Lunch with Coach Likens

Two out of three down. Still waiting to hear from Ingram.

In which the title occurs.

It's lunch with the Coaches II: Electric Bugaloo! This one took place on Friday afternoon at Pappy's -- sorry if it's not nearly as long or informative as the last one, because I had to get back to class right after. Like last time, this post has been recreated from memory, since it would be rude to record something that was meant to be casual.

Thanks again to Coach Likens for taking time out to meet! It was a lot of fun and we'll try to get another edition together soon.

Freshmen and depth chart

  • Coach Likens acknowledged he could see "several scenarios" where wideout Erik Brown plays, but that a better time to ask that question would be after a couple weeks of fall camp. According to him, it takes until then to be able to assess where the freshmen are at mentally, and that surprises happen on both sides, every season. [Who had Jacobi Hunter as a freshman who would play, for example?]
  • One, or both, of Vic Enwere and Tre Watson are expected to be first year contributors. Reading between the lines of what he said exactly, it sounded to me that Coach Likens had a bit more hope and expectation for Daniel Lasco -- if healthy -- as lead back than Khalfani Muhammad, although he acknowledged that the latter did improve all year long. If I recall correctly, Muhammad was described as a guy who could be "a good back in this conference."
  • Most of us expect there to be three outside receivers -- Kenny Lawler, Chris Harper, Trevor Davis -- essentially competing for two starting spots. Which two? Coach Likens still doesn't know...and it might not matter, since each of those guys will keep fighting to keep those spots at each practice. He expressed a healthy amount of confidence that that kind of competition would be good for them anyway.

Recruiting

(Generally speaking, of course. Talking about actual recruits is a no no.)

  • I asked Coach Likens if there's any sort of competition within the office about how many guys they bring in, or how highly ranked they are. In short, the answer to that is mostly no, or at least a downplayed no. He says recruiting is a team game -- even though the Rivals pages or whatever say "recruited by: Rob Likens" or Zach Yenser or whoever, that the staff as a whole has to do a lot of leg-work together before it gets to that point. Coach Likens works in the Inland Empire, for example, scouring contacts, scouting guys, talking to HS coaches before he turns it over to a guy's position coach, and vice versa for anyone with their respective territories.
  • 1-11 is a factor that they have to recruit around. He didn't avoid that, when asked. But the Cal staff tries to pitch -- Coach Likens intentionally wanted to avoid the word sell, since it almost implies dishonesty -- its recruits on a more long-term vision, both academically and in terms of the program. They use the word 40-year decision a lot, and as you'll see me mention again later, this first class of theirs that I'm meeting in my classes really seem to buy into this. And yes, there will be some guys they lose because of this, he admitted, because of the more tangible, the more material, and the more easily visible.
  • We know that Coach Yenser looks for athletic, high character guys with a mean streak. But at wide receiver? Coach Likens looks first and foremost for if a guy can break press coverage, which is a bit of a tough skill to spot on tape at the high school level, and is seen in only limited situations at a camp. He has to project forward a little bit when it comes to that.
  • Size matters to him only to a degree, since you can't have too many smaller guys -- they'll just be swallowed up by bigger cornerbacks off the line. Usually if you're 6'0 with a big frame, you're going to be pretty alright.
  • Straight line speed is de-emphasized in favor of quickness -- whether or not a guy can separate and work in space seems to be the larger focus.
  • If you're looking to watch wide receiver tape, one of the things Coach Likens said to pay attention to is how the receiver responds to the way he's being played. Press. Bracket. Off coverage. etc. [I always go to these meetings hoping to get a huge X's and O's breakdown on the offense or the defense, but I haven't quite found the right questions to get right into it yet. Haha.]

The offense

  • Not once, but twice during our conversation, Coach Likens mentioned that they want to run the ball. Unprompted. Again, this notion needs to go away from lazy backseat analysts about our team. The offense wants to run the ball. It simply wasn't possible last year, with all the injuries, the offensive line changes, and the fact that we often trailed by 20 mid-way through the first quarter.
  • In fact, according to Likens, Tony Franklin doesn't care what kind of game he calls, which was said a few times last season, too. He's going to do whatever it takes that gives them the best chance to win. Period. And objectively speaking, running, last year, gave an even less chance of it than passing it.
  • One problem with the offense last season was that teams were playing the outside guys straight up, and then essentially dragging their linebackers and safeties out to almost double cover the inside guys. Two solutions exist here, per Coach Likens -- you either complete deep passes to force them to play off (a risky proposition since there was very little protection time most of the year), or you run the ball until they put the safeties back into the box (a fruitless proposition since there was very little running room most of the year) and let your inside receivers run a little more freely. All tough, all around. In short, all the pieces matter, and all of the offense is interconnected. Give it some time to gel with all the moving personnel and everything.
  • Settling a long debate between myself and @TheAdmiral6, Likens resolved the chicken or the egg question -- the first first down is what leads to going up-tempo, and that simply going up-tempo to start a drive will not necessarily lead to first downs in itself. Between discussing this and the last point, I got the sense that there is expected improvement among the staff in the team's efficiency regarding this for 2014, but again, that the real, blow the damn doors off the scoreboard type offense won't show up until 2015.
  • Someone on Twitter wanted to know what they have the outside receivers do with blocking, which gave me the most football-related insight, I think. Likens told me that they don't really have their outside receivers block that often, since they are usually running routes on their packaged plays. This does not mean that they do not block. This does not mean they do not teach blocking, and it does not mean that blocking is not important.
  • It means that they block less often, due to the design of the offense. I charted this below with the examples we discussed, to give you a better idea: 

    Hypothetical Cal packaged play

    Hypothetical Oregon packaged play

    1) Run/handoff to RB - Inside Zone, Power, etc. If numbers/situation favorable, execute play #1. If not, move to option number #2.

    1) Run/handoff to RB - Inside Zone, Power, etc. If numbers/situation favorable, execute play #1. If not, move to option number #2.

    2) Pass concept, strong side - I assume that this is currently because Goff is not a run threat, and might change with Rubenzer in future years, but essentially, the offense generally calls for outside guys to be running pre-determined routes a lot of the time; slant, bubble, tunnel, hitch, etc. Remember, they don't know if it's a run or a pass either. Quarterback determines that.

    2) QB run - With a run threat behind center, Oregon usually has their outside receivers more heavily involved blocking.

    OR

    3) Pass concept, weak side - Same as up top, opposite side of the field.

    OR

    3) Pass - Same as Cal #2. Guys will usually be running routes in some capacity.

  • The second glimpse into the inner workings of the offense I got involves inside receivers. Coach Likens said that at that position, they want a guy who is big enough to be an effective blocker, since they usually send them after inside linebackers, or a guy who can be a match-up problem. Bryce Treggs, who moved to inside, falls under the latter, and I believe it is safe to assume that we don't yet have a guy who can accomplish both...yet. Maybe in another class to come. I also think Richard Rodgers would have been a "both" guy. Oh well.
  • Coach Franklin makes the playcalls from the booth, but Likens and the other assistants can, and usually do always chime in with what they're seeing and suggestions.
  • He does think the offense can work in a major conference, and cited Oklahoma under Josh Heupel as an early predecessor. Not to mention the proliferation of other Air Raid or no-huddle offenses at places like Texas Tech, Washington (now USC), etc.
  • 2/2 coaches have called Goff a future NFL guy. Knock on wood.

Season

  • The staff feels good about the Northwestern game...although I feel like that's something they're supposed to say anyway. He'd really like a win though. His birthday is September 5th. Mine is August 31st. So both of us are hoping to head home happy that weekend. Him more than me, obviously.
  • As far as actual record, or whatever, Coach Likens said that he expects the team to be a lot better, but that he can't really put a win number on it right now. That makes sense, considering how many question marks there are and guys who will finally, finally be returning to practice in the fall. The staff can predict as far ahead just about as well as we can -- which is to say, with only limited accuracy at best, on either side. BUCKLE UP Y'ALL

Other

  • Coach Likens has two dogs. They are his favorite animal -- he says dogs have pure intentions and are just a fantastic way for man's friendship.
  • He does plan to take over a program some day. Selfishly, I hope it's not for a little while longer.
  • He ordered an avocado burger, sweet potato fries, and coke. 19/19 for service, because my friend was actually the girl manning the cashier, which is just all kinds of weird. Walk up to Pappy's be like oh hi I'm here eating lunch with a coach um
  • I'm the Nam, I'm the Nam, I'm the Nam?
  • Actually, let's go ahead and close with this, which encapsulates the greatest bro-mance in Cal-lege football.

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