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An Interview with a Special Teams Assistant (Part III)

Continuing on with our interview of MrBearister, the former Cal Hydrotechnican and Special Teams Assistant.  In case you missed our previous segments, you may read them here: Part I, and Part II


You say that you got all the materials that the players got.  Does that mean you got both the offensive and defensive playbooks?  So you are well-versed in the offensive and defensive terminology and language?

I got my hands on whatever material I could both offensive and defensive playbooks, current and from years prior. I was well versed in all aspects of terminology because quite frankly, if you don’t know it, you wouldn’t understand what’s going on. Almost like a foreign language that changes with every team and coach, you would hear coaches talk about the defense with phrases like "lining up in a 50 front with the Will ‘green dogging’ and the backside corner playing cloud". I also learned all the play-calling terminology. If you ever listen to an inside the NFL huddle, where you hear the QB spout off a bunch of words that sound like gibberish, a Cal play call is just as long and perplexing. If there is one thing to complement about Coach Tedford’s offense, it’s that the pro-style offense is identical all the way to the play calling.



You said that you sat in on offensive meetings.  Why does a special teams assistant have to or need to sit in on offensive meetings?  Are you providing scouting information and tendencies to the players during the offensive meetings?

To clarify, my main job was a special teams assistant, but I was also an offensive assistant, because for about 35% of the time, I was an assistant to the entire offensive staff, including the GA and Offensive Assistant.  I would sit in on meetings because that’s where help was needed either adjusting play diagrams, creating play highlights, or giving statistical tendencies. Like I said earlier the entire staff works together and our roles are overlapped, so just as an RB coach can coach the returners of special teams, a special teams assistant can also be an offensive assistant.  Unlike the NFL, most college teams cannot afford to be so specialized with their staff, so people have many roles. This even goes into recruiting, fundraising, and scholastic tutoring (coaches for Cal are also mentors helping players keep track of their progress. Coach Tedford’s "AGP" or Academic Game Plan is a great way to help the student athlete excel at Cal).

Tell us what happens when a head coach brings in a new offensive coordinator or offensive line coach.  How much freedom does this new coach have in implementing his ideas and schemes.  Does this new coach get a say in what types of schemes the team might use?  Or does the head coach make the calls on what types of schemes are used?  

I was fortunate to see the reign of three different O-Coordinators, 2007 (Michalchzik), 2008 (Cignetti), 2009 (Ludwig). With each offensive coordinator, various adjustments to play calling and terminology came up. Like I said above, each coordinator kind of coaches with his own dialect, so certain plays can be called different things, but still be the same play. In order to counter this, what I noticed, was the coach adjusted to the playbook of Coach Tedford. When the coordinator wanted to introduce a play that was already created in the head coach’s system, the coordinator would simply rename his play to the original name.

When the coordinator (or any coach) wanted to implement something new, they usually had the freedom. For example the heavy usage of the Wildcat in 2009 was a mutual collaboration amongst the staff to create more opportunities and mismatches.  The 5 wide receiver set that I believe you ran a blog on once before, had great success thanks in large part to Coach Ludwig’s desire to spread the field. Same goes for the attempted trick plays against USC ( quick pass to Vereen on the sideline) and ASU (sneak fumblerooskie to Isi). Those two were my favorite trick plays but unfortunately needed better execution.

As far as offensive line coaches go, there was certainly a change in coaching philosophy, just ask any of the players that have played for both line coaches. Each coach had strengths and styles that players liked and adapted to. Terminology could change quite frequently as well, which is why at Cal, there has always been an impressive learning curve that our players seem to do well with. Just always remember that Coach Tedford has signed off on these coaches and coordinators and believe in them to get the job done to win, so have a little faith in the old mantra "In Tedford We Trust".

One of Cal student section's favorite mind-games is to suddenly scream as the opposing punt-returner is catching a punt.  In your opinion, do you think this tactic has any effect on the punt returner?

No. Sorry Cal students, I know you have good intentions, but the change in noise level from the field is not what you hope for. Unlike a loud fog horn going off in the dead of night, or an alarm clock waking up the passed out sophomore, the sudden increase in cheering is not a big enough change to startle the returner. Cal fans are always making noise and the returner (unless they are quite inept), will not be affected. The only time I have ever seen a punt returner have any reaction to a Cal student section cheer was the "DE- SEAN -JACK- SON  clap – clap… clap - clap -clap".

Talk about how Cal Football gets all the film they use to scout their opponents.  How does Cal come about getting film of USC, for example?  Also, how does Cal come about getting film to scout out of conference opponents like Presbyterian or Nevada?  I've heard that the team will usually find another team with film on those upcoming opponents and trade film.  Is that so? 

I believe the teams are required by contract and NCAA to give up their film to their opponents. There really is no need to be secretive, both teams will know what the other team has done.  What ends up happening is schools will put their film on large media servers and the film crews will start processing. In order for assistants and GA’s to get ahead, we end up breaking down multiple teams at the same time. For example if we play ASU this week and Oregon next week, and they happened to have just played each other, the assistants can get ahead of the workload and breakdown both opponents simultaneously. That way coaches have as much time as possible to scout the opponent. For smaller schools like Presbyterian, film exchange might be more direct because they aren’t a Div 1A (FBS) school, and we might end up just switching copies. Usually the film crews and front office staff are in charge of this and mutual cooperation is the goal. This is a business after all and you never want to burn a bridge with one school, because you never know when you might need help.

Now what might be of more interest is when there are certain coaching changes. For example, Fresno State this year (and  almost all our first and second game opponents the past few years) will have trouble scouting us from the previous year because we have a new coordinator. This happened to me for Special Teams against Maryland, because their coordinator was new, and had been at Richmond the year before. I ended up scouting both the Richmond and Maryland 2008 seasons to understand both player and coordinator tendencies. So Pat Hill might be looking at Raider film right now! (Or old film from when Coach Tedford was his coordinator).

Talk about the QB's ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage.  How much freedom are the QBs given?  I remember during the Dunbar year, the QBs were big on "icing" the defense (hard counting so they unmask their defensive play), then the QB would select another play.  Does the current offense still do something similar?  Can the QBs completely opt out of the called play if they think the play won't work against the defense?

QB’s have restricted freedom depending upon the situation. It’s not the NFL and we do have coordinators and a head coach who have years of experience in play calling, so most of the time the QB’s make a choice of a few plays depending upon what he sees in the defense. Sometimes there is only one play call, maybe a trick play, and if the QB is smart and absolutely knows that the play won’t work, he is allowed to change the play or call timeout. Our coordinators and head coach always have faith in our QB to make the right decision. In only rare instances would you see a player directly "defy" a coach and call a play that was not called for. Depending upon the situation, "icing" the defense, changing the snap count, silent counting, hard counting, snapping on the center, and quick counting are all options that QB has. Although some plays, like with Dunbar, the play can take a while to develop "pre snap" (lots of motion, shifts) that certain snap counts are required.

Talk about Anthony Miller.  I see him as a fairly decent NFL prospect.  What does he do well as a tight end?  Do you think he has a chance of playing in the NFL?

Anthony Miller will be a great NFL prospect and I hope he has an outstanding year. He was slated to compete for the starting job in 2009 until Tad Smith tore his ACL first week of summer camp. Anthony got the starting job and I don’t see him relinquishing it. He has hands, quickness, strength and an attitude (sometimes it gets him in trouble), but I like it. I think he is somewhat of an amalgam of tight ends that Cal has had in recent years. He can block (ala Craig Stevens) and he can catch (ala Cam Morrah). I would like to see him stay healthy, improve his outside blocking (which Coach M will help with) and become the perfect 3rd and short receiver.

Last year we saw Anger become a little inconsistent with his kicks.  Some of his punts were booming, and others were badly shanked.  What's going wrong with those kicks that he's shanking?

I think Anger had a little bit of difficulty adjusting to the new SOD formation. He had to speed up his punts, which is why sometime he shanked. Normally when he is on, Anger can boom punts all the time, be just needs to practice being consistent. I think with a full year of the new system under his belt, he’ll be fine.

Likewise, last year we saw Anger perform some end-over-end punts.  Talk about those types of punts.  Do they have a particular name?  When is that type of punt used?  

In 2009, we toyed with the idea of him kicking an end-over –end punt, which I would call a rugby style punt, but we did not implement it. It seems in 2010, they did. The EOE or rugby punt was introduced a little while back and was  so successful, rule changes had to be implemented to slow it down.

 There are two things that make a rugby kick successful. 1) A kick that goes EOE and hits the ground creates more problems for the returner. The bouncing ball can act like a carom and become difficult to field. The ball is usually kicked lower, so has less hang time and can be difficult to locate. 2) A rugby kick usually involves a non stationary kicker, so because the kicker moves, the kick can take longer to develop allowing more time for the coverage unit to get down field. (I have also seen fake rugby punts that turn into passes or runs by the punter).

In 2009, the NCAA changed the rules where there was only a certain area between the traditional tackle box that was considered a roughing the kicker zone. Before the rule change, a rugby kicker could scramble from sideline to sideline and if hit after the kick, would be called for roughing. They changed the zone of the penalty to allow punt blockers more space to tackle a potential rugby kicker. Otherwise, he could continue scrambling to punt the ball.

You said you got to design fake punt plays.  You mean to say, that the coaches themselves weren't the ones drawing up the plays?  Did the coaches have to "approve" your play before it got put into the playbook?  What criticisms or advice did they often give you on the plays you designed?  

Very little in the football world is ever of one person’s creation. Each coach would analyze where they saw weaknesses in the opponent’s coverage and draw up potential plays and present them to each other. Adjustments and alternatives would be suggested until a consensus was reached. Approval would come from the coordinators usually, unless Coach Tedford specifically wanted a certain play, like a fake punt pass or something for that week.

 For advice and criticism, a lot of the time my mind wanted to have the "Madden or Tebow" element that had sparkle and excitement of a fumblerooski or something of the like. But after seeing the plays  practiced, the more simple the design of the play, the easier it was to coach and execute successfully.

You did tons of scouting of opponents.  Did you do any self-scouting?  Last year a friend of mine  picked up a "tell" on one of our WRs indicating when he'd get the ball.  When he first told me, I didn't really believe him.  But after watching a few games and seeing the "tell" accurately tip off when the WR would get the ball, my friend was clearly right.  Should my friend email Cal Football to disclose this "tell" to the coaching staff?

Self-scouting is how players get better. I would say most of the time when you hear players have meetings with coaches, it is to go over film. This is in essence self scouting. Understanding how things develop and how we improve. For me, one of the "tells" I really watch for is offensive line position and hand pressure. If a certain player leaned a certain way or even adjusted his stance a certain way, I could tell what type of play might be coming. Sometimes these "tells" are the habit of repetition and student nature. Sometimes they can be corrected, sometimes not.

I am not going say that every fan should write in with their opinions to Cal Football and inundate the front office with spam, but if fans feel that a certain "tell" is so revealing and detrimental to the success of the team, why not send it? (But have some discretion and perhaps physical proof like a video clip or picture as well)

Okay, since you're the most definitive source CGB has talked to whom has personal knowledge of the Cal offense, I have to ask you this question.  Much fuss has been made by Cal fans all over the Internet that the Cal offense is too complex and needs to be simplified.  Since you've seen the Cal offensive playbook, how big is it?  How many plays are in it?  Do you think it is too complex?  Do you think the offense should be simplified so the team can run a small amount of plays better than more plays sloppier?

Every team's playbook has a base set of plays that can vary every week as they improve and adjust their offense against each opponent. What I find very interesting about Cal's playbook and the pro-style offense is that there are many interchangeable parts. Unlike an Auburn or Oregon where they have 8 base plays that can be altered, Cal might have 20. With different personnel, formations, and motions the combinations seem like a lot more than what really is. The plays themselves are not too complex for an intelligent athlete to handle. And the playbook shouldn't be "simplified." It is updated as every year the offensive staff add new wrinkles like the Wildcat, 5 wide receiver, and Pistol alignments to their offense.

Just recently, Tedford named Maynard as Cal's starting quarterback over Bridgford.  This upset a lot of Cal fans who believed that Bridgford was the superior quarterback.  Please tell us your thoughts on each QB if you can.  Is Maynard really better?  Or, as some Cal fans speculate, did Tedford make a back room deal with Allen and Maynard that if Allen came to Cal then Maynard would be guaranteed the starting job in 2011.  Does Tedford make these kind of promises to players?

As an volunteer assistant, the one area I was not privy to was recruiting, due to NCAA regulation. Maynard and Allen were not on the team, so I cannot truly asses them, but from what I have seen I think they have the talent to go far. Bridgford seems to have matured since his injury his freshman season, which was when I was on staff.  Many people are worried about the QB's of Cal's future, but I am actually excited. I would be comfortable with either one leading my team.