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Pac-12 Media Day, Cal edition: Chatting with Sonny Dykes, Jared Goff, Hardy Nickerson

Coach Dykes, Jared Goff and Hardy Nickerson were present last week in Burbank, California for PAC-12 Media days. Let's recap and talk about what they had to say about the Bears' 2015 football season!

Why so serious?
Why so serious?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We got some good face time with Coach Dykes, Jared Goff and Hardy Nickerson. Solomon and I recap what we talked about and what to expect from the team this upcoming season. Avinash gave us a great recap of what was said on the Pac-12 network stage by all of them and also Coach Dykes’ main session. We’ll go more in-depth into what they had to say during lunch and the players breakout session.

First up Coach Dykes.

  • Solomon Kim - When it came to lunch time, I had the cheap seat baking in the sun on the opposite side of the table of Jared Goff. As I shoved bits of potato salad in my face, straining my ears to hear anything Jared was saying, I heard someone sidle into the seat opposite me. Lo and behold, there was Coach Dykes getting comfortable asking about our lunch. Now this might have been prompted by his being thoroughly baked in the Southern Californian sun, but what was immediately apparent to me was how down to earth and transparent Coach is. The talk opened up with a topic that quite honestly doesn’t get enough love in the game of football: special teams - particularly who our new place kicker is going to be. According to Coach, the kicking game is something that still has a ways to go before it’s figured out. There are a number of names in the mix, including Harry Adolphus, an English transfer student playing for our national champion rugby team. He’s clearly a fantastic rugby player, but has almost no experience playing football. However, Coach is obviously open to seeing the new kicker’s potential and what he and the other potentials can exhibit during Fall camp. Another big point of interest is the situation at center with the departure of Matt Cochran. Coach is confident that there is enough depth on the team to fill that role and that several guys have had a good amount of time taking reps at center. He even said that the center role is the simplest to learn in our offensive system, so guys like Ooms, Rigsbee, or Granado should be able to step up without too many issues.
  • Rob Hwang – I knew we were going to have a great conversation with Coach Dykes as soon as he sat down in front of us. We did not even get to ask the first question. As a matter of fact, Coach Dykes asked us the first question. "Did y’all eat lunch yet?" Coach was very thorough in what we asked him, whether it was about Jaylinn Hawkins or the hiring of Coach Lovett. Let’s start on the defense shall we? Offense, Goff, Offense, Goff, Offense, Heisman. The usual order of question that were asked, but really most Cal fans want questions answered on the defensive side of the ball. 4-Star recruit Jaylinn Hawkins was recruited as a WR on most of his offers, and that was no different with Cal. Yet he chose Berkeley and decided to switch over to CB. When asked about the switch Coach’s answer was simple, "It was my decision." Well he went a little more in depth about that. Jaylinn wanted to play CB and he wanted to play WR. Coach sat him down and hashed it out with him. About development, about playtime, about importance to the team. Ultimately, Jaylinn chose to play on the defense, (where apparently he has been a total force to be reckoned with). Coach also did say Hawkins could play WR down the line, but he would have to learn the nuances of the position and start from the bottom. It was great to see Coach and his transparency into the decision making process around football.
  • Solomon Kim – As exciting as this season is shaping up to be, it’s hard not to think towards the future and the direction Coach wants to take the team. Within a few years, all the guys we know now as veteran Golden Bears will be graduates and players in the NFL, so the question fell to Coach: how are we going to not only establish, but perpetuate a culture of winning here at Cal?  According to Coach, good examples set by the older guys on the team are what will keep the Bears golden for years to come. It is when a team is full of guys putting in work on and off the field, exhibiting high levels of character, and going above and beyond the allotted training regimen, that a program builds a culture of excellence. For young guns coming into the program for the first time, the pursuit of excellence will be the only thing they know. Coach believes that we have that kind of team, that we have mentors we want our younger guys to learn from. When I hear that, I can’t help but get pumped for seasons to come especially thinking of the phenomenal athletes we have in our newest recruiting class alone. This response gave me reason to believe that we’re experiencing the dawn of another golden age of Cal football.

Next up, Jared Goff.
  • Solomon Kim – Before last Friday, I never had the opportunity to interact face-to-face with a Division I football player let alone Heisman hopeful, Jared Goff. So it wasn’t a surprise when my brain shut off as I stood there starstruck, stupidly grinning for the first five minutes of the interview. Fortunately, the bulk of the opening of the breakout session was focused on how Jared feels about his rising fame as a Heisman candidate and potential first-round NFL draft pick - it was so boring he flipped the interview table, dropped the mic, and walked away. That last part was a lie - but I imagine he wanted to. Understandably, a lot of the talk focused on the outlook of Cal’s passing game this season. With two deep at every receiver position, a more experienced line, another year and another 12 games tucked securely under his belt, there is no doubt that Jared and the Bear Raid will pack a punch this season. Rob and I met some of the gents of the production crew of Pretty Little Liars, and even they knew that our offense would be good. But going beyond the numbers, I perceived an overwhelming tone of confidence from the 3rd year quarterback. He said he has incredible chemistry with the receiving core that he’s thrown to for two years, and suspects that they’re the best in the Pac-12 if not among the best in the nation. Even with the departure of veteran center, Matt Cochran, Jared believes that the pace of the offense will be unaffected and feels comfortable taking snaps with all of the guys taking reps at center, specifically mentioning Jordan Rigsbee and  Dominic Granado. Jared also mentioned that the front five have been working on a shorter pass set. This means that their drop back on the pass will be shorter, meaning faster contact with the opposing D line and thus more pressure on our O line. Jared had nothing but praise for his teammates and excitement for the season to begin. His goal this season isn’t to break records, but to bring a culture of winning to Cal. That’ll start with bringing home the axe and then onward to a bed of roses.
  • Rob Hwang - Well, I have to start with the fact that we asked Jared Goff’s favorite question at media days. We asked him about his role change from being an underclassman to an upperclassman, and with all the young players that revolve around his position from the younger QBs to the new WRs and RBs what type of mentoring role he brings to them. He was really happy and excited to answer the question. You can tell a lot of a player (heck even a person) when they light up when talking about their future successors and mentorees. Jared responded by saying that he loved the young guys and that they are extremely fun to hang around. But he also did mention that it was weird. Starting at QB as a true freshman and now being the older brother figure to a lot of guys on the team in a rather short 2-year span is a quick turn-around. When I asked Coach Dykes the same question he said, Jared is now the leader of the team. Its not the fact that he’s the starting QB, but the way he is on the field, his poise, his stature and body language around the young guys teaching them how it is done and how it should be done. His leadership in this form would be a huge step to building the winning culture that Sonny, the players, and the fans want at Berkeley, California.
  • Solomon Kim - Rob brings up a good point when he talks about Goff stepping up as a leader and mentor, especially when we consider Cal football in the years to come. Jared is by no means the only veteran stepping up as an example on and off the field. The team seems to be characterized by an intense focus, united by a burning desire to win, and no one advocates it better than Jared Goff.

Finally Hardy Nickerson.

  • Rob Hwang – Hardy had some great things about the defense as a whole but also at each position group. You could hear the excitement that he had with the Linebacker Corps and their experience and growth over the last two years. The linebacking corps may just be the one position in the defense that doesn’t have a question mark. Hardy mentions Barton, Downs, Kearney, Anoa’I, Davison, are all guys that had to step up and play and gain experience through hard losses. He had high praise for all the guys in the linebacker group and sounded ready to show the fans how much they have improved. Hardy was also very excited about the health and depth of the defensive line. James Looney, DeVante Wilson are welcome additions, as well as the health of Kyle Kragen and Mustafa Jalil. There was a slight twinkle in his eye, and I attribute that to him understanding that the better the big boys up front play, the easier his job because and releases a little bit of the pressure on the guys defending the back-end of the defense. He also had high praise for the defensive backs coming back into play. Having Piatt, McClure, White, Albert, Brown, Vanderbilt, Rubenzer, Dozier, along with incoming freshman (namely Malik Psalms and Jaylinn Hawkins), the competition will be stiff and yet there is enough camaraderie at that position that they all want to get better as a group.
  • Solomon Kim – Something blatantly clear right off the bat talking with Hardy Nickerson was the itch he has to show Cal fans just how much the defense has improved. You don’t need me to reiterate how much we struggled on the defensive side of the ball. While that may cause painful memories buried deep in your subconscious to surface, Hardy seemed to make the case that the past two years can be characterized as growing pains - a refinement process. The defense is coming back with a chip on its shoulder, but one put there by game experience spread across a now veteran squad. The addition of strength in the line in the form of Looney, Kragen, Jalil, Wilson, and the bastion of a linebacker corps that boasts the most depth on defense, make for a front line to be reckoned with. As for the secondary, I loved Hardy’s take on the new recruits and a now apparent glut of defensive backs. Competition. The young guys want to play and aren’t going to wait their turn if they don’t have to. In response everyone works harder, everyone gets better. Sure, it’s going to take a lot to get our pass defense to even the national average, but I’m beginning to believe that if anyone, our boys can do it. Pitted not only against each other, but also one of the most prolific offenses in Cal history, our defense’s growth has the potential to be exponential to a staggering degree.
  • Rob Hwang - What Solomon said is definitely true. I was there for a lot of spring practice and you could tell the fire in the team’s eyes. They wanted to improve, they knew a lot of the burden of losses came on them and they wanted to do their part in the success of the team. Gauging from what Hardy had to say about the off-season, it seems like a lot of the players took it upon themselves to improve. And if that doesn’t speak volumes about the determination and strive to improve I don’t know what is. This group will be very interesting to watch. Fall Camp should have some very interesting competitions and battles for snaps and PT.

This concludes our recap into Cal's portion of PAC-12 Media Days, Keep a look out tomorrow for our next segment on all the other PAC-12 Teams, Coaches and Players!

California Love. California Rising.