Monday, March 30, 2009

Back to football

Anyone ready for next year yet?

It's a slow period.  Season's over, basketball's over, recruiting's done, and the cherry on top: there's been a one-week break in spring ball.  If you haven't noticed, there ain't been much to talk about.  

I will continue with the position and unit reviews/previews into the offseason (gotta fill that time with something).   But for now, a brief assessment of what to look for in Spring Ball, now that they're finally strapping the pads and hats on (run-throughs and shells are for shaking off the rust - now the bell ringing starts).  

I'll be honest.  I am not that jacked up to hear about how the QB competition is going, or whether the WRs are catching everything, or whether Tavecchio is putting balls in the endzone.  Yes, that stuff is critical...during the season.  But less so during spring.  The starters will be who they will be, and we'll see how guys are playing come fall.

To me, spring ball is about three things: (1) building the foundation for maintaining laserlike focus for an entire summer, fall camp, and season (something this program has yet to do), (2) seeing what the underclassmen and reserves are really made of , and (3) for this season only, seeing how the new coaches are acclimating and fitting in.  

Above all else, spring is really about attitude, about getting your mind and approach right for the next eight months.  Not just on an individual level, but in terms of team unity, leadership, and identity.   It is about remembering every play and situation of the past season, down to the smallest details, and committing to building on the successful ones, and vowing never to repeat the bad ones.   And it's about committing to never taking a day or a play off, in practice or games, from summer through the end of the season.

In spring, there is no game planning, no final depth chart, no travel, and no weekly game prep practice schedule to get in the way.  Once all that stuff starts, there's little time to work on fundamentals, philosophy, and mindset.  You have to have all that built-in by that point.  And if you don't, you're not going to find it with a few extra hours in the weight room or the film room.  

That is actually where I believe the 2007 team's problems began, in the spring.  Not sure what happened so much as what clearly didn't happen.  Aside from being extremely weak in key areas on defense (DL, ILB, other corner, coach Littlejohn, coach Delgado), that team clearly had no way to summon itself and regain the laser focus you need to weather that kind of adversity.  That starts in the spring, and it carries through the summer.  

So the first thing to look for the rest of Spring practice is attitude and chemistry.  Good teams, no matter how talented they are, practice with a combination of humility and confidence, like they know they are good enough, but they know they can be better and will run until they puke into a trash can in order to earn it.  And they know the guy next to them will do the same.

I think this team has that makeup, but you never know.  The first two guys that come to mind are Jahvid Best and Tyson Alualu.  Best passed the puke and pain tests, we all know that.  Alualu is the epitome of never taking a play off.  Be interesting to see of the rest of the guys pick that up on each side of the ball.  

The second thing is the underclassmen.  The important part is not merely to "see what they can do."  It's to see whether they are cocky and confident (and talented) enough to believe they can come in and be a force.  We heard Follett talk about Kendricks like that last year, saying, "He doesn't care who's who.  He just plays ball."   Payne seemed to earn the same praise.  

This year, I'd like to see the backup corners and safeties step up - Hill, Anthony, Nabuife, Campbell.  These guys are behind some good players, but they need to play like they have a shot at taking someone's job (ok, maybe not Syd's, but the rest of the positions are up for grabs).  Here's hoping the coaches give them a chance.  

Finally, the new coaches.  It is truly a relief to hear that Coach Marshall is getting up in people's grill.  As I said when they hired him and his mug shot looked like a serial killer - that is what you need in an offensive line coach.  Other than Mack, Cal's o-line has not been the nastiest unit since Philip, O'Callaghan, et al left.  Some of that was Coach M's understated style, and some was the green guys that did end up playing were basically giving it everything they had just to keep it together.  But the bottom line is the offensive line sets the tone for the offense.  And when Tedford's teams dominate people up front, the rest of the team follows (no mystery there).  

As for Ludwig, I am encouraged by two things out of the practice reports.  First, he is engaging every position, not just QBs, in practice.  That is critical, especially when you are the new guy.  WRs and linemen need to know the big picture too, and too often their position coaches don't know it - they are focused on technique and micro-level stuff, and relaying scheme piecemeal from the coordinators.

Second, it is good to hear Ludwig is bringing some spread-type components back to the offense.  Because of Tedford's meticulous coaching and preparation, every time Cal adds an element to its offense, it creates advantages.  We all know Tedford is never "going perm" with the spread.  But just like with the trick plays last year, new wrinkles usually mean big plays.  If there was ever a year for it, this is the one, with the speed and home-run ability this offense has.

Here's hoping this team starts planning its Rose Bowl run, with grim focus, today.  


Ken Crawford said...

"Philip, O'Callaghan, et al."... 2003-2005 were incredible years for the offensive line. That's how we beat USC. That's how we went 10-1. That's even how we managed 8-4 with Ayoob mucking everything up (and when I really want to be depressed, I think about what that team would have been like if Rodgers had returned, with that offensive line, Marshawn, DeSean, and a pretty nasty defense too).

You're right, it's kinda been the unsaid aspect of recent Cal teams, the O-Line has lost its "spark".

Here's hoping Marshall can get that out of a far more physically gifted set of kids than we had in 2005.

SD said...

Great minds think alike Ken. I really feel like the 2004 team was the quintissential Tedford team, and we've been trying to recapture that ever since.

I'll never forget the way the Cal o-line took the field in 2004 down at the coliseum (I was there). They looked like they expected to dominate. They had Tedford's business like, focused demeanor. And they pretty much owned Cody, Patterson, Rucker and Jackson up front all day. We haven't really had that kind of swagger up front since then (other than 2006 Holiday Bowl and maybe the 2008 Emerald Bowl).

Marshall sounds like he'll be a shot in the arm. If the line can find its step this year, look out.

mike said...

Why did you take down the excellent posting you put up last week? The comments onm the various Cal web sites among folks who read the post was very positve towards the program.
Did the football program pressure you, if so very bad choice on their parts.
I look forward to reading more of your posts

SD said...

Had nothing to do with pressure from the program. Just took it down for some minor editing and haven't had a chance to get it back up.

Blog Post Archive