OMG, OMG, OMG, it's the start of college football season! DAHHHHHHHHHH!!! (breathes into a bag.)
Here are my Pac-12 Week 1 predictions because seriously, it seems like the cool thing to do.
Utah 35 Northern Colorado 9:
The Utes should roll with John White IV finding the endzone three times. Utah's defense will be stingy, giving up less than 100 total rushing yards and keeping Northern Colorado out of the endzone. Don't disappoint me Utah.
Arizona State 24, Northern Arizona 14:
One of the few gimme wins for Arizona State this season. The Sun Devils will break off enough big plays to get a big lead, but I expect NAU to keep it interesting at some point. In related news, former Cal Bear Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson is the backup tailback here. Here's hoping he rips off some big gains against the Sun Devils.
UCLA 35, Rice 10:
Traveling is never easy in a season opener, but for all the Bruin woes, this is a team that is far more talented than a Rice team that was ranked 98th and 111th in scoring and total defense last year respectively. Oh and Rice's offense wasn't much better. Bruins roll 35-10.
Washington State 42, BYU 38:
Maybe I'm drinking too much of the Mike Leach koolaid, but I felt Wazzu was a team that wasn't too far from being bowl eligible last year anyway. With Leach and his mad scientist air raid offense, and a more season defense, I see the Cougars pulling the upset here.
Stanford 31, San Jose State 14:
This series hasn't been competitive in years and SJSU will unfortunately make Stanford look better than they really are. The Cardinal will roll on the ground and allow Josh Nunes critical reps to get a feel for the game and help manage this offense.
Cal 38, Nevada 24:
See my Keys to the Game from yesterday.
Colorado 23, Colorado State 17:
It's going to be a tough year for the Buffaloes as they plan on playing a lot of true freshman. The team is going to get better, but they'll take their lumps early on. With that said, they're still a better squad that Colorado State and should edge out a close one.
USC 52, Hawaii 24:
I think Hawaii will be able to put up points, but USC will be their most dangerous at the beginning of the year. Their depth won't be put to the test and you know they're roaring to go out their, pad stats, and make a statement. I'd be shocked if Barkley throws less than 4 TDs.
Washington 35, San Diego State 17:
Don't sleep on San Diego State. These guys are improved and have some interesting pieces with former Oregon State QB Ryan Katz and USC transfer Brice Butler. With that said, Washington will win on the arm and legs of Keith Price. This guy is scary good. Huskies pull away with Price accounting for 4 TDs, 3 passing and 1 rushing. Oh, and the Huskies defense will be better. I mean they have to be right?
Oregon 70, Arkansas State 13:
It's going to get ugly folks. This is an Oregon squad that rolls up 50+ points on solid defenses like Stanford. Imagine what they do with Arkansas State. Oh, and Ducks fans will already be whispering the "H" word with new QB Marcus Mariota.
Arizona 31, Toledo 24:
Things get interesting in Arizona with Rich Rod and Matt Scott. The Wildcats will put up points, but I still have major questions about their defense. However, the Wildcats do enough to win.
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Thursday, August 30, 2012
OMG, OMG, OMG, it's the start of college football season! DAHHHHHHHHHH!!! (breathes into a bag.)
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Here we go. It's the very first "Keys to the Game" feature of the 2012 season. Just as a heads up, I'll be changing the format a bit on these posts this year, as I've come to find that trying to generate three actual keys to the game each week isn't always insightful and can get repetitive. Instead, I'll be doing my regular preview of the opposing team while offering a few thoughts as to what needs to be done to pull off the win. Nothing radically different.
The Bears kick off their much anticipated season against the now Mountain West Conference's Nevada Wolfpack. Some Cal fans might unfortunately still remember the Bears' letdown of a performance against Nevada in Reno back in 2010.
Cal's hoping for different things this time around against a young Nevada squad that is coming off a rebuilding 7-6 year. In facing Chris Ault's famous pistol offense, the Bears will have to get past opening day jitters quickly and play sound, disciplined football if they plan on keeping a historic day from turning into a colossal nightmare.
Defending the Pistol
The big story here for the Bears is going to be their defense of Nevada's pistol offense. In fact, that's all I'm going to really focus on, as I'm absolutely convinced that if the Bears can effectively defend Nevada's pistol offense, they win this game going away.
Before jumping into defending the pistol, you have actually understand what makes the pistol different from your typical zone read and why it can be so tricky to defend. Chris Brown at Dr. Saturday has a nice writeup on the pistol look here. In it, he says,
"When the offense is rolling (which it is most of the time these days), the pistol gives a team the best of both worlds: It has at its disposal all the Urban Meyer/Rich Rodriguez spread offense stuff, like the zone read and other gadgets, as well as the advantages of a "traditional" I-formation or pro-style single-back attack. Among these are that the runningback, aligning as he does behind the quarterback, tips no hand to the defense on the direction of the play, and the offense can get both good downhill running and play-action off those looks."
Oh we know, Chris Brown. We know.
There are a number of different approaches in defending the pistol, and as I've learned, painfully might I add, the Bears have opted with the "scrape exchange" in the past. Brown's statement in the article might be the most revealing in explaining why:
"The reason the veer works so well, including when compared to the zone read, is that with the veer guarantees two things the zone read can't: Double-team blocks at the point of attack, and the ability to make the man the QB reads wrong, every time. (With the zone read you're just trying to control a backside pursuit defender. If he "stays home" for the quarterback, forcing a handoff, there is no guarantee the line will get double teams to the other side or that the back will find a hole.)"
In other words, the Bears seem screwed either way. So they opt for the scrape exchange in which the guy being read (either DE or OLB) crashes automatically. The focus is no longer on read and react, but rather on disruption. The read responsibility then shifts to the inside linebackers who, at a further distance and better angle, have a better view of the QB and thus a split second more to make the right read.
Given the Bears' strength at defensive line and speed off the edge, I can certainly understand the plan of attack. This strategy depends heavily on the play of the middle linebackers however. And when the Bears last faced Nevada, they were without Mike Mohammed. Replacement Robert Mullins got tricked and abused constantly throughout the game which led to the Wolfpack rolling up like, a thousand yards on the ground.
So who do the Bears have in line to watch and read Cody Fajardo? Robert Mullins.
But fear not Cal fans. I'd like to think the Bears' inside backers are in much better position this time around to defend the pistol. Mullins is a 5th year senior who now has experience in defending the zone read, and you can bet he's spent the offseason studying tape and versing himself with his reads.
Now the Bears could just as easily scrap the whole scrape exchange approach and opt instead to put the read responsibility back on their outside backers. I feel like they'll fluctuate between the two depending on the the defensive line's success getting into the backfield and disrupting Nevada's attempts to double team rushers.
Also, it is worth noting that given the Wolfpack's question marks at wide receiver, the Bears could also afford to assign safety Josh Hill the responsibilities of spying Fajardo. The Bears went with this route when facing Oregon, though the Ducks caught onto it in 2011, but that's a different story.
The onus also isn't completely on the front seven however, as the Bears are likely to use a Cover 2, which would put a lot of responsibility on the Bears' corners to defend the edges in run support. I like our chances here, especially with Marc Anthony manning one side. For all the knocks against his coverage abilities, he is one of the better tackling DBs the Bears have had in a while.
That's a lot to take in. There's a lot of responsibility to be shared. If the defensive line can't penetrate at the point of attack, the Bears are going to be at the mercy of what Nevada's offense dictates. If the linebackers can't properly diagnose plays and equally keep Fajardo contained, it will be 2010 all over again. If Cal's secondary can't be disciplined tacklers in the open field or play physically enough with Nevada's wideouts, it won't matter what the front seven does as Nevada will then really be able to open up the playbook with play action
Again, the defense will determine the outcome of the game. That's not to say Cal's offense and special teams are off the hook, but they'll have to more or less execute and play mistake free football. Nevada's defense is stout, but they can be had, and nothing about their special teams scares me.
But I suppose that's the big story of the game. In an offseason focusing on all renovations in the surroundings, it really will boil down to what Tedford said as taking care of business on the field.
Execution boys, and this game and perhaps season is yours.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Not to be mistaken with my "Keys to the Game Feature," (which should be out sometime on Wednesday), here's a quick look at Cal's upcoming opponent Nevada.
Nevada's Season in a Nutshell
In Nevada's last season in the Western Athletic Conference, Chris Ault's Wolfpack had the near impossible task of replicating the magic that was their 2010 dream season in which they finished 13-1.
Replacing QB Colin Kaepernick proved to be far more difficult than anticipated as Nevada started the season just 1-3 with blowout losses to Oregon and Boise St. Nevada would recover in conference play however, rattling off five straight wins, particularly as they settled upon freshman QB Cody Farjado. Nevada would struggle down the stretch however, dropping two of their final three, with their lone win coming over lowly Idaho.
Much like the Bears' last season, the Wolfpack took their record 7-5 into their bowl game, only to finish 7-6.
Still Strong Offensively
Nevada's offense found their quarterback and their answer in Cody Fajardo. Despite not taking over as the starter until partway through the season, Fajardo still accounted for more than 2,400 yards of total offense, throwing for 6 TDs and rushing for 11 more. Fajardo was named the WAC Freshman of the Year on a team that ranked first in the conference and sixth in the nation in total offense. The Wolfpack averaged more than 500 yards per game.
Plain and simple, the offense revolves around (pistol joke) Cody Fajardo much in the same way that it centered around now 49er QB Colin Kaepernick two years ago. It is worth noting, that Fajardo is arguably further along in his development than Kaepernick was at the same point though not nearly as efficient as Kaepernick was in his senior season.
This Nevada offense is missing some key weapons from last year's offense as well. The Wolfpack will do without departed WRs Rishard Matthews and Shane Anderson, who combined for 1,890 yards last season. The only receiver who can tout the closest stats is Aaron Bradley, who caught 28 balls last year for 336 yards and 3 TDs.
Replacing those receivers however doesn't match the larger task of replacing both Lampford Mark (Yes he has a first name for a last, and vice versa) and Mike Ball who rushed for a combined 1,600 yards ands 13 TDs last season.
A bit of a wildcard is the presence of new offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich who takes over after his previous stint with Hawaii. It'll be interesting to see how his run-and-shoot philosophy will mesh the with the infamous pistol of Hawaii. At least both use gun metaphors?
Defensive Question Marks
Defensively, the Wolfpack lose some of their biggest playmakers from last season, including their leading tacklers from a defense that ranked 52nd nationally in yards given up. Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who led the team with 102 tackles (7.5 TFL) is gone, as is star defensive lineman Brett Roy who registered 66 tackles and a whopping 18.5 tackles for a loss.
The Wolfpack's strength is clearly in the secondary however, with CB Khalid Wooten and safety Duke Williams. They will have to step up to match the play of the departed Isaiah Frey who was clearly the best DB on their team. The Wolfpack was ranked 57th in pass defense last season nationally.
Overall, this was a solid, stout defense that plays disciplined football. You wonder though how they will fare in having to replace their best defensive players.
Again, the similarities with Cal are a bit crazy. Nevada will also have to replace a departed senior punter, Jake Hurst who averaged 41.5 yards per punt.
Returning though is solid placekicker Allen Hardison. Hardison was 8-of-11 field goal attempts last season, though he did have two kicks blocked. Sound familiar, Cal fans?
The Wolfpack are projected to finish second in the Mountain West behind Boise State and should again be bowl eligible. I see them easily notching 8 wins, perhaps ending up in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Monday, August 27, 2012
First off, it's game week. Let me say that again. It's freaking game week.
If you're anything like me, you're having a hard time sleeping at night. There's a bunch to get into this week, starting with the fact that the Bears face off against a very tricky Nevada offense that scorched the Bears for 52 points two years ago.
But we'll get to that. For now, enjoy episode 3 of "Back in Berkeley," a series that has seriously helped keep me sane over this very difficult offseason. And before this series is over, let me say that the Cal Marketing Department should certainly be commended for this effort. They've seriously stepped up their game in offering fans deeper looks into this team and helping to build interest.
My thoughts after the jump.
After a bit of a prologue highlighting the importance of week 3 in determining the depth chart, we're given a look at a WR film session with Coach Wes Chandler. The session is much like a class, with receivers going back and forth between watching film and getting coached up by Chandler. And must I say, Maurice Harris, your hair looks fantastic.
The team had also invited some reps from the Marines to come in and speak with the team. As to whether these sessions really do lead to improved teamwork and trust, better off-the-field behavior, etc can't really be measured, but it's good to know that they're taking place.
We finally get to see Coach Ashley Ambrose mic'd up and coaching up the secondary. The guy looks like he could still ball in the NFL. You can tell why he's developing into a solid recruiter. He's got charisma, and provides nice energy in his coaching sessions. All the coaches seem to be flying around, with Tedford running up to give a player a high five as well.
And pretty nice play on the ball by Marc Anthony on frosh Bryce Treggs. With Treggs going up to get the ball in the endzone, Anthony keeps his hands locked on Treggs' hands, knocking the ball out at the last minute.
The next part of video is a real gem. The Bears' typically engage in some team building activities to help bond the team as well as promote competition. And though some of the activities may seem a bit silly (ie. tug of war, catch eggs, flipping tires, having linemen return punts), you can see the team really into it. You'd have to hope that teams that are able to get even closer during long fall camp days are more likely to do so in tough moments in games. And having Viliami Moala return punts? Iiiiiiiiiinteresting....
With breaks in between meetings and practices, the majority of guys are plugging in power naps or brushing up on the playbook. It really goes to show you what August is like for these kids. Like center Brian Schwenke says, "It's sleep and football."
Unless you're Zach Kline. If you're Zach Kline, it's football and acoustic guitar. Zach Kline don't need no sleep. Zach Kline throws 70 yard rockets down the field and then busts out Stairway to Heaven. Zach Kline throws 25 yard outs and sweetly picks Santana solos. Sleep? Pff. Sleep.
And again, Memorial Stadium looks GORGEOUS. Sigh. 6 days.
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Friday, August 24, 2012
Howdy all. We are just 8 days away from the Bears' season opener. I do not kid any of you when I say it gets increasingly difficult each night to fall asleep, being giddy with excitement.
But ignorance can make or break one's football experience! Educate yourselves on the game, so you don't find yourself unnecessarily upset! Angry because a DB got beaten on a route? Well does it make you feel better knowing that the DB actually never missed his assignment in the first place? Feeling like Dan Camporeale did nothing in run defense? What if you found out he did exactly what he was supposed to do on every play?
Here's your weekend homework. Read this third entry from Berk18 on Cal's Defense. This entry focuses on coverage and pass defense. If you haven't been following along, be sure to catch up by reading his first post on the basics of Clancy Pendergast's 3-4 and his subsequent post on defending the run game.
Seriously, do it. This is good stuff.
In my last post, we saw how different coverages give players different responsibilities against the run. When most people hear “coverage” they think of pass defense though, and I'll look at the basics of that now.
When you're watching Cal, there are five basic coverages you should be able to identify: Man free, Cover-2, Cover-2 Man, Cover-3, and Cover 8. In this post, I'll show you how to identify each of those (some of them are pretty obvious), and what the responsibilities of the different players are in each of them. This will be the last post on the basics of defense. After this, I'll start putting some of what we've covered so far to work.
First up is Man Free, which is man coverage with an additional free safety (in the picture below it's Cattousse, the safety on the Cal 49 yard line). You can identify this coverage by the 1-high look of the safeties, with the second safety rotated down to cover somebody. In this particular picture Kendricks is blitzing the weakside A-gap, so Campbell is on the hashmark at the 47 yard line (just to the left of the ref), picking up his responsibility for any weakside receiver other than the split end.
The next key to recognizing man coverage of any kind (at least in Cal's defense) is that the CB's will generally be lined up heads-up over their receiver, and they'll be looking at the receiver instead of the QB. There are other kinds of soft man coverage where the CB's won't line up heads-up on their WR's (Cal will do this when the WR's are lined up in close to the line, for example), but Pendergast has his corners play aggressively whenever possible.
People teach man-free in different ways. For some coaches, the CB's are supposed to line up outside of the WR's and force them inside toward the free safety. In most cases for Cal, the CB's will let the WR get outside and then force him to the sidelines, as seen in Williams' coverage on this play:
Cal (like lots of teams) wants to take away the easy throws down the middle of the field first and foremost. Different teams prioritize this in different ways. Williams, by giving up the outside, puts himself in great position to defend any inside route, leaving the deep safety free to help on deep routes by a slot receiver or TE. The negative side of this strategy is that a WR who can use his space and leverage well, combined with a well-thrown ball, can lead to a big completion to the outside. Pendergast is often happy taking this gamble, because a lot of good QB's (like Barkley and Luck last year) miss this throw more often than they complete it.
I should comment more on the concept of leverage, which is really important in talking about and evaluating coverage. Except for sure-fire 1st round draft picks, you can't ask a guy to play inside his receiver AND to make plays on balls to the outside. On a play like the one above, it's inaccurate to say that Williams got burned (given that Richardson gained zero YAC). The coverage called for Williams to play with inside leverage and he got beat to the outside. Every coverage has a vulnerability, and this fade route is a vulnerability of man-free. If our CB's continuously get beat in this coverage on this route that's a failure of the DC to adjust. If the CB were to get beat to the inside on this play, however, that would be on the CB and not on the scheme, since the one thing a DB absolutely can't do is give up an inside pass when he's playing inside leverage, or an outside pass when he's playing outside.
The next coverage that Cal uses a lot is Cover-2 man (pictured below). In this coverage, we will have two safeties deep, each responsible for half of the field. Doing the math, a 4-man rush + 2 deep safeties leaves five defenders to cover five eligible receivers man-to-man, with safety help on anything deep:
This coverage can actually look a lot like Man-free pre-snap, which makes it a good switch-up with Man-free. If this were man-free, the CB's would be manned up on the outside receivers just as they are, the ILB's would be covering any back that releases to their side (which they can easily do from this alignment), and Cattousse would be covering the TE man-to-man. The way to tell that this is Cover-2 man instead of man-free is by the initial reaction of the safeties. Cattousse actually backs off more pre-snap, suggesting that he's not manned-up on the TE. Also, Campbell's first step after the snap is to the outside, showing that he's not responsible for the deep middle as he would be in man-free.
Since this is Cover-2 man, the coverage responsibilities for the backs and TE's would generally be sorted out post-snap with Camporeale, Holt, and Kendricks picking up the TE, H-Back, and RB based on the routes that they run (if they go into the pattern at all). So, Camporeale might cover whoever goes outside first (probably the H-Back), Holt might cover the first guy who goes vertical (in all probability the TE) or the second guy outside, and Kendricks is on the RB.
In any variant of Cover-2, unlike Man-Free, the CB's don't generally want to let the WR's get outside. The reason for this is that the major weak-spot in Cover-2 is the deep middle of the field. If the WR's get outside fast, the safeties have to widen with them and leave the middle of the field even more open. By playing with outside leverage and forcing the WR's back to the middle of the field, the CB's help make the middle of the field more congested and make it easier for the safeties to help everyone deep. The linebackers are trying to do the opposite to the TE's/backs/slot receivers, walling off anyone who tries to head quickly to the deep middle. With the CB's forcing the WR's inside and the LB's forcing everyone else outside, all deep receivers are forced straight to the safeties, who are then better able to assist on any and all deep routes.
Any man-coverage, whether you have zero, one, or two safeties deep, will be vulnerable to a similar set of routes and route combinations. Offensive coordinators know who likes to run a lot of man and who likes to run a lot of zone. If you run a lot of man, they'll use pick routes, shallow crosses, or anything that forces defenders to have to run through a lot of traffic. Whip routes, where a receiver breaks inside and then pivots 180 degrees in the opposite direction to the outside can also be tough because of the quick and drastic change of direction. Basically, any route that's designed to cause problems for someone that's chasing the WR can be used if the OC expects man-coverage.
To counter-act those kinds of routes, and to avoid predictability, DC's will also have a bunch of zone coverages in their defensive package. As a complement to Cover-2 man, there's plain Cover-2, which is a two-deep coverage with five underneath zones. We can see the difference between Cover-2 man and Cover-2 below.
This play was plain Cover-2. Something that Colorado likes to do from the above formation is to fake an outside zone run to the offense's left, while the left TE (flexed slightly off the left offensive tackle and off the line of scrimmage in the picture above) sneaks behind the line and releases into the flat to the right of the offensive line (this is pictured below). Meanwhile, the WR on the offense's right is running a corner route, pushing up field before breaking diagonally to the outside. The QB rolls right after the fake and has his choice, based on what the defense gives him, of the WR or TE. All of this is diagrammed like this:
Against man-coverage, it would be easy for the TE to get lost in the wash during the play-action. The WR at the top of the screen would be covered by the safety and the corner, and one of the linebackers would have to pick up the TE as he was sneaking behind the line of scrimmage.
Against Cover-2, however, this kind of mis-direction is no big deal:
The relevant zones are outlined in blue. Campbell and Cattousse are playing deep halves, with five underneath zones being played by the CB's and LB's. The TE is no longer a real threat, because his route is taking him straight into the LCB's zone.
As I said above, every coverage has a vulnerability. Against the plain Cover-2 pictured here, the corner route (the WR at the top of the screen) is actually really dangerous, since Cattousse will be defending an outside-breaking route with inside leverage and will have no help from the CB, who is playing an underneath zone. Fortunately on this play, the QB locked onto the TE, who had both Hill and Anthony around him) and then missed badly when he had to come off that and go to the WR.
The next zone coverage is Cover-3. As the name suggests, this coverage has three defenders playing deep 1/3's of the field, and 4 defenders playing underneath zones. The most typical Cover-3 look is called Cover-3 Sky, where the Sky designation tells you that a Safety is responsible for defending the strongside flat. This means that the weakside safety and both CB's will be the deep defenders. You can identify this by noticing that the SS is shallower than the CB's, as in the picture below:
In this picture, you can see that Anthony (bottom right corner), and Campbell (the shadow on the right edge) are already aligned deep, and Williams (toward the top of the screen) is backpedaling while Cattousse (outside of Camporeale and farther off the LOS, on the 17.5 yard line) is shallow and moving outside, so that he can cover the left flat. On this particular play, Davis (the ROLB) will be the 4th rusher, so the underneath defenders, from left to right, are Cattousse, Camporeale, Holt, and Kendricks. This zone coverage obviously makes it tough to pass deep, but does so by removing an underneath defender.
The last (and least aggressive) coverage that Cal uses is Cover-8. The pre-snap alignment for this coverage is pictured below:
This coverage is easily recognizable with its four deep defenders. It's often called Cover-8 because a lot of teams use Cover-4 to denote certain blitz coverages. Within this four deep shell you can play with either zone or man principles. Without seeing specific route combinations against this coverage, it's hard to tell which is being used. The assignments for Cover-8 zone are exactly what you'd expect, with the deep defenders each taking a quarter of the field and three zone defenders in underneath coverage. Cover-8 can also be played as a man coverage, but the assignments here are complicated and change according to formation and gameplan, so it isn't that useful to go into them here.
Each of these coverages has some adjustments that can look pretty exotic. For example, each of them has to adjust to slot formations, trips formations, formations with the WR's in tight, etc. Sometimes some kind of motion will happen and the coverage will change altogether. The ultimate way to ID the coverage is to look (1) at how many safeties are deep, as evidenced not just by their alignment but also by their initial movements after the snap, and (2) at whether the rest of the defenders are playing man or zone. If you can ID these five coverages, that'll go a long way toward figuring out who is supposed to be doing what, and toward deciding whether a completion is the result of a player failing to carry out his assignment or a result of the offensive coordinator outsmarting your DC. It should be noted that Cal runs plenty of other stuff as well. For example, there are combination coverages that might be zone on the strongside but man on the weakside, true double coverages, blitz coverages, versions of the above coverages where the safety rotation is to the weakside instead of the strongside, etc. We'll see some of these in later posts. If you can recognize the five coverages outlined in this post, though, that's a good start.
Now that we've seen the basic coverages, we can make some general comments on when Cal used them against Colorado. Man-free was easily the most versatile coverage, and we used it on all kinds of downs and distances. Cover-2 (usually man) was the mixer, presenting a different deep coverage shell and giving the CB's more help on deep routes. It's used as a mixer with Man-free especially on 1st downs, but is also often used as a counter to specific plays. Cover-3 was primarily used on more obvious passing downs like 1st and 15 or 2nd and 10, as well as being a zone coverage that could alternate with Man-free and various blitz coverages on 3rd down. Finally, Cover-8 was used when the offense had no choice but to throw deep, as well as near the goal line or at other times when we really want to defend a specific yard line. Against other teams, that distribution changed. Against ASU, for example, which is more of a constant 1-back offense with 3 or 4 guys split wide, we ran a lot more Cover-2 on 1st and 2nd down, including much more Cover-2 zone than we did against Colorado. It's all in the game-plan.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Ted Miller at ESPN hardly needs me to plug any of his work, but I've been eagerly waiting for his annual "Best Case, Worst Case Scenario" post on Cal for a while. His series is honestly some of the best stuff out there in the college football webisphere.
Well this year's post is out and Miller doesn't disappoint. His most recent post might be his best one yet.
My favorite part? The idea of Andy Ludwig being hired as Coach Tedford's replacement. Classic.
Go read it now.
Read the rest of the post and comments here >>
The Bears' first fall depth chart was released/leaked yesterday as Coach Tedford met with the press to discuss some personnel decisions and changes.
Courtesy Nam Le twitter.
A few surprises, some stories in between the lines, and some absolute no brainers. Keep in mind that this is the first depth chart, and a bit is subject to change, especially once there's some further clarity as to some injury situations. A few thoughts after the jump.
The big news is that true frosh Bryce Treggs will indeed start against Nevada. I said before that I'd be shocked if Treggs wasn't in the starting lineup for the season opener, but Treggs actually had to overcome a bit of slow start to camp and came on pretty strong in recent weeks.
I like the move as I think he provides a nice contrast to Keenan Allen. He's not nearly as physical a receiver, but he's quick, smooth, and can stretch the field a bit despite not having elite speed. I really do think he's going to have the type of freshman impact in the same vein as Desean or Allen. He's as arguably as polished of a WR as the Bears have had in a freshman in a while.
Hearing about Chris Harper cracking the two deep isn't too much of a surprise as we've heard good things about him, arguably getting the most love from Tedford in the press of all the freshman WRs. Maurice Harris is going to surprise a few people this year, as he's flown a bit under the radar, but he's going to make some nice catches in a contributing role. He'll likely be the first receiver up in 3 or 4 WR sets.
Another true frosh Darius Powe didn't crack the two deep, along with Jackson Bouza, Ross Bostock, and others. But I fully expect all three to log in catches. Kenny Lawler will redshirt this year, which shouldn't be a disappointment to anyone. The kid's got a high ceiling and will benefit from the redshirt year to grow physically, mentally, and academically. You want to bring him along a bit slowly.
Offensive Line The line is about where most people expected, especially after it's been known that sophomore Chris Adcock had jumped out a bit at the RG position. I haven't heard much about redshirt freshman Jordan Rigsbee, so you have to think he's been holding steady here.
The freshmen olinemen (Tagaloa, Cochran, Moore and Okafor) are noticeably absent, but I'm ok with that. Again, I would prefer to make sure they're ready and able to get quality snaps if they're going to use a year of eligibility. These guys are the future of the o-line. I'd venture a guess that Tagaloa might be the most ready to play of the four, but that the coaching staff won't throw him out in a game unless the offensive line depth sees a real hit due to injury.
And Matt Williams, where the hell did you come from?
Tight End No real news here other than Tedford's announcement that true freshman Maximo Espitio will not redshirt. Very interesting given Spencer Hagan's secure lock on the H-back spot, but my guess is that the coaching staff has seen enough from him to throw him out there. True frosh tight ends are no real surprise in Cal's recent history, but few have posted any huge numbers right away. Simple game experience and special teams contributions will help Maximo immensely. And at the very least, we need someone named Maximo on the field, stat.
Quarterback The only interesting movement was Austin Hinder winning the 3rd quarterback spot. You know the depth chart there is set when that's the only real question. It is worth noting though that Austin Hinder has had a reportedly very good fall camp. He's put on some noticeable mass and provides a real nice balance of passing and running ability. I've even heard whispers that he's make a push for the backup QB spot.
Zach Kline will almost undoubtedly redshirt at this point, but will travel with the team. That would leave Kyle Boehm with the unfortunate position of staying at home when the team travels, but it's still very early in the career of the redshirt freshman QB.
Fullback After coming off a season ending injury, most expected Eric Stevens to be the starting fullback if he could get fully healthy and confident again. He showed some nice things early on in his career and could really shine in the role in his senior season.
There was some competition for the backup FB spot, and I'm actually really happy that Dasarte Yarnway grabbed it. I've rooted for him since the Bears recruited him, as he has a great story, and though he hasn't made a splash at tailback, I think he has the potential to do some interesting things at fullback. He's not a natural lead blocker, and will have to put on some weight for the job, but he can certainly do some things in terms of picking up first downs in short yardage situations and catching the ball out of the backfield like he did in the spring game.
Runningback Both Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson are listed in bold as starters. Runningback controversy? Nothing to see here, for now at least. Sofele will get the first snap, but I expect CJA's workload to increase immensely over last year's rep distribution. Sofele's carries are going to go down quite a bit this year, and I think that's going to be better for both Sofele and Anderson.
Defensive Line This is the first area where there's been some movement as a result of injuries. Mustafa Jalil has been absent due to an undisclosed injury so it looks like Keni Kaufusi has stepped up into the backup spot behind Deandre Coleman.
Expect there to be a lot of movement and rotation throughout the course of a game. The Bears may shift to a 4-3 in certain situations, which could conceivably see Moala joining Payne as the other DT, or having Tipoti slide into that spot while Todd Barr moves in at defensive end. There's a lot of potential here in this deep group, but I'll be far more worried if we hear about more injuries other than the one with Jalil. Even that alone has me a bit nervous, but then again, I'm a Cal fan.
Linebackers As suspected, Brennan Scarlett will likely start at the other OLB spot opposite Chris McCain. McCain has reportedly been on crutches, though I've heard it's not serious enough to keep him sidelined for the Nevada game. At least I hope.
The more interesting bits are at inside linebacker. I fully expected Robert Mullins to start at one spot, but it looks like injury has again forced Dave Wilkerson out of action, and he's likely to miss the season opener. Huge bummer, as this guy has the real potential to be a very good ILB if he can just freaking stay healthy.
On the bright side, JP Hurrell will step up into that role, and it might certainly make more sense to have two senior linebackers manning the middle against a trickier zone-read offense at Nevada. I would also much rather have Wilkerson sit out one game and be ready for conference play than force him into action sooner than later and have him miss more games down the stretch.
And this is just my gut, but I expect Wilkerson and Nick Forbes to be starting by midseason should both stay healthy. They're that good.
Secondary Like I said in yesterday's post, I think Marc Anthony and Steve Williams make one of the better and more experienced DB duos in the conference. Having Adrian Lee and Kameron Jackson back them seems solid and logical.
As one of Cal's defensive leaders, you're going to see Josh Hill quarterback the secondary in the WS spot, like Chris Conte and DJ Campbell did before him. You may also see him move to nickelback in certain situations, allowing Michael Lowe to slide in there.
Alex Logan is slotted at the other safety spot. He's a big hitter and can do some good things in run support, but I can't honestly say I've seen enough of him in pass coverage to know how well he'll do there.
Many avid online Cal fans are noticing the visible absence of fan favorite Avery Sebastian in the two deep. As much as I love Sebastian, and I do, I don't see this too much of an indictment on him. He's still developing coverage skills, and senior Tyre Ellison has reportedly have a strong camp. Sebastian is still going to play quite a bit this year.
Oh, and one last thing. Cedric Dozier, one of the Bears' touted freshman WRs, will make the switch to defensive back. As an Army All-American ATH, Dozier was all over the field in HS. Upon seeing that he would redshirt, Dozier apparently decided he had a better shot cracking the depth chart at defensive back rather than at WR. With Marc Anthony graduating at the end of this year, and with the Bears losing Raymond Ford and Willie Fletcher, the move makes sense. The Bears are adding some serious talent in the secondary next year with both Dozier and Stefan McClure returning from a likely redshirt year. And at the very worst, Dozier could always switch back and not lose a beat.
Special Teams No surprises with Cole Lenninger and Vince D'Amato in the punter and kicker spot respectively. Keenan Allen will indeed return punts which is a huge boon for special teams. He's done something special nearly every time he's fielded a punt and will provide a lot more excitement in that role.
I also like keeping Brendon Bigelow and Mike Manuel in the kickoff return roles. I think Bigelow is going to crank it into another gear this year and Manuel was solid in nearly every return last year. Not necessarily a homerun threat, but always gaining solid field position for the Bears.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
So yesterday, I did my annual (2 years running!) "Reasons for Concern" post on the 2012 Bears. So it's only fair I follow up with what's got me pumping sunshine and lollipops this season.
It's not all hate around these parts.
I may look back at this post at the end of the season and laugh, or heck even midway through the season and begin uncontrollably sobbing, but I'm convinced Zach Maynard will have a better year. Convinced.
I've seen nothing from Maynard that suggests to me that he'll be an elite quarterback, but I've seen and heard enough from him to make me think that he'll finish in the top half of the conference in QB efficiency which should be enough to help the Bears improve to a better record.
I'm not going to rehash the whole Maynard was awesome the last four games of the season (Texas never happened) bit, though it is worth noting the stat line: 67% completion %, 5 TDs, just 1 INT, no fumbles, 149.5 QB rating, with season highs of 167.1 and 162.3.
It's more than that though. Maynard was visibly better in the second half of the season. His footwork was better, his pocket presence was improved, and he was utilized better as a rusher.
The depth at the QB position is also arguably the most talented that it's ever been, and I think the Bears' coaching staff is going to allow for Maynard to take more risks running the ball this year as a result of that. Also, I think Maynard felt a bit of a need to prove that he wasn't simply a tuck-it-and-run type of quarterback last year, and felt the need to try buy time out of the pocket instead of picking up a few extra yards on the ground. I believe we'll see that shift this year like we did more with Kevin Riley during his junior and senior season.
And if anything, Maynard just has to be better, right? I mean it's been a historical trend for nearly every senior starting QB in the conference. He's been in the offense for a year now, he's developed rapport with his teammates, and he must have spent time addressing his biggest weaknesses as a QB (presnap checks, reads, and detection of pressure) this off season, right?
I'm inclined to believe you're going to see a Kevin Riley type of progress from Maynard. Not quite the astronomical jump that some would have liked, but a steadier, more consistent force under center, and I really do believe that should lead to more wins.
Before I get into this, I thought I'd share a somewhat troubling statistic on Cal's rushing production the past few years.
2008: 186.23 yards per game (28th in the nation) with 22 TDs
2009: 169.31 yards per game (42nd in the nation) with 27 TDs
2010: 158.83 yards per game (51st in the nation) with 19 TDs
2011: 154.85 yards per game (62nd in the nation) with 25 TDs
That's right. The Bears rushing offense has dropped continually each year. And that's with Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen as your starting runningbacks back from 2008-2010.
But this is a reason for optimism post!
As stated above, I think we're going to see more efficient quarterback play this year. I do think there are going to be higher standards for the Bears' offensive line this year, and we're going to see better numbers from Maynard which is going to result in better numbers for Cal's backs. But this doesn't even mention what I consider to be the biggest factor as to why you're going to see some solid rushing numbers this year.
The Bears are stacked at runningback.
Just over a week ago, Tedford was quoted in staying that the RB spot was very competitive and he saw each of his four running backs (Senior Isi Sofele, senior CJ Anderson, sophomore Brendon Bigelow, and freshman Daniel Lasco) being capable of being the starter.
Now I fully expect Sofele to take the opening day first snap barring any injury, but when I look at the talent at the position, I'm inclined to believe Tedford that these guys are that good.
Sofele surpassed many people's expectations when he had one of the best single rushing seasons ever with 1,322 yards, 10 TDs, and averaging over 5 yards a carry. He visibly improved over the course of the year, and his shiftiness in certain plays were flat out spectacular. He still has more fumbles than I would like, and isn't as steady a force rushing in between tackles, but he's more than convinced me that he's a solid back.
I've become increasingly impressed with CJ Anderson as well. I don't think he's an elite talent of a runningback, but he's so well rounded and provides such a refreshing level of physicality and balance at the runningback position. He was also the best threat out of the backfield last year for the Bears.
I've been big on Bigelow and Lasco for a while now, and though they may not get many carries this year, I'm convinced they're going to make the best of them. I'm praying the coaching staff finds some creative ways to get Bigelow the ball, as the idea of a healthy Bigelow has the potential to bring entertainment unrivaled since the craziness that was Jahvid Best. I think Lasco is a solid option to run the ball late in games to wear down a defense. You're going to see some good things from them this year.
All four backs have my attention, and I feel confident with any of them carrying the ball right now. It's a bit contrary to whole fear with unproven players, but I think they're all going to make some plays this season.
Secondary Play I'm not going to go out on a limb and say that the Bears will again lead the conference in passing defense, but I think there's a good shot that we might actually be better in the secondary this year.
For as much as some have ripped on Marc Anthony, I think he's easily the most physical cover corner the Bears have in quite some time. He lacks the elite speed to keep up with burners, but he'll do a nice job of jamming up some of the more physical wideouts in the conference. He may not shut them down, but he's going to get them to work for their yards.
Steve Williams, is legit though. This guy has great cover skills, nice speed, and smooth hips. He doesn't quite possess the lock down type of cover skills in the vertical passing game, but he's capable of making huge plays in nearly every part of the field.
In addition to have three year starters at both DB positions, I also like the move to safety for Josh Hill. He may still actually play nickelback in those situations, but he's a smart player with good instincts capable of putting up some solid numbers this year. I'm thinking bigger numbers than DJ Campbell, but shy of the explosion that was Chris Conte's performance at safety.
There's also a great deal of potential in the secondary. I've been waiting for the light to turn on for Alex Logan, and that's reportedly been the case. Both he and Avery Sebastian can lay the wood. I think Michael Lowe is a good enough athlete to do some nice things in coverage, and I'm loving what I'm hearing about the depth at DB with Adrian Lee and Kameron Jackson who really came on towards the end of the year.
In short, we've got one of the better defensive back duos in the conference, and some good depth behind them.
Defensive Line Dominance
This one is a bit of a gimme, but the injury bug at defensive line had me hesitating. But I simply can't not say this unit has me giddy (that's what she said.)
Cal's defensive line has been so solid over the past few years, and we've got a group that's genuinely two deep this year with a group of guys I'm convinced could start on the majority of teams in this conference.
The idea of Jalil, Payne, Coleman, Barr, Moala, King, and Tipoti as a utility-live-in-the-backfield-and-drink-your-milkshake type of defensive lineman comforts me into thinking that this group is going to make it much easier for this entire defense.
It just might be the difference between Oregon's running game having their way or Matt Barkley through for over 400 against the Bears.
Now, just stay healthy fellas.
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012
I try to do this before every season, but it's always somewhat cathartic for me to navigate through the flood of emotions I encounter shortly before a season. And with the season set to kick off just two weeks away, emotions are raging.
But it's more than that. I've always felt I will enjoy a season much more when I've successfully come to what I think to be a fairly rational projection of how the Bears might perform this season.
My Reasons for Concern and Hope series is usually an attempt at trying to break down what it is that drives me to feel utterly desolate about the Bears to feeling giddy with joy.
So without further adieu, here are the reasons to be concerned about the Bears this year. And if it isn't already clear, I will be following this up with my reasons for optimism, just so you don't think it's all negative nanciness around here.
Offensive Tackle Depth
Let me preface this by saying that I have an immense level of trust in Coach Michalczik's ability as an offensive line coach. He will find the best 8 guys to step on the field.
But our depth at offensive tackle is a huge concern.
First off, there are the question marks with the starters themselves. For as much hype as Matt Summers-Gavin has received this offseason, no one will disagree with the statement that he is woefully out of place at tackle. He's a guard, plain and simple. But he is admittedly the best option the Bears have at the RT position, protecting Zach Maynard's blindside. That has to tell you almost everything you need to know about the depth there. MSG is a solid guard, reduced to being a serviceable tackle, and that is frightening.
Then there's Tyler Rigsbee who has battled injuries for most of his career, and was understandably unable to unseat 4 year starter Mitchell Schwartz at tackle. But he was also unable to unseat MSG, even when he was healthy, to allow for MSG to shift to the inside. I've got some comfort in the idea of a 5th year senior who has seen action and has been around long enough to not appear completely wide-eyed, but I can't honestly attest to how well he'll actually play this year.
The depth after that might form a lump in your throat. Bill Tyndall and Brian Farley are both walk-ons who have seen little game action. We've heard nothing about Matt Williams. And there's There's a decent chance that we might see true freshmen Freddie Tagaloa and Steven Moore rushed into action as well. As big as I am about these two, I can't think of the last time the Bears had a true freshman play on the line other than Brian Schwenke. And neither of these guys have gotten the type of camp praise that Schwenke did.
There are enough question marks as it is about the OT position. I shudder to think what might happen should one of the starters go down.
No Bye Week
In a scheduling screwjob of epic proportions, the Bears were left without a bye week this year. In the world of college football, when you play just 12-13 regular season games in determining a conference champion, that's huge. Teams simply can ill afford to not have a week to get key players on their team healthy, and mentally refresh themselves from the pressure-packed grind of college football.
And keep in mind, health alone is going to be critical. Injuries happen all the time, if the fact that Dominic Galas, Jason Gibson are already out for most of the season just from the start of fall camp. And we're talking about practice. Practice?
The Bears are fortunate enough to have quality depth at certain positions such as running back or at defensive line, where a starter missing a game or two wouldn't destroy the Bears' chances in certain games. But proven depth in other units such as offensive tackle, cornerback, or wide receiver are hand-wringingly nervewracking. And for as much as some have concerns about Zach Maynard, I can't think of the last time that an injury to starting QB has been a good thing for the Bears.
The Bears will need to stay healthy and mentally sharp, a nearly impossible task in a schedule without a bye week.
It's been nearly unfathomable to me that this hasn't gotten more attention in the media this past offseason. The Bears' special teams has ranged from mediocre to face-palming it the past several years. Consider last year's numbers.
Punting: 43.43 ypp (22nd nation)
Kickoffs: 61.21 ypk (89th nation)
Opponent Kickoff Returns: 20.39 ypr (37th nation)
Opponent Punt Returns: 7.0 ypr (49th nation)
Field Goals: 87% (7th nation) Giorgio!
PAT: 85.7% (117th! nation)
As you can see, our coverage teams were decent, our specialists were solid, and our point after protection was atrocious.
This was with two senior kicking specialists.
This year, the Bears usher in two new starters at the position. One who was benched in favor of Giorgio Tavecchio and the other is a true freshman.
Vincenzo D'Amato and good buddy of Tavecchio, came in as a rare scholarship kicker for the Bears in hopes that he would solve the Bears' kicking woes. Instead he struggled with injuries and inconsistency, going 7 for 12 on his FG attempts his first year. He would ultimately take a redshirt his junior season to allow the vastly improved Tavecchio the opportunity to start his senior year. D'Amato reportedly has plenty of leg, but if history is any lesson, it takes time for the Bears' kickers to improve. We've seen it with nearly every kicker we've had, and one can only hope that D'Amato has used the past few years to develop that consistency and mental toughness. But really, that only comes in games and I'm not sure D'Amato has seen enough over the past few years for the Bears not to have a noticeable dip in performance this year in this area.
Cole Leninger is a highly touted frosh punter who has reportedly put many of Tedford's punting concerns to rest, but he is still ultimately a freshman. Even if he were to become a standout punter like his predecessor, it's hard for me to imagine there not being any type of dropoff in punting this season. Bryan Anger was that special. And if anything else, the Bears still maintain they will partake in the rugby style punts. Oy vey.
Inside Linebacker Play
When you look at the names at the inside linebacker spot, from Nick Forbes, Dave Wilkerson, JP Hurrell, Robert Mullins, Nathan Broussard, to true frosh like Michael Barton, and Hardy Nickerson Jr., it's easy to kept swept up in the talent at that position.
But the more I look at footage of Cal's defense last year, the more I realize how incredibly critical in the inside linebacker positions are.
And then you consider the departed talent at Mychal Kendricks and DJ Holt, and you realize not only athletically gifted they were, but how sound they were in their assignments. Their one weakness was being sound in pass coverage over the middle at times, but they were for the most part what helped this Cal engine run.
And even watching Kendricks fly around the field in last night's preseason game against the Patriots, and you realize how special this guy was.
Holt and Kendricks combined for a hefty 187 tackles last year.
So yes, I'm excited about the talent we have stepping up, but it's hard for me to believe that that kind of production and efficiency is going to be replaced. Not right away at least. And given the youth on the outside with sophomore Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett, you've got a linebacking corps that's ripe for mental errors early on in the season. I don't care how talented this group is, that's a scary proposition.
Playing Oregon State in the Last Game of the Regular Season
I'm going to make this simple and have you direct your attention here.
But c'mon, seriously? I don't care how terrible Oregon State has been or will be. Play in Corvallis in November has heartbreak written all over it.
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Monday, August 20, 2012
As reported by Jeff Faraudo, the Bears were off yesterday and will also be off Monday before returning to practice on Tuesday. It sounds like it couldn't have come at a better time as some units seem to have the case of the injury bug and will need a few days to get healthy before getting some quality reps in.
A few thoughts as the Bears are just about 12 days away from kickoff. The team will begin gameplanning for Nevada midway through next week.
- Of the freshmen WRs, Tedford's made it clear that Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs will most certainly be in the rotation. I had thought Darius Powe might also be a candidate for playing time this year, but Tedford had made note of his size and that he'd need to lose some weight off his then 217 pound frame to move around better.
Well it looks like Powe has put in the work and it's starting to show. Powe is down to 208, exactly around where Tedford wanted him to be, and Tedford has noticed.
Tedford: "He's really stepping up. It's nice to see him step up. He's doing a good job."
So we'll wait before we jump to any conclusions, but don't be surprised to see Powe join Harper and Treggs in the WR rotation. Most knew that Kenny Lawler had huge potential, but might not be ready to step on the field right away. Cedric Dozier is a bit of a wildcard as someone who could play the slot or perhaps be a factor in end-arounds, but the fact that he hasn't come up too often in reports may simply mean he's continuing to adjust and may benefit from a redshirt year.
- It sounds like Richard Rodgers will return back to practice, at least in terms of contact/scrimmage situations versus simply running in 7-7s or routes. Rodgers injury hasn't been disclosed, and I've been mighty anxious, but the idea of him returning this week is certainly comforting. What has been a bit of a benefit though was the increased reps for JUCO transfer TE Harrison Wilfley and true freshman Maximo Espitia. Both have been praised by Tedford, and it's not out of the question that both might play this year. However, Tedford seems to be banking a lot on TE play this year, and if he's to be believed, a lot of that will hedge on the play of Rodgers.
- Jeff Faraudo confirms Tedford's comments that the dline rotation seems to be set at least two deep plus one for a solid 7.
Eventually, Tedford believes the Bears will be solid at the three D-line spots. “I feel good about our top seven — we’re two-deep plus one,” he said.
The candiates for those spots include Kendrick Payne, Aaron Tipoti, Viliami Moala, Deandre Coleman, Mustafa Jalil, Todd Barr and Gabe King.
If the depth chart holds, it looks like it'd be Tipoti, Payne, and Coleman starting, with Jalil, Moala, and Barr filling out the two deep. Gabe King has moved to nose, but could play both positions. If this group is healthy it'll easily be one of the most talented and deepest defensive line units in conference. Easily.
- All in all, most of my concerns about the dings and injuries so far seem to be cleared up, for now. With Nevada gameplanning starting this week, the focus should be on speed, assignments and execution. We're just over a week out from the season starter (JOY!) and can't afford any big injuries as the team continues to prepare for the season. With no bye week, it'll be a grind.
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Saturday, August 18, 2012
Sigh, I don't know why I continue to do this. This is exhausting. So many Bears in the NFL! So many stats!
[Note: Games played through Sat August 18th.]
-Former Cal defensive lineman Lorenzo Alexander has since made the move at linebacker for the Washington Redskins and has flourished in the role. He recorded 4 tackles in Saturday's preseason contest against the Chicago (not Golden) Bears.
-It also looks like former Cal longsnapper Nick Sundberg recorded a tackle. My guess is that this was a special teams tackle unless he's made a move to linebacker.
-Chris Conte hopes to continue his strong play after winning the starting job at free safety for Chicago last year. He had 3 tackles in Saturday's contest.
-Got this on John Breech's twitter, but it looks like WR Michael Calvin is no longer with the Falcons. Major bummer, as he had reportedly come on strong in preseason camp. Calvin has been a physically gifted receiver who simply hasn't been able to catch a break with staying injury free. Best of luck to Calvin.
-Marshawn Lynch had 6 rushes for 37 yards for the Seahawks. From what I understand, Lynch is still awaiting to hear back from the league after pleading guilty for a DUI. He's almost assuredly to see some type of suspension, so it's just a matter of time I suppose.
-TE Cameron Morrah caught just 1 pass for 4 yards. To his credit, Morrah has stuck around the league for awhile now in his fourth season in the league, but he's failed to even develop into the type of red zone target I hoped he'd become after his breakout junior year. If you remember, Morrah declared for the draft early, despite Coach Tedford's strong recommendation that he stay. But hey, Morrah is due $615,000 so the guy's getting money.
-Tony Gonzales is remarkable. Still playing after 16 years in the league. The Cal standout had 3 catches for 44 yards. Greatest tight end of all time? Greatest tight end of all time.
-Safety Thomas DeCoud made just one tackle, but recovered a fumble for the Falcons.
-It's looking more and more like Marvin Jones will make the team at the 5th WR spot, though he might be the best deep threat for the Bengals. He had just 1 catch on Friday, but it was 42 yard bomb. Jones also took an end around for 16 yards to move the sticks. He's looked good in these exhibition games so far.
-It was a rough day for Jim Harbaugh's 49ers, but one of the bright spots was the play of placekicker Giorgio Tavecchio. Guy showed off major leg and knocked all four of his kickoffs into the endzone, with his last two going into the back of the endzone for touchbacks. I have a genuine grin on my face when I see Tavecchio kick. As I wrote last week, it's just an unbelievable story and great to see.
-Justin Forsett looks to be the Texans' 3rd back behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate. He'll excell in the role and did well with 3 carries for 16 yards against the Niners.
-Aaron Rodgers was somewhat more like his usual self after a poor performance last week. Rodgers was 6 for 11 and 59 yards and a score.
-Although you can't read up on the stats, former Cal olinemen Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz were praised for their solid play. Pretty soon the Browns' oline will be made up solely of Cal players.
-Craig Stevens had 2 catches for 14 yards with Titans. Stevens is going on his 5th year as the team's primary blocking TE. Stevens signed a 4-year $15 million contract earlier this year. Cha-Ching!
-Tyson Alualu had a quiet day with just 1 assisted tackle.
-Bryan Anger continued to boom it with four punts for 195 yards including a 62 yard boomer. Best 3rd round pick ever!
-Cameron Jordan had 2 assisted tackles for the Saints.
-Sean Cattouse had 2 tackles for the Chargers as he battles for a roster spot.
-Ernest Owusu and Trevor Guyton each recorded tackles for the Minnesota Vikings in their preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. -Matt Giordano had 3 tackles for the Oakland Raiders.
-For what it's worth, former Cal WR Verran Tucker was not resigned by the Chiefs this season, and is playing the Spokane Shock in the Arena Football League.
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Friday, August 17, 2012
I have genuinely been eagerly anticipating Episode 2 of the new Cal Fall Camp web series. Again, there was nothing revelatory in terms of information, but the inside look at the team in preparation for the season is revelation in itself.
A few thoughts on this week's episode after the jump.
- I can't tell who the player featured in the opening moments of the video is, but I have the same exact ringtone. Imagine that shiet getting you up in the morning. I share your pain brother, except mine had me up at 6 AM this morning, so I win. Or lose?
- It's always impressive to hear from Mike Blasquez and watch him in action as he works with this team. The guy is just so freaking knowledgeable about nutrition, fitness, and physiology which doesn't come close to coming through in this video, but the guy knows what he's talking about. His work with our players has been evident since last year, and you can noticeably see a lot of players bigger (Austin Hinder) and leaner (CJ Anderson).
- QB Marcus Arroyo is another good position coach to have mic'd up, as he's constantly barking. He's got all of his QBs playing with focus and urgency in every practice video I've seen him in. But Coach Michalczik may have had the best line ever in explaining the benefits of learning a particular technique. "Subconsciously devastating." Haha, I like that.
- I'm glad that Eric Stevens knows that 0.15 to the zero power is 1. I'd be scarred otherwise.
- While I don't enjoy watching 18 football players pile into ice baths, the ones featured in the new SAHPC are infinitely better than the troughs the team was using before. Seriously, we're talking about literal tin buckets not much bigger than your home bath tub that 6 or 7 olinemen had to cram into. I much prefer the space and sight, thank you.
- The hit that safety Alex Logan lays on RB Isi Sofele at the 10:52 is an breathtaker. Knocks his helmet clean off. Good to see Sofele pop right back up though. Guy's a tough dude. And it is worth noting, in all the practice videos I've seen, the guy might have the quickest feet of any back on the team. Guy blazes in every drill.
- CJ Anderson does such a great job of not going down on first contact. Last year it was sheer power, but you're seeing a lot better decisiveness with his cuts, and it's the little things he's doing now in his runs from slightly turning and shifting his body to help him gain those extra yards. Really impressive to watch.
- Finally, that last shot of Memorial Stadium. I don't know if it's CGI or if that's really how the stadium looks at night with the lights of the interior of Memorial lit up like that, but that's just flat out gorgeous.
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Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Back at it. I've been MIA for a little bit while celebrating an anniversary with my better half. But I'm refreshed and happy to pour over some quality Cal football camp news.
Not too much has happened over the past few days, but there have been some interesting developments as the depth chart begins to see a little bit more clarity at certain positions.
It looks like new bear LB Khairi Fortt won't be playing in the season opener against Nevada as reported by Dan Greenspan. Not a real surprise here as Fortt has been rehabilitating his knee and is still in the process of getting back to basic conditioning. Tedford has reiterated that they know Fortt has the talent to play at the next level, so trying to rush him in when he has three years to play two would be far from judicious.
Speaking of linebackers, it looks like things are beginning to shake out a bit, especially on the outside. The Bear Insider reported that sophomore Brennan Scarlett was the frontrunner to start the predator OLB spot opposite Chris McCain.
Tedford: ""He's moving really well. He's pass rushing really well off the edge, he's dropping back [into zone coverage], he's covering. "
"[Linebackers Scarlett and McCain] are long-armed guys who can run and [are] athletic, so we're in good shape there."
This is really exciting to hear. I've been very big about Scarlett, ever since the four-star recruit made a late decision to commit to the Bears two years ago. You honestly don't see his blend of speed, size and athletic ability very often. He moves freakishly well for his size and can be an instant playmaker for the Bears. I'm very happy to hear he's progressing into making that push for a starting role. The idea of McCain and Scarlett on the outside with Cecil Whiteside and Dan Camporeale providing depth sounds very solid.
It may be just lipservice, but depth at tight end appears to be developing as well. After Tedford went off on Richard Rodgers' ability, Rodgers went down with an undisclosed injury the next day, only to have Spencer Hagan get dinged up as well. Hagan should be back by Wednesday, but color me a little nervous that Tedford is still mum about the extent of Rodgers' injury. He keeps telling me that everything will be ok, but mmmm, I'm still scurred.
Fear not though, because the coach is liking what he's seeing with transfer Harrison Wilfley and freshman Maximo Espitia impressing Tedford.
"Maximo is really a very good athlete," Tedford said. "He really fits in that position really well. He's very smart. I'm really pleased at the way he has absorbed the offense, so that's been great. Same with Harrison. He's absorbed it really well, mentally. He's a very tough kid. He's taken a lot of reps. He's a guy who's going to be in the rotation this year."
That's actually very encouraging to hear given these were two players I expected absolutely zero from this year. Not to say I didn't think they could develop into contributing for the team, but I wasn't even close to thinking they'd contribute this early.
Wilfley is a big bodied tight-end who's returning from a two year missionary stint, with prototypical TE size. Espitia is a gifted athlete who's more in the H-back mold who will be able to expected to do a lot in terms of blocking, running, and catching the ball out of the backfield, etc. Tedford wanted to bring him along slowly given the sheer amount of information he had to digest, but so far it appears he's exceeded expectations.
That's a decently deep group of tight ends, with Rodgers, Wark and Wilfley going three deep, and Hagan and Espitia filling out the spots at the H-Back spot. The only caveat being that this group is still incredibly unproven, with only Hagan having any real significant game experience. Tedford maintains they'll be using tight ends more this year, and with the lack of experience at the WR spot opposite Keenan Allen, it'd be understatement to say that much is expected of this group this year.
And in regards to WRs, Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper appear to have the leg up out of the freshmen to be in the rotation this year. It's still early on, so I'd expect at least one more freshman to play their way into the rotation, but it's looking good for Harper and Treggs right now. I had a good feeling about Treggs, but I'm not surprised about Harper. He may not be the most physically gifted WR of the Fab 5 that entered in, but he's near the top of the pack in terms of polish and route running which is going to likely be the deciding factor as to who plays sooner than later.
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Saturday, August 11, 2012
[Note: For Games through Friday 8/11]
I used to do this more often earlier on in the life of this blog, but it's become increasingly difficult to keep track of all the Bears in the NFL because there are so freaking many. Which is a fantastic thing, though I doubt I'll even keep this up moving forward. But I was curious about how they did in their first week anyway.
- Giorgio Tavecchio knocked a 29 yard field goal for the Niners. Tavecchio's journey has been pretty remarkable if you think about it. Local kid, walks on to Cal a few weeks before his freshman year, ends up handling kickoff duties for the opener, and is kicking a FG in a preseason game for his hometown team just four years later. Forza Italia!
- Thomas DeCoud had two tackles as he continues to battle to maintain his starting free safety position.
- Shane Vereen didn't take first team snaps, but he led the team with 11 rushes for 64 yards. He also added two catches for 17 yards. New England will continue to run their backs by rotation but I must say that he looked the most impressive out of all of the Patriots' backs.
- Vereen faced off against former teammate Cameron Jordan who continues to start at defensive end for the Saints. Jordan recorded one tackle.
- LB DJ holt had two solo tackles for the Washington Redskins.
- Aaron Rodgers had an uncharacteristically poor showing, going 2-8 for yards and an interception. He also lost a fumble. C'mon A Rod. Pick it up. Pwahaha. Sorry, I really tried to act like those numbers mattered.
- LB Desmond Bishop notched two tackles, but left the game with a collarbone injury. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery.
- Safety Sean Cattouse had one tackle for the San Diego Chargers.
- Desean Jackson caught just one ball for 5 yards. Easy night.
- LB Mychal Kendricks had a big night for Eagles in his preseason debut, notching 5 tackles, including 3 for a loss. Kendricks is going to be a good one for the Eagles.
- Nnamdi Asomugha had two tackles as well for Philadelphia.
- The Denver Broncos also have two former Cal greats, both coming off injuries last season. Mike Mohammed had 3 tackles as a middle linebacker, while Syd'Quan Thompson recorded one for himself.
- I believe Anthony Miller is fighting for a roster spot with the Broncos, but did not record any catches during Manningfest.
- Jahvid Best did not play as he continues to it out due to concussion symptons.
- DB Dante Hughes is battling for the nickelback spot with the Giants after not being resigned last year by San Diego.
- Marvin Jones caught a long 45 yards pass for the Cincinnati Bengals. You can watch the grab here. Jones seems to be assured of grabbing the 5th WR spot, after overcoming a slow start to training camp. He hasn't passed up other rookie WR Mohammed Sanu, but should make the team. I think Jones has the size and physicality to be a solid contributor for any NFL team for a long time.
- I think most people have forgiven the Jaguars for drafting a punter in the 3rd round, no? Anger smashed it on Saturday, punting it 6 times for a 47.7 average, with a long of 58 yards, and knocking it three times inside the 20. Impressive numbers. He'll need to continue that, as Jaguars are going to punt A LOT this year.
- Michael Calvin didn't notch any receptions for the Atlanta Falcons as he tries to secure the 5th WR spot in the rotation. He has reportedly impressed in training camp however, showing off his speed and his ability to make catches.
- No stats here, but the Charlotte Observer has a bit of an unbelievable story on former Cal safety DJ Campbell. Apparently, his father murdered his mother when Campbell was just 6 year old. Unbelievable.
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Friday, August 10, 2012
Cal Bears Production (with an obvious affection for the Michael Bay Transformers films as evidenced by the credits animation), is either an in-house production service or a team hired by the Cal Athletics to department to produce a nice fall camp practice behind-the-scenes video series.
The video series will chronicle the team has it opens up fall camp and prepares for the 2012 season.
Here's the first episode.
A few thoughts after the jump.
- Dennis Dodd at CBS Sports has somewhat affectionately called the episode "Soft Knocks" in gesture to the HBO series "Hard Knocks" which features a behind the scenes look at NFL teams.
I don't care. I think the series is fantastic. Again, it likely speaks more about the lack of access Cal's fanbase has had in regards to its program, but it provides really, unparalleled access to anything the majority of fans have had the chance to see before. And despite it not showing anything revelatory, I'm still somewhat surprised that Coach Tedford ok'd it.
- The series is well edited and produced (yay for HD cameras!), but the star of the series might be the shots of the SAHPC and the newly renovated Memorial Stadium. Despite poring over photos and blurry videos the past year, being able to see the facility and actually seeing the team sit in its brand new conference room is really something to behold.
- I actually had no idea the team stayed in Bowles Hall (aka Hogwarts) during training camp. It makes complete sense given their proximity to the training facilities and later Memorial Stadium though. And it's got to be a thousand lifetimes better than training at San Bernadino.
- I do wish the producers were able to choose a few more shots of the team looking a little less bored during Coach Tedford's opening remarks about making good decisions and such, but I guess there's only so much footage one can capture. Eesh.
- Geoffrey Gibson looks radically different from some of the recruiting photos I saw of him when he was a massive 340 pounds in high school. The Cal Bears roster lists him at about 313 pounds, so it certainly looks like he's been Blasquezed. If he can continue to finish plays then he can be a real force at the RG spot.
- LB Coach Kenwick Thompson is a high intensity coach, as is some of our other position coaches, but he was a nice to choice to feature in the video. It's a coach you'd want to actually watch coach up the kids.
- Oh, and for what it's worth, I personally think you could even center the show around RB CJ Anderson. The guy's a character.
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Thursday, August 9, 2012
(Click for the larger image)
This is one of the many reasons why Cal Memorial Stadium is better than your stadium.
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The team went live today in full pads for the first time. Players were able to get at each other a bit, but fortunately no new major injuries to speak of. Whew.
It did help with instilling food technique however, as Coach Tedford stated.
"We're able to go low, more. When we just have shells on, we can't block below the waist," Tedford said. "A lot of the run game is predicated on reaching and knocking getting on the ground, which is kind of hard to do when everybody's trying to stay up. It really allows us to get after legs, it allows defensive linemen to play the cut block and makes people play a lot lower. Sometimes you can get in bad habits, trying to stay on your feet the whole time. The key is bending at the knees, so when we get in pads and when we're doing those drills, it helps us play with low pad level and bend at the knees."
Check out his post practice interview below.
The next elite tight end?
The level of high praise that Coach Tedford extols for TE Richard Rodgers has historically been reserved for some pretty special players. And more often than not, the recognized athletes have met expectations.
Here's what he had to say most recently about Rodgers:
"I think, if you can play every day against Richard Rodgers, you can play against any tight end in the country. Richard Rodgers, in my opinion, is as good as any tight end in the country. I know he's young and he's unproven, but you have a guy who's 270 pounds and runs, catches the ball well, can block - I think he's got a really bright future."
That's saying, a whole heck of a lot. Tedford isn't one to exaggerate a whole lot about a player's abilities. He'll say things here and there that might be a tad of a stretch, but nothing out of the realm of possibility. For him to come out and already say that Rodgers is as good as any tight end of the country, well you know the expectations have been raised big time.
I'll be honest, I was pumped about signing Rodgers. I saw him shaping up to be a solid contributor for the Bears, but now Tedford has me asking, "Sheesh, can he really be that good?" We'll see.
Some other bits and blurbs after the jump.
-When asked about Darius Powe, Tedford could only say, "He's big." Powe already has NFL size at 6'2, but I was a bit surprised that he's up to 217 lbs. Tedford wants him down under 210, preferably around the 205 range. 217 lbs is pretty hefty for a WR, and unless he's pure muscle, then dropping 10 lbs can only be a good thing for his speed and agility.
-Reporters keep asking about Brendan Bigelow, likely in bated breath, hoping all reports about his increased confidence, durability and explosiveness continue. Tedford confirmed all to still be true. "He's playing really fast," said Tedford.
-Villami Moala continues to miss classes as he and some other players finish up summer school. This goes for all other players, but I'm still selfishly hoping that all of our student athletes finish their summer courses strong. Obviously, for the sake of their education but secondly (and again, I'm being selfish), academic struggles can be as constraining to a student athlete as an injury, so here's hoping for smooth sailing and full participation next week.
-The field won't be ready on the 15th for the team to begin practicing on as originally planned, but they hope to be there on the 16th. I thought the 15th was an aggressive date, but I'm still disappointed they won't be there on time. Tedford hopes to be in on the 24th, but heck, if they push the 15th to the 16th, what's stopping them from moving that date? The sky is falling!
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Wednesday, August 8, 2012
The biggest news out of yesterday's camp was that redshirt freshman linebacker Jason Gibson suffered a broke foot injury on Monday and will miss, at the minimum, the next three months. Gibson had moved to inside linebacker in spring camp after playing on the outside in highschool.
It's a real unfortunate injury this early on in camp for a player who was certainly expected to show off his ability this year. It's not quite a crushing blow for the Bears who have nice depth inside (Gibson wasn't featured on the two deep after spring ball) but any time you lose a player of his talent level, it hurts. Here's hoping for a speedy and quality recovery.
Freshman Jeffery Coprich also suffered a broke jaw (eesh), and should miss the next three weeks. Coprich wasn't necessarily expected to contribute this year at safety or tailback, but it will be a setback for any freshman player to miss their first fall camp with an injury.
Below, you can see Tedford's post practice interview. He looks even more excited than ever!
After the jump a few other tidbits, thoughts, and an attempt at guessing the defensive depth chart (1s and 2s).
Judging from Tedford's interview, the bit of info that jumps out the most is Tedford's high praise for runningback CJ Anderson. Tedford went so far as to call CJA their most well-rounded back and one who is really pushing for the starting job.
That's a bit of a different response from when Tedford has been asked that question in the past. Usually, Tedford would praise Anderson while still maintaining that he would simply provide a great "2" in the "1-2 punch" that the Bears have been fortunate to have at tailback. Though it may not surprise anyone who's followed the program too much, now, it doesn't seem to be out of the realm of possibility to see Anderson as the starter.
Runningback all around seems to have Tedford super giddy (can't you tell?). He seems to be pretty pleased with the depth there, citing the play of Brendon Bigelow and Daniel Lasco so far. With this talent, and mastermind Ron Gould at the helm, this really may be the year when we truly do see more than two tailbacks on the field at once.
Don't look too far into the following as it's just the fourth practice, but here's how I'd guess the defensive depth chart would shake out:
1st: Deandre Coleman, Kendrick Payne, Aaron Tipoti
2nd: Todd Barr, Villami Moala, Mustafa Jalil
1st: Chris McCain, Dave Wilkerson, Robert Mullins, Brennan Scarlett
2nd: Cecil Whiteside (or Lucas King), Nick Forbes, JP Hurrell, Dan Campreale
1st: Marc Anthony, Steve Williams, Josh Hill, Alex Logan
2nd: Kameron Jackson, Adrian Lee, Avery Sebastian, Michael Lowe
Just a shot in the dark. I'll try to sum up the courage for an offensive depth chart a bit later.
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Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Coach Tedford's post practice press conference.
Yesterday's practice was closed to the media, but above you have Tedford's daily post practice presser with the media. So really, anything that you read about yesterday's practice is whatever reporters are gleaning from Coach Tedford right there.
A few of my quick impressions.
-Depth at d-line was a little bit of an issue today with Austin Clark still out to a broken foot injury, and a few other guys like Keni Kaufusi out for summer class finals. I don't think anyone is super concerned about d-line depth, but a lot of these guys still need as many practice minutes as possible.
-Tedford again praised the freshmen, particularly the receivers. Tedford specifically pointed out Chris Harper, who has flown a bit under some fans' radars, but if you watch his tape, he's probably one of the more polished route runners in this year's receiving class. Definitely keep an eye out for him.
-As Ryan Gorcey at BearTerritory.net reported, DE Gabe King has moved to the inside to provide depth at nose tackle behind Kendrick Payne and Villami Moala. It's an interesting move for a player who for all his talent, hasn't been able to turn it on just yet. King was a highly prized DE recruit as part of the North Carolina quartet of players that year and offers impressive size at 6'5, 293 pounds. The light hasn't gone on exactly just yet, which saw him get passed up in the depth chart by freshman Mustafa Jalil, and Tedford has stated he just needs to work himself into shape. It's a story to follow during camp.
-In regards to Zach Maynard, Tedford reiterated that he is night and day from where he was last year. His understanding of the offense and managing the flow of the game appears to be up to speed. Says Tedford, "Last year he knew some, but nowhere near where he is now."
-Some interesting bits when discussing the depth of the offensive line with the inclusion of the freshmen o-lin men. True frosh center Matt Cochran took a step back on Sunday with some of his center-QB exchanges which they addressed yesterday. He has the physicality to be looked at 3rd currently in the depth chart at center, but they're still working RS frosh Jordan Rigsbee and RS sophomore Chris Adcock in there as well. They're so early in camp that they're working all the way through a four-deep, but that should eventually start getting slimmed down.
-A lot of eyes are on frosh tackle Freddie Tagaloa, the 6'9, 340 lb monster of a tackle. Speed, tempo, and finishing plays are areas he will need to continue to work on, but Tedford stated that he's doing a "fine job." It is visible though that true frosh Christian Okafor is further ahead as a result of him having been able to participate in Spring Ball however. I must say I'm super excited about these tackles, along with Steven Moore, who I think is a bit more of a project given his athletic and lean frame. These guys are going to provide some nice depth in a position where that has been sorely lacking for the Bears the past several years.
-PSU transfer Khairi Fortt isn't even practicing with the team yet, as he's in rehab mode until his knee gets better. Like I suspected, the team is taking it very slowly with Fortt, and aren't going to rush him into anything.
-In regards to the freshmen wide receivers, it's clear to anyone and everyone that that's one unit where the coaches can't really afford to bring along slowly. The team needs those guys to develop and develop quickly, and they're going to need to "press the issue" as Tedford stated.
The team will again be in shells today but will be in full pads tomorrow for the first time.
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Monday, August 6, 2012
Gotta love these. With closed practices, we shall take whatever we can get, and even in the short 44 seconds, we get some nice clips.
All the players seem to be showing nice intensity and everyone seems to be getting at it. I'm continually impressed by the zip all the QBs are showing on their passes. Rose Bowl!
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