- were pressed into service early, which will pay off long term.
  • Also a lot of emphasis on running the ball, and getting better at doing that, as well. So, for all of you "CAL ONLY THROWS IT" people, that came straight from the offensive line coach...the Bear Raid will only resemble its final form with a run game in place. Expect that to develop further this season, and even more next season.
  • There was a ton of confidence expressed about Jared Goff. The phrase "Sunday guy" was used. Staff absolutely loves him.
  • Same for Damon Harrington, whose strength and conditioning program should begin to pay off starting this season. I suspect that this is not empty boasting. Damon did do work for them at Louisiana Tech, and only got half an off-season last year, with them switching over from Blasquez.
  • I asked about the tempo last year, which many of you noticed was inconsistent. I don't have the exact quote, but Yenser's answer suggested that the run game's ineffectiveness was involved, as well as the fact that they didn't want to stress and expose an already hurting defense to even more plays. I am guessing that with a little more health this year, you should see things pushed a bit more.
  • Coach Yenser went out of his way to praise Brennan Scarlett, who has also been cleared for full action. There's a guy the staff thinks could -- and perhaps even should -- be a real difference maker this season.

Other

  • I also checked in about why practices have gone to partial closure. Coach did not really know, and I didn't bother pushing the issue. Doesn't matter to me, anyway.
  • For anyone wanting to improve their evaluation of line play, look at the pad levels of the players.
  • Coach Yenser and Coach Likens took a trip out to Texas A&M recently to pick the brains of the staff out there. Not a bad idea, in my opinion. They are doing good work.
  • We ate at Smokey J's. Coach Yenser had ribs, some other meat I was not able to identify, baked beans, potato salad, a bag of chips, and some water. I had mac and cheese brisket and a can of Coke. Just in case you were curious.
  • Coach loves it on the West Coast. Not particularly a surprise for him to say that, but it's out there.
I'd like to thank Coach Yenser again for taking time out of spring practice prep to meet with me. It was a lot of fun and very enlightening. #GoBears!
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