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2009 Spring Game Recap

Here are my thoughts from today's spring game practice:

(1)  Defense is further along than the offense.  This isn't entirely unexpected.  Our defense is probably more talented than the offense and they have more experience returning than the offense.  The defense got the best of the offense throughout the day except for perhaps 5 big offensive plays.  Runs were getting minimal gains.  Passing was limited to mostly short hitches.  Few deep passes were completed.  Lots of pressure was getting to the QB from blitzes. 

Speaking of blitzes...

(2) Gregory seemed to bringing a lot of pass rushers.  This wasn't a more passive defense out there today.  Instead the defense was fairly aggressive.  Quite frequently the defense attacked with 5 to 6 pass rushers and was able to pressure the QBs and sack the QBs.  Could this be a clue into the defense's position on the conservativeness/aggressiveness spectrum?  I think so. 

(3) Riley looked just "okay."  If my memory serves me correctly, Riley was working with the second team today.  His performance today was just okay.  He didn't really stand out.  But he wasn't horrible.  His most memorable play today was probably an incompletion.  On this particular play, he had Boateng open in the south-east corner of the field.  Boateng was running towards the south-east corner and his defender was a good 10 yards away from him.  Riley saw him open, unleashed the throw, and it fell short of Boateng.  This wasn't an issue of arm strength, but merely that Riley mis-estimated the power of the throw as well as Riley perhaps was just trying too hard to not miss the throw because Boateng was so open. 

I discussed Riley's performance today with CBKWit, and we both seemed to agree that Riley didn't quite seem as decisive with the ball as one of the other QBs (I will get to this later).  Riley seemed to be holding onto the ball a little longer than he should.  By "longer than he should" I mean that nobody was open so you should either tuck it and run or throw the ball away.  It appeared as if Riley was looking and looking and looking and looking.... waiting for somebody to get open.  Understandably, if nobody is open you probably shouldn't throw the ball to a receiver.  But as I said earlier, at some point, you have to tuck it and run or throw it away. 

Today was my first time seeing Riley in action since last season.  I've read the practice reports from Okanes, and, etc., and everyone has made it sound like Riley was the best QB of the bunch thus far.  After reading that, and seeing Riley's performance today, I was disappointed.  Maybe the media has hyped up Riley a bit too much in the past few weeks, or maybe Riley just had an off day, but he certainly didn't live up to the expectations that I had set after reading about how he has consistently out-performed the other QBs this spring.

(4) Mansion looked "okay".  I wish I could say something more about the guy since he has an awesome party yacht and the media has made it sound like he's been surpassed by Sweeney, but I can't really say Mansion did great or really stood out today either. 

I really don't have any memories of him today - not good ones at least.  The one bad memory I have is Mansion's interception.  The offense was working a mayday situation where the offense is down by two points and starts out about mid-field.  There are only 49 seconds on the clock.  The QBs must lead the offense to a field-goal or touchdown.  On one particular play, Mansion threw a deep ball to a WR on a deep post.  The 40 yard (estimated) pass was a beautiful spiral that was overthrown by perhaps 3 to 5 feet.  The ball was just high enough to be outside of the jumping reach of the WR, and in perfect position for Cattouse to intercept the ball - which he did.  Was that throw a bad throw?  Well, I think it was a low probability throw.  The WR wasn't really that open.  Cattouse had over-the-top coverage and was staying with the WR.  I believe there was an underneath defender in the general area too.  It was a tough throw.  Mansion missed the throw but not by a lot.  If the pass was only 3 to 5 feet shorter, that could have easily been a touchdown too.

Actually, one good memory I have is a great throw by Mansion to WR Alex Lagemann on a seam route.  This was early on in the practice and was a pretty decent 20-25 yard gain or so.

Despite the Cal fan consensus that Mansion is a QB who will take off and run the ball (this idea spawned from Mansion's highschool highlights), I can't remember Mansion taking off once.  I could have sworn I read a quote from Tedford a few weeks ago where he described Mansion as a more traditional dropback passer (Note: I can't find that quote.  I could be mis-remembering things and be wrong.  Does anyone else remember one of the media outlets quoting Tedford saying something like that?), and right now, I'd have to agree that Mansion seems to more of a dropback pocket QB. 

On the other hand....

(5) Beau Sweeney has some pocket elusiveness and escapability.   First off, let me say that I thought Sweeney looked like the best QB today.  Note that I am saying the "best."  I'm not saying he did "great" today, but merely that he was the best out of Riley, Mansion and him.  Overall, I would describe his performance as "good."   He was decisive.  He got the ball out on-time and was rarely, if ever, caught looking too long down the field.  He seemed to have that "internal timer" of aware QBs who know when to run when the pocket is breaking down and/or nobody is open.  Sweeney consistently eluded defenders, escaped collapsing pockets, and even scrambled for (positive) yards.

Someone on Twitter asked us during the practice whether Sweeney had good zip on his ball.  It appears as he does.  I do remember a few plays in particular where Sweeney threw some absolute bullets at WRs.  Also, Sweeney threw a beautiful 40+ yard deep bomb touchdown to Ross.  The offense was driving north.  Ross was on the east side of the field.  Sweeney recognized man-coverage on Ross and no safety help.  Sweeney dropped back, and threw a perfectly placed ball into the back north-east corner of the endzone where Ross caught it after using his speed to put about 4 yards of separation between him and his defender.  All the while, Ross was looking right into the sun for the ball.  That was perhaps the best offensive play of the game right there.  The throw was beautifully placed.

Sweeney also had a great little ad lib shovel pass on a scramble.  On one particular passing play the pocket broke down.  So Sweeney escaped to his left, was about to run but then saw he was getting cut off by approaching defenders.  Having not passed the line of scrimmage yet, Sweeney shoveled the ball back to his right towards the interior of the field and across the line of scrimmage to an open receiver for a small.  Although it was a small gain, this play showed Sweeney's pocket presence (ability to feel when the pocket was breaking down), his escapability (his ability to escape a collapsing pocket), his vision (for seeing the open receiver), and his ability to ad lib. 

We did tweet (a "tweet" is the name for a status update on Twitter) that Sweeney was intercepted.  On this particular play, he was actually hit while he was throwing which caused the ball to pop up and prime for intercepting.  Indeed the ball was intercepted and returned for a touchdown with some great blocking by the Cal defenders.  I can't remember who on defense it was, but someone absolutely laid out an offensive player who was attempting to run down the defensive ballcarrier.  Anyways, the main point here is that Sweeney's interception wasn't the case of a "bad throw" or "bad decision" but more of a "back luck" type of play. 

(5) Anger looked good.  He was booming punts.  Nothing new here.  I suppose it's ironic how his abilities are so spectacular, but not at all surprising at the same time since we know what he's capable of. 

(6) Kickoff depth looked "good."  I wouldn't say it was great because they weren't going into the endzone.  In fact, Ragnarok reminded me that only the opening kickoff went into the endzone (via the leg of Tavecchio).  But the rest of the kickoffs were at around the 5 to 10 yardline which was good. None of the kickoffs went out of bounds.

(7) Seawright looks shaky.  Perhaps he still needs more time to recover from his injury but today he missed a PAT.  He did make an 11 yard field goal later on but I noticed that he didn't seem to quite have great height on that particular kick.  The height on that kick wasn't so low as to be alarming but it didn't seem to have the elevation that is ideal.  With low kicks there is always the possibility of a block. 

(8) Tavecchio's range on field goals is probably at most about 30 yards out.  Today Tavecchio had the chance to attempt a 52 and 50 yard field goals.  The distance I am giving here is actual yardage which means the distance from the ball to the back of the endzone.  In other words +17 yards from the line of scrimmage.  Why 17 yards?  Well, the endzone is 10 yards deep and the ball is placed 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage for field goals.  So if the ball is on the 35 yardline, the actual distance of the kick is 52 yards (35+17).  Of course, this is just the straight line distance and doesn't account for the height of the field goal cross bar which is 10 feet high.  So in reality, to make a field goal from the 35 yard line, you really have to be able to kick the ball around 60 yards (35+17+extra distance for height of cross bar). 

Tavecchio missed both the 50 and 52 yard field goals.  The distance appeared too long with his balls falling short as well as off-target.  So in other words, should Tavecchio be our starting kicker, Cal will need to get the ball to the 30 yardline at minimum to attempt a field goal that isn't too long. 

(9) Less new stuff.  As you all know, we can't post pictures of formations from closed practices.  Also, we can't post pictures of formations from Spring Game either despite it being an "open" practice (remember the CGB spygate incident in 2008?).  Nor can we describe formations on the internet (remember the incident in 2006?  Or was it 2007? I can't remember). 

So here is where I now get vague.  I'd love to just show you a picture of what I saw.  But I can't.  I'd love to draw it out for you on photoshop, but I can't.  So let me just say this:

(a) I saw one new formation today.

(b) I saw less "Cignetti" stuff from 2008.  A lot of the "Cignetti" formations from 2008 were gone. 

(c) I saw the TEs being used in a more 2006-ish  and 2007-ish manner. 

(d) 12 personnel (double tight end sets) does appear to be making a return.

To me, from viewing today's scrimmage, I think our offense is reverting back a little bit more towards the "pro" side of the pro-style/spread-offense spectrum.  I came to this conclusion from observing what formations were used; examining the particular plays which were called out of the formations; and by comparing these formations and plays to the plays which Tedford himself has called before in the past.  Furthermore, the new formation I saw today is very much a traditional pro-style formation. 

I remember at last year's Spring Game practice, there was a ton of new formations that Cignetti was tinkering with.  Some made it into the regular playbook and some didn't.  The spring is the time to experiment with new stuff so you can decide whether to implement it into the regular playbook.  Because I saw so little new stuff today, I can't help but conclude that Ludwig isn't bringing in a lot of new stuff or looking to change a lot.

If you remember my Spring Football Quick Hitters post, you'll know that I theorized that Tedford might be wishing to return to a slightly more pro style offense.  From what I saw today, I see this as early validation of my theory.  But it still is early.  It's just spring.  It isn't fall yet.  The season hasn't started yet.  Things could change.  But I wouldn't be surprised if the offense we see in 2009 is more of that "Tedford's Offense" that we saw in the glory days of Aaron Rodgers.