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Sonny Dykes assesses the offense and defense and the prospect of student-athlete stipends

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Sonny Dykes spoke with The Tom Tolbert Show to assess his offense and defense, to address the debate on student-athlete salaries, and the importance of eye-catching unis. Bring on the neon?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

The countdown to Northwestern continues with more media appearances for Head Coach Sonny Dykes, this time with The Tom Tolbert Show at KNBR on August 14th. Some highlights have been transcribed below.

The conversation starts with the tough nonconference schedule and Dykes discusses the importance of that season opener in particular.

I think you always want to get off to a good start. It's the first game for us as coaches and staff and we're going to be a very young football team. It's gonna be the first start for whoever our quarterback is, so there's gonna be a lot of moving parts. But you definitely want to put your best foot forward, set the bar high, and continue to build and improve your program. But, we'll match up okay with them. Northwestern is a football team that doesn't beat themselves--they very well-coached and disciplined and it'll be a challenge for us to try to play that same way. A lot of our success will be determined by how well we take care of the football and whether we're able to play penalty-free and execute and all the things they do to you.

There are certainly a number of questions heading into that opener, from the new Grizzly formation to the new base defense. One question that was recently answered is the identity of the starting quarterback. With Jared Goff earning that role, Dykes speculates on what that means for RS freshman and second-stringer Zach Kline.

That can be a tough situation. The good thing is both those kids understand what Cal's about. They came to Cal not only to play football, but to get an education from one of the best universities in the world and that's important to both of them. As a result of that, one of them will be more inclined to stick around. You never know how these things are gonna turn out. We're gonna pick a starter, we're gonna let him go, and hopefully not look back. But, sometimes, those guys hit some bumps in the road and at that point, I'll re-evaluate things. I think both guys really love being part of our program; I think they love the university, they love being part of the Cal community and, as a result, I'd be surprised if anybody decides to leave.

Tolbert asked Dykes about how his staff balances a player's class vs. his talent. Should a coach who's planning on spending a few years at a school choose a younger player to give him more live snaps?

Our philosophy is always the best guy plays no matter what. You have all these players who invest all this time, season-ticket holders who invest their hard-earned money in your product and your football team, and you've got alumni and all the people who care deeply about seeing the team be successful, so what you want to do is give yourself the best chance to win every Saturday regardless of freshman or senior and that type of thing. We're all about accountability and rewarding guys who work hard and go out and perform on Saturday. We don't care if they're walk-ons or highly-rated recruits or sophomores or seniors or freshmen--we're just gonna play the best guys and give us the best opportunity to win.

Perhaps one of the most promising parts of that quote is Dykes's recognizing the role and the importance of the fans and alumni who have invested so much in the program.

The conversation moves to the offense, starting with the gamebreaker Brendan Bigelow:

He's kind of a big play waiting to happen. He's had a good camp so far. He had some injuries in the past and we're certainly mindful to bring him along slowly and keep him healthy. The good thing is Daniel Lasco's been a really good running back as well and Khalfani Muhammad's a true freshman, so we're starting to develop some depth. Hopefully from day one we're not gonna be relying on Brendan touching the ball thirty times a game; hopefully we can bring him along a little more slowly and split some carries and play the fresh back. In our offense, when we start going fast, it's a great advantage to bring someone off the bench who's fresh and fast; when that defense becomes a step slow, they can pop a big run. As I said, we feel like we've got three of four backs who have the chance to do that.

And the offensive line:

Football at any level is won or lost upfront--NFL, college football, high school football, wherever it is, you're only as good as your offensive or defensive line is gonna allow you to be. We're pretty much set at the left side of the line. Freddie Tagaloa's coming back; he played some last year as a true freshman and he's really coming into his own. He had a great spring and he's been solid in camp. Jordan Rigsbee's done a great job at the left guard spot. We feel pretty good about Chris Adcock at center and the right side is where we've got some good competition going right now. The good thing is we feel like we've got one or two people who are capable and it's a heck of a competition, so we'll see how it plays out. Regardless of who wins those two jobs on the right side, there's gonna be some growing pains--those guys are pretty young. It's a very young group and a talented group and a big, athletic group. I think it's gonna be a strength. We've just gotta get the moving parts and pieces together, but I think that group will come together well.

Changing gears a bit to the other side of the ball, Tolbert asks about the defense and their switch to a 4-3:

It's been smooth. I think our players' body types and skill sets fit an even front a little more. It gives us a little bit more of an ability to adjust, we think, from week-to-week. You gotta be able to do that in this league. You're gonna see a power-run team in Stanfurd one week, a spread-run team like Oregon the next, a spread-passing attack in Washington State, so there are so many different things you see on a week-to-week basis. We felt like an even front was simpler to making adjustments from week-to-week and we feel like our players really have taken to it well and it fits well. I think our defensive line is starting to develop some depth and is gonna be a strength of ours. Our linebacking corps, I think, is really solid as well. We're a little green on the back end in the secondary and a little inexperienced, but I think upfront, our front seven has the chance to be pretty good.

I think it's much easier to change from an outside linebacker standing up down to putting your hand on the ground, just because when you transition to playing defensive end, your hand is down all the time. You're basically a run player or a pass rusher. When you're an outside linebacker, sometimes you're on the line of scrimmage taking on a defensive end, sometimes you're dropping into coverage. There's just so many things those guys have to do that I think they don't develop. Whether you're spending your time working on drops or spending time working on blitzes, sometimes you're standing up, sometimes you're playing over a tight end. When you're playing a defensive end position, it's the same--your hand is down all the time, you're lined up on or near the line of scrimmage. I think it allows you to develop a little more as a player and develop a little more technique.

One of the bright spots from last year's defense was Avery Sebastian, who recently suffered an injury at a fall scrimmage.

He's actually doing real well. He's feeling much better and just having a little soreness it the neck. It was a heck of a collision, but he's a great kid and we're looking forward to getting him back when he's healthy. It's scary; it really is. It certainly puts things in perspective for coaches and players. It's a tough thing to see a teammate go down and someone you care deeply about, but our players did a great job of keeping their composure and staying positive. It ended up being one of those things that looked a lot worse than it really was. We're lucky the way things worked out and we're fortunate that Avery's recovering as well as he is.

The conversation ended moving away from Cal-specific questions and moving to more general questions about college football, like the controversy surrounding Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and the never-ending debate about paying student-athletes.

That's a tough question. It's one of those things where the easy answer is to say "yeah, they should," but the tough question is "how are they gonna do it?" It's easy for us to sit around and say "we should be able to do this," "this kid oughta be able to do that," but the devil's in the details--how are you gonna allow these kids to make money, how much money can they make, who can they sell it to, who's gonna pay for it? You just open Pandora's box and there are so many different possibilities. I don't know the right answer; I really don't. I think student-athletes get a great education. They get a lot of first-class things that are associated with being a college student. Our kids get to go to a great school like Cal and get an education that's gonna serve them for the rest of their lives.

Lastly, the two discuss the changing landscape of college football and the rising importance of sweet new uniforms.

It is [important[ to an extent. I think there's a fine line there. There are alumni and fans who like the traditional look and there are the younger kids who like the more progressive look. It's one of those things where you're not gonna make everyone happy. Oregon's certainly taken it to another level and ... that's not something we're gonna try to do. We're not gonna out-Oregon Oregon. We're just not equipped to do that. Our deal is to try to sell our education and we think the kids we're trying to recruit are going to care a lot more about getting a degree at Cal than what our uniforms are about.