Your humble scribe had a chance to talk to high-energy Assistant Head Coach/Outside Receivers Coach Rob Likens last-last Saturday afternoon (April 19) following a productive full-pads practice. Three of his charges -- Bryce Treggs, Kenny Lawler, and Trevor Davis -- all reportedly made big plays during the nearly 90-play scrimmage, with each recording a TD reception. Needless to say, his wide receiver group is arguably the deepest position on the team:
This past season, Bryce Treggs led the team with 77 catches and 752 yards (1 TD); Chris Harper logged the most receiving yards on the squad (852 yards, on 70 catches with 5 TDs); Kenny Lawler tied Harper for the team lead in TD receptions (5 TDs, on 37 catches for 347 yards); while Darius Powe (25 catches, 231 yards, 1 TD), James Grisom (10 catches, 169 yards, 3 TDs), and Maurice Harris (7 catches, 100 yards, 2 TDs) all made notable contributions.
With former scout-team stars Trevor Davis (junior transfer from Hawaii) and Jack Austin (soon-to-be redshirt freshman) coming off their redshirt years, Likens' group has the potential to be the best set of receivers in the Pac-12. If -- a big if, of course -- that potential is realized, Treggs, Harper, Lawler, and Davis could all be in the running for post-season accolades. Likens is confident, though, that his guys will answer the call:
So without any further introduction, let's get to the interview:
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CGB: Any big impressions or general comments from the scrimmage today?
RL (Rob Likens): It was good to see Trevor Davis make some big plays, because I knew he had it in him. He kinda had a tough spring to start out -- he was on the scout team all last year, and he was impressive. But when you're on the scout team, there's really no structure on the [scout team] offense -- you're just looking at a play card and then running out there making plays! So when you get inside the structure of the [regular] offense -- and you have to do this, this, this, and this [multiple gestures re: techniques & calls] -- sometimes guys struggle with it early. But now he's starting to get more comfortable in the offense -- and he made some big plays today, which was great to see!
CGB: I heard that Kenny Lawler and Bryce Treggs also made a couple big plays in the scrimmage...
RL: Kenny made two big plays. But there were a couple other plays -- he dropped a ball in the end zone on a play that he always makes. So that was a little frustrating, but I'm glad to see that he came back and finished strong -- that's very important! Bryce... he had one good [TD] catch. He's my receiver too on the inside...
CGB: So officially you're the outside receivers coach, but you still coach Bryce [Treggs] and Chris [Harper]? [Note: Bryce Treggs has moved to the slot this spring]
RL: I coach Bryce, yeah. And Chris has been playing some outside [and inside] too... He's been doing a really good job, and I'm very pleased with him this spring so far.
CGB: The top 5–6 receivers you have, both on the outside and inside, are probably the deepest -- and at least on paper, potentially the best -- group in the Pac-12...
RL: I agree, and I believe that with all my heart! And that's a great way of putting it -- the potential's there and it looks good. Now they just have to go out there and do it.
CGB: So what do you think is the process -- the things they need to do -- to actually get there and realize their potential, to produce on the field in the fall?
RL: A lot of it is confidence. And you know... we all knew we were going to struggle last year. It's so important now, that [our guys] understand what to expect. Because when you go into that first game -- when we went into that first game against Northwestern [last fall], nobody on our team knew what to expect out of each other... what's going to happen when we fail, what's going to happen when we have success. But now we all understand each other and we all know what to expect. And that builds a sense of confidence -- once our guys get confident and once they understand that they belong, I think it [the team's performance] will really shoot up.
CGB: And that applies to the whole team, not just the receivers?
RL: That's right, it does for the whole team. [For example,] you can tell the offensive line has gotten noticeably better since last fall.
CGB: Would you say that the team chemistry (on offense) is a lot more solid now, compared to last spring?
RL: Yeah, yes absolutely! When you first put an offense [and a system] in, everybody's just worried about learning, and they're thinking "Hey, I don't want to mess up." But now, once you understand the plays and the concepts, you're looking around to help other people out too -- and that naturally builds chemistry.
CGB: So guys are looking out for each other; they know everyone's assignments, and if someone's in the wrong spot you [they] can tell them "hey, line up here or shift over there"...
RL: Yeah exactly, there you go! Where last spring, you [they] were still figuring out where to line up!
CGB: Have any of the young guys impressed you so far?
RL: Jack Austin has had a really good spring -- a couple ups, a couple downs, but he's noticeably better than he was in the fall. [thinking] Oh, Drake Whitehurst has gotten better! He's been kinda under-the-radar, but I think he's gotten a lot better...
CGB: So the defense -- the corners & safeties -- they've been hitting a lot more this spring...
RL: They are, they are. The young corners struggled a little bit starting out, but I've noticed the secondary getting better every time we're out here. They really have... it hurts me to say this, but kudos to those guys for getting better!
CGB: But they're not outplaying you in drills are they? [Note: during practice, Coach Likens often plays the part of a CB in WR-DB drills and also in offensive skelly]
RL: No, never! [laughs]
CGB: So Rob Likens still has the #1 CB spot locked down, right?
RL: [nods & laughs]
CGB: Changing gears a little bit, to off-the-field... A couple days ago, there was an announcement that for this academic year, the team APR improved to 969. Is that a testament to all of the work that the staff (and team) has been putting in this past year?
RL: You'll find that when you coach, whatever you stress the most -- on a daily basis -- that's where you're going to see the most improvement. When we got here, from Day 1, that's what Coach Dykes has stressed: We expect you to go to class, we expect you to graduate. This is not a place where you come hang out for three years, maybe go to the NFL, and then not graduate. Cal -- Berkeley -- is a special, unique place... you need to be a grinder to make it here. We want you to grind in the classroom -- just like you do on the football field -- and our guys have embraced that. I'm on the academic task force, and I've had a wonderful time meeting with people in the Cal community, including professors and administrators. We want to take the same message back to our players: that we all believe that Cal is a special place, and if you come to school here, you need to graduate! So we stress that...
CGB: So it looks like everything is on the up-and-up...
RL: Yeah it does, it does. It starts with recruiting, and talking about it with kids at the beginning of the recruiting process... I think that's very important too.
CGB: Coach Dykes has said multiple times since he's been here: that Cal is the #1 public university, and that we want people who want to be here, not just to be football players but to be student-athletes as well...
RL: We just want guys to embrace the whole thing. We're proud of the fact that Cal puts the 5th most players onto NFL rosters. We want to embrace that too, but we also want to embrace the academic side of things. Cal is too special not to... it takes a special kid to come here, and want both. It really does, and that's what we look for.
CGB: Speaking of recruiting... with this being a fairly big recruiting (unofficial visit) weekend, what's the day like for you -- with position meetings and scrimmage earlier in the day, then recruiting stuff later on?
RL: Well, you recruit every day in this job -- whether you're on your cell phone, on Facebook, on Twitter -- you're constantly communicating with kids all over the country. But these days are special, because you get a chance to have [recruits] on campus, and interact with them on unofficial visits. The time is precious, so you need to have a well thought-out plan... We take [recruits] on tours of the university and the [football] facilities... and then we meet with them individually. We let them come into our position meetings, so that they can see what "a day in the life of" for a typical Cal football player and student-athlete is. They get a chance to meet with our academic advisors, then (Damon Harrington) our strength coach, our equipment managers, our training [medical] staff... And on the football side, their position coach meets with them, then the coordinator, then the head coach. We try to pack as much in... in a 24-hour period, but sometimes its crammed into a shorter deal... We have a lot of people behind the scenes, who come up with great plans -- you have to be efficient with your time -- they all do a great job!
CGB: I hear you and Coach Yenser always get lunch together... so what's your guys' favorite lunch spot?
RL: Well, I like the pizza and sandwiches at LaVal's... Also, down on College, Barney's is awesome... There's another one too, but I can't remember all of these names -- we just walk in there and eat... Hmm, you know what, Free House [is our favorite spot]. We go to Free House all the time -- great burgers, love that place!
CGB: Last question, with the Spring Game coming up next weekend, do you have a message for the fans?
RL: I think we have a new attitude. I think our defense, if you come out and watch us, we're noticeably better... we're better on both sides of the ball! We want to see fans in the stands... As a football player when you look up... and see everyone getting excited, we feed off that excitement and we get better... We all should feed off of each other [looks around the stadium] this is a tremendous place! I know we were 1-11 last year; however, [at Cal] we're a family -- we all stick together, stand by each other, so let's build this place up! We'll feed off you, you feed off us, and lets go! There's no one hanging their head around here. We're ready to go and we're excited!
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Many thanks to Coach Likens for his time. Follow him on Twitter at @CalCoachLikens.