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I’m glad I’m not the only one

(Coming out of hybernation for one post… don’t expect much until August)

I went to the Spring “Game” on Saturday in Berkeley and left half way through.  It was a weird experience and frankly, pretty boring.  I wasn’t sure if it was just me, but I guess not:

The Cal Spring Football Experience on Saturday was a little tough to define.

“It wasn’t practice, it wasn’t a game, it was a little weird,” quarterback Jared Goff said.

“It’s very weird,” said senior running back Daniel Lasco, an 1,100-yard rusher last season who did not carry the ball once in the often scripted format. “The schedule was weird. I wish we would have knew what was going on.

Yeah, that about sums it up as far as how it went.

As for what I saw from the team in the hour I was there:

  • If this is the level of effort we can expect from the team now that they’ve clawed their way back to mediocrity, it’s going to be a LONG fall.  The energy level was horrible.
  • Missed field-goals galore, particularly when outside the redzone.  This offense better put the ball in the endzone.
  • On the positive side, the wide receivers have incredible hands.  They were good last year, but they look even more comfortable now making ridiculously difficult catches look easy.
  • The backup QB, Chase Forrest, looks like he has potential.
  • Goff on the other hand didn’t have his best day.
  • The defensive line looks marginally better.
  • The secondary looks a LOT better.  It was nice to see them actually picking up the ball in the air and making moves on it.  We might actually intercept a few balls next year.  However, don’t get too excited.  This is still a mediocre unit.
  • Watching Rubenzer on defense was a bit odd, but there’s no doubt the kid has athleticism and I could see him being serviceable back there.

And finally, Kate Scott should never live down her ridiculous staged endzone dance.  What was she thinking?

Spring “scrimmage”

I put “scrimmage” in quotes because it’s not really a scrimmage like it was before Tedford came along. It’s really just the one practice of the year that is open to the general public. In any case, this year it’s being held April 17th from 9 AM to 11 AM. You can find what few details there are here:

I personally find it very enjoyable to go to this and I always make it a habit of going. I bring the kids and it’s a very relaxed environment. Usually they give out free food but there’s no mention of it in this year’s press release and seeing how its in the morning, not at noon like in past years, I suspect there won’t be any food.

The other thing it is nice for is for those who have never been to a regular practice is to see what they’re like. You get to see the warm-ups, the drills, the partial scrimmages (like the 5-on-5’s and the 7-on-7’s), the full scrimmages, how they order things, etc..

We tend to sit on the 50 yard line about 2/3rds of the way up (about row 30-40) so if you see two big guys (my brother is coming too) with 3 boys ages 2, 5 and 6, it’s probably us and feel free to come up and say hi.

Thoughts on the final spring scrimmage

(Note, I was going to have a separate post on spring practice overall, but it seemed wiser to combine them.)

Well, it’s a few days late, but since nobody pays me to write on this blog, I can safely say it is not a few dollars short… that said, here are my thoughts:

It’s been interesting to read other commentors thoughts on the scrimmage because some of them were really similar to mine and others were widely different. Perhaps it was because I was very focused on keeping stats as opposed to just observing, but I’m in disagreement with those like Hydro who believe Sweeney had the best day. It was most definitely Mansion.

Mansion hit everything and had a couple of good medium length passes. Until that interception on his final drive, he was perfect. Not just 7-for-7 perfect, making the right reads at the right time perfect… every. single. play. He looked aweome to me. He looks like a completely different quarterback than he did a week ago. The lightbulb seems to have turned on for him.

Sweeney on the other hand, while I agree his statistics were worse than his perfomance, looked pretty mediocre and too quick to tuck the ball and run. Said another way, if you thought he looked good at that practice, you should have seen him in the last couple weeks. This was a somewhat off day for him.

Riley, well, everyone was a bit disappointed with him. It wasn’t a horrible day, but it wasn’t great and ensured that the last week or so of practice didn’t send him out on the right note. He’s still the starter at this point, but he’s not distancing himself like he was for the first few weeks.

One thing people forget is that during spring, the defense traditionally dominates. The offenses tend to come into their own later and require more teamwork to be successful. This is particularly true on the offensive line.

I got thinking about that because I was pretty hard on them in my podcast. But the one thing the O-Line didn’t have going for them this spring is that they did more rotations and experimentation with positions than any unit on the field. They substituted in guys left and right, all throughout the spring. So they didn’t have those 5 guys who had 4 weeks getting comfortable with one another.

Overall, that’s a good thing. The coaching staff knows it doesn’t matter if the O-Line is good in April, only that it is good in September. Spending the time and effort to evaluate lots of different linemen in lots of different positions both helps them setup a strong depth-chart for the fall but also ensures that the players get lots of experience, particularly those who will have to come in when the injuries come (and they always do).

So, don’t be too hard on the offense and particularly the offensive line just yet.

That said, this defense had the potential to be something special. It’s getting to the point where Syd no longer stands out as exceptional because everyone is starting to play at his level. Cameron Jordan, announcers should spend more time making sure they can pronouce his name that Alualu’s because he’s going to be getting in the backfield a lot next year.

I’m just not going to go through it position by position because I don’t want to get that excited. This defense will be good at every position and has the potential to be exceptional at at least 7 positions. I’ll go out on a limb and say that unless USC repeats last year’s incredible defensive performance, which is unlikely with the losses they sustained, Cal will have the conference’s best defense.

Minus the concerns at O-Line, I think the position to be most worried about is fullback. While I think Brian Holley will be servicable, I don’t get the feel he’s going to fill the shoes of his predicessors. I’m hopeful that some of the youth behind him will come a long way in the off-season, particularly if Will Kapp can bulk up some, but Holley is the guy with the most experience and I think it will be important that he step up a little bit from where he is now.

Finally for the offense, because I’m not going to talk about the plethora of wide-receivers who obviously are making strides and at least 3 of them are going to be more than capable next year, I think the tight-end position will be just fine. Tad Smith was out with an injury for the last week and Anthony Miller filled in great. That’s two better than servicable tight-ends which is plenty considering the youth behind them. It’s too bad the fans didn’t get to see Tad in action. He’s pretty good.

Overall, I don’t yet see a team that is poised to make a run at the Rose Bowl, but I do see one that with some modest improvement in key areas, particularly QB, FB and O-Line, could be in position to do that. They’ve got to be ready to make that run right out of the gates because Maryland would love to prove that last year’s game was not an aboration and the first two conference games are the likely challengers for the Pac-10 crown.


Saturday Scrimmage

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m PUMPED about Saturday’s open scrimmage. I know that seems counter-intuitive, I mean, I get to go to the closed practices, so why would I be excited about the open one?

Well for one, I’m excited for everyone else having the chance to watch the team. Another thing is the scrimage tends to be more “true to a game” on the last/open one. Also, I’m planning on bringing my boys and they love going to the games. Additionally, I get to sit on the 50 yard line. Finally, who can say no to a free hotdog that costs $4 in the fall!?!

Personally of the two off-season fan opportunities to come to Memorial for a football event, I think the spring scrimmage is far more enjoyable than fan day in the fall. Part of that is that I’m not a big fan of autographs which is mostly what fan day is about. But moreso it is that I love watching football and there’s no football on fan day. The only time for regular fans to watch the Bears play outside of a game is the spring scrimmage.

Here’s the link to the article on the official Cal website. Make sure to observe the note about only using the North entrance.

So hopefully I’ll see everyone there. Feel free to come say hi and introduce yourself. I’ll be the heavy-set guy with 3 boys ages 5, 4 and 1 plus his beautiful wife all dressed in matching blue script Cal hats (and not matching blue Cal shirts) sitting on the 50 yard line around row 45 or so. All I ask is that if my wife gets that “Here Ken goes again, blabbering away about Cal football” look on her face that you understand when I say “Well it was nice to meet you. Enjoy the practice.”

A final note, in the past, they’ve said nothing about taking pictures but have dealt very harshly with anyone who published pictures after the fact. Just ask the guys at CGB. I wouldn’t recommend taking any pictures for the purpose of publishing/distributing.

Spring Practice recap

I did most of my Spring Practice commentary in the podcasts, but I thought it would be worthwhile to put down some notes in word form as well:

Players with best practices (according to me, anyway):

  • Nyan Boateng
  • Michael Calvin
  • Covaughn DeBoskie
  • Brian Anger
  • Tad Smith
  • Peter Geurts
  • Ernest Owusu
  • Syd’Quan Thompson
  • Rulon Davis (as a leader)

Units that are looking to be strong going into fall practice:

  • Receiver core (came a LONG way)
  • Defensive line (in 3-4)
  • Secondary, particularly corners
  • Tight-ends

Units that look to be weak:

  • Quarterbacks
  • Offensive line

Here’s some detail on each unit:

  • Quarterbacks: Although Tedford dismissed it, having Longshore out for the majority of Spring Practice was not a good thing. He really needed a good spring if he was going to fully recover from last seasons hangover. Fall is just too short to fully recuperate from that. Additionally, Riley didn’t look all that great out there during practice. He’s really going to have to step things up in the Fall if he wants the starting job, particularly if Longshore starts out strong. Finally, although Mansion improved a great deal, there’s no question that he’s still raw and not ready for prime-time. Although I have great hopes for him in 2009 and beyond, 2008 will be pretty shaky if the Bears are forced through injury to put him under center.
  • Offensive line: This unit looked really soft in the spring, which was really surprising to me. They were supposed to be the strength/backbone of the offense with all of the talent/experience coming back. However, in scrimaging the defense was able to successfully get lots of pressure on the QB and shut down a lot of run plays. Also worrisome was the inability to setup screen passes consistently. There are a number of explinations that exist that would give hope that the unit will perform fine come game day, everything from not being accustomed to blocking the 3-4, a particularly strong effort by the defensive line and trying out new combinations on the line being the most likely. Nevertheless, the performance of the unit suggests there is work to be done here.
  • Backs: There’s no doubt that there is a lot of talent at running back. Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen, Tracy Slocum and Covaughn DeBoskie all possess wonderful talents. They’re fast, they’re nimble and they avoid tackles well. At the same time, they’re all pretty inexperienced. Nevertheless I think they will perform pretty well carrying the ball. Their weakness will likely be pass protection and route running with an emphasis on the former. While each of the 4 backs impressed during practice, they all still need to grow in the fall for the RB position to be a bright spot. Luckily at fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou will man that spot to give some experience in the backfield. With Zack Smith also having experience in a backup roll and a young pair fighting out to be Ta’ufo’ou’s successor (Peter Geurts and John Tyndall) the fullback position will be well stocked in 2008 hopefully to offset the talented but unexperienced depth at running back.
  • Wide Receivers: In my opinion, the question marks at wide receiver were answered in full during spring. Jeremy Ross, Nyan Boateng and Michael Calvin all dramatically increased their stock throughout the practices. These three will make a pretty solid replacement to the ‘big three’ recievers that all just got picked up by NFL teams in the last few days (Robert Jordan signed as a free-agent to SF). With a LaReylle Cunningham making the 4th quality receiver and then 3 more developing talents behind them, the receiver position looks in very good shape particularly considering that unlike the running backs, their lack of experience is less likely to hinder their ability to contribute at a high level in my humble estimation.
  • Tight Ends: With Tad Smith moving from the defensive side of the ball and Cameron Morrah continuing to improve, there looks to be great depth at this position. Add in the couple of young guys showing potential, and this is likely going to be a strength in the fall.
  • Defensive line: If it weren’t for the lack of a dominant nose-tackle on the line, this would be the team’s strongest unit when in a 3-4. With Rulon Davis and Cameron Jordan on the outside, along with Cody Jones, Scott Smith and Ernest Owusu pushing them for the starting position, the defensive end position looks good. However, none of Mika Kane, Derrick Hill and Tyson Alualu have developed into a dominant nose tackle, a near necessity to make the 3-4 work consistently. While all 3 have potential, none of them seemed to make the leap this spring. Nevertheless, this unit impressed me through the spring mostly because the expectation was that they’d be one of the weak spots. Instead they looked to be mediocre with some strong spots.
  • Linebackers: Everyone expects this to be the strength of the defense and for the most part they continue to be. Follett continues to be one of the best pass-rushing linebackers in the Pac-10 if not the country on the outside. Adding to the experienced group of Follett, Felder, Mohamed and Williams, all of whom performed as experienced LBs, was DJ Holt and Devin Bishop. Bishop, who had a very weak junior year, seems to have put the pieces together and may be able to challenge for a starting spot in the fall. However, beyond these 6, there was a significant dropoff. This is concerning from a depth perspective and may be the second reason why a move to the 3-4 may not be as wise as one would hope, particularly considering the surprising depth that has accumulated on the defensive line with the emergence of the young talent mentioned above. That said, the starting 4 look very strong making this one of the better units on the team if they can avoid injury.
  • Defensive backs: Syd’Quan Thompson is becoming a monster at cornerback. He’s probably the most talented player at his position on the team. All that is needed is a second corner with similar skills and the secondary has the potential to be one of the conference’s best. To fill those shoes, Chris Conte, Darian Hagan and Charles Amadi are fighting for the spot. Conte has the inside track on that position with a fair amount of playing time in 2007 where he both showed his youth and his potential. Conte seemed to show the opposite in the spring being the more dependable of the contenders but also not showing the signs/moments of brilliance that Hagan and Amadi showed. In any case, while all three are young, all three will be an acceptable fill-in across from Syd. For the Safeties, Marcus Ezeff and Bernard Hicks are the likely starters and are as hard hitting as they come, particularly Ezeff. DJ Campbell is the most likely candidate to spell those two but don’t be surprised if the losers of the cornerback battle get some backup playing time at safety. Overall this unit is young as well (notice a trend here) but looks to be more than capable of holding up their end of the defensive battle.

Speaking overall, I think 2009 is shaping up to be a great year… and no that wasn’t a typo. 2008 seems to be a season full of youth, talent and too many question marks to be a Rose Bowl caliber team. A trip to the dreaded Sun Bowl seems more like the target for this team with an upshot at yet another trip to San Diego (will YATTSD ever catch on?). This spring showed a team that was growing in leaps and bounds. That says great things for the team, but also has some fine print that goes along with that.

Who should I interview poll posted

I put a poll on the sidebar asking who I should interview at this Saturday’s practice. I can’t promise that I’ll interview the winner both because sometimes certain players aren’t made available and because I like to talk to someone who had a good practice (or for the backups at least got a significant amount of playing time). Nevertheless, I will take the poll results seriously and make sure I pick one of the leading candidates.

Article on Brock Mansion published

My second spring practice article, Brock Mansion Spotlight, was published this morning.

Just like my last one, Chris Nguon was nice enough to give me credit for the whole article, even though he contributed all of the spring practice notes, or said a different way, all of the parts not about Mansion.

Cal Day and photos

There’s been a bit of a swirling controversy regarding California Golden Blogs posting pictures from the open to the public spring practice on Cal Day, April 12th. See the message board post by GrayBear and this post at CGB for background. I’ve thought a great deal about this matter (I was reluctant to comment at first). The more I think about it, the more I believe this issue was mishandled by both BearInsider and the Athletic department.

As has come to light, these pictures were taken at the open to the public, Cal Day practice. For those who went to the Cal Day practice, since it was open to the public and the fans would have no other guidance to go on, there was no instruction regarding taking pictures or anything like that. While I think it is a fools-errand to try and stop pictures from the open practice from being taken or being posted publicly, I know that California Golden Blogs (CGB), myself and most other bloggers would respect whatever rules they wanted, had they been stated/posted. But nowhere was it stated to anyone (I can’t emphasize this enough). I mean all they had to do was post a sign, give out a handout, say something over the loudspeaker, say something in the e-mail invitation to the event that went to all season ticket holders, anything like that. But they didn’t.

It’s unfair to CGB to force them into a situation which such negative publicity (look at all the misinformed comments on the BearInsider message board that think/thought they posted pictures from a closed practice) and compromise the hard work they’ve done to promote Cal football (the post in question, even though it has nothing to do with spring ball, is useless until they can find alternate photos, which they surely would have done initially if they knew those pictures were off limits) when they were given no reasonable guidance on the subject.

Even if they had attended the Bancroft Hotel event, which I didn’t so I can’t speak to, unless it was explicitly stated at that event that these rules apply to the Cal Day practice, it was a reasonable assumption that the rules were different for this open to the public event. As someone who gets access to the closed spring practices, although I didn’t post pictures from the Cal Day event, I made that exact assumption.

Hopefully this can be avoided in the future through better communication to the fans by the athletic department.

I would also have hoped that BearInsider handled the matter with both more clarity and more charity. While GrayBear admits the pictures were “probably as a result of Cal Day” he launches into a discussion of the Bancroft Hotel event which is wholly irrelevant if the pictures were “a result of Cal Day”. He then bases the rest of his post on the foundation and premise of the Bancroft Hotel event. There are no gray areas here as his message indicates. The pictures were taken at the Cal Day event. There was no information presented about photography at that event. CGB made the reasonable assumption that open to the public meant they could post pictures of it. The fault lays with the athletic department communications.

A more appropriate post would have said something along the lines of “I’m sure they were acting in good faith thinking the Cal Day event was unrestricted, but the athletic department has communicated to me that all pictures from the Cal Day should come down even though that wasn’t well communicated at Cal Day itself. We apologize for the confusion.”

What bothers me most about this is that just about everyone involved has the same goal: the promotion of Cal football. But because of poor communication and a lack of clarity and charity, this issue has erupted into something far bigger than it would have been. It could have been easily avoided.

(note that this same post, minus a few edits, was made on the BearInsider message board)

Article on Vereen published

For those who wonder if I’m still writing for Rivals/, the answer is yes, albeit not very often. You’ll see a few more articles from me as Spring wraps up. More importantly, the current plan (and these things change so nothing is for sure) is for me to cover all of the road games for them this year. I’ll also be covering the weekly press conferences on Tuesdays for both home and away games. I’m pretty excited about getting that much coverage as it’ll mean I’ll see every game this year, both home (season tickets) and away (in the press box) as well as have good access to the players and coaches.

In any case, an article on Vereen I wrote was just published – Spring Ball: Vereen Back in Action. For full disclosure, although I was credited for the full article, I only wrote the portion about Vereen. The parts about Browner and the additional tidbits were written by Chris Nguon. Chris was apparently nice enough to give me credit for the whole thing.

Who to interview?

The last Spring Practice is this Saturday. I’ll be heading down watch and do a couple interviews. The point of this post is to ask for nominations for who to interview. It should be one of the players who has not yet been interviewed by Rivals/ Those players are:

  • Shane Vereen
  • Brock Mansion
  • Jeremy Ross
  • Tracy Slocum
  • D.J. Campbell
  • Noris Malele
  • Michael Calvin
  • Bernard Hicks

I was thinking of interviewing someone who had a particularly strong spring like Tad Smith, Ernest Owusu, or a few others. Who else should be nominated. On Wednesday/Thursday I’ll put up a poll with the best candidates.

Spring Practice #3 Podcast

I attended Spring Practice on Wednesday April 16th. I just now got around to editing together my On The Road Home Podcast, but it was recorded on the car ride home. I’ve also got audio from post-practice interviews with Tedford and Shane Vereen is who was out of the redshirt for the first time on Wednesday.

As for errors in the podcast, I was mostly error free this time. There were a couple moments when I said 4-3 for the defensive formation when I meant 3-4 (but not the other way around). It didn’t affect the overall commentary’s accuracy however.

Here is a list of the audio quote topics:

  1. Tedford on practice intensity
  2. Tedford on Vereen being back
  3. Tedford on Vereen’s improvements
  4. Tedford on DeBoskie coming early
  5. Tedford on protection breakdowns
  6. Tedford on challenge of losing seniors
  7. Tedford on secondary play
  8. Vereen on injury
  9. Vereen on hardest part of coming back
  10. Vereen on things to learn
  11. Vereen on strongest part of game
  12. Vereen on changes from last year
  13. Vereen on depth chart
  14. Vereen on frustration of injury
  15. Vereen on going all out

Have a listen:

Spring Practice #2 Podcast

I attended the open to the public Spring Practice on April 12th at noon. Here is the “On The Road Home” podcast from that event.

Have a listen:

Spring Practice #1 Podcast

I attended Spring Practice on 4/9. (As a reminder to all, Spring Practice is closed to the public (except for the open practice on Saturday 4/12) and is only available to invited media/guests.) Here is my “On The Road Home” podcast for that event.

I made one notable error in the podcast: Boskovich is a offensive lineman, the starting left guard specifically, not a defensive end. That’s the penalty for doing these podcasts from memory in the car as opposed to from prepared text/notes at home.

Note that the podcast includes interview audio from Tedford and redshirt Freshman QB Brock Mansion. Here is a list of their quote topics:

  1. Tedford on Improvements on Defense
  2. Tedford on Longshore’s Injury
  3. Tedford on injuries (Mohommad, Vareen, Follett, DJ Holt)
  4. Tedford on TE Tad Smith
  5. Tedford on Brock Manson
  6. Mansion on taking snaps
  7. Mansion on difficult aspects
  8. Mansion on defensive pressure
  9. Mansion on easiest aspects
  10. Mansion on keeping sharp
  11. Mansion on 2008 playing time
  12. Mansion on sping practice changes
  13. Mansion on scout team
  14. Mansion on command of playbook

Have a listen:

Am I the only one who see the humor?

OK, this is either a brilliant joke by the athletic department or a great coincidence.

If we can’t start building the SAHPC, we’re at least going to make the open spring practice sponsored by Peterson Tractors!

Add in the “Special selection of Caterpillar tractors for the kids (and adults) to see in the Peterson Fun Area” and it’s just too funny for words.

If they’re smart (OK, maybe not really) the “Peterson Fun Area” will be directly in front of the Oak Grove and they’ll keep the tractors idling the whole time.

A 3-4 defense primer

Cal continues to use a lot of the 3-4 in spring practice. This has been rumored change for 2008 over the off-season with the struggles the defensive line had in 2007 and the wealth of talent the Bears have at linebacker. An important caveat though was that there was similar talk last year after the departure of Brandon Mebane and despite that talk, the 4-3 was used almost exclusively during the season. Add in the defensive coordinator Bob Gregory has said to not read much into the majority use of the 3-4 and you should take these rumors with more than a grain of salt.

But that won’t stop me from blogging about it…

Here is my best shot at giving a primer on the 3-4 and how it is different than the 4-3.

The biggest implication of the 4-3 vs. the 3-4 is the “gaps” that are filled and by who. The gaps are the spaces in between the offensive linemen. These gaps are the two-way street that either the running backs are trying to get through on running plays or the defense is trying to get through on their way to try and sack the quarterback on passing plays. The gaps are labeled as follows:

  • The “A” gap is the space between the center and the guards. Thus there are two A gaps, one on either side of the center.
  • The gaps between the guards and the tackles are called the “B” gaps. There are of course two of those as well.
  • Finally, in some circles, the space outside the tackles is called the “C” gap. This doesn’t make much sense if there is no tight-end as the “gap” is all the way from the offensive line to the wide receiver. However if there is a tight-end, the C gap is a normal gap just like the others.

With a 4-3, all of the A and B gaps are covered by the 4 defensive linemen. That leaves only the C gaps to be covered by the linebackers which is generally easy to do because most teams don’t use a double tight-end formation often so only one linebacker is consumed by that. That side, called the strong side, often is compensated for by bringing in a strong safety to help with the tight-end who can either be a blocker on a run play or a reciever on a pass play. There are more scenarios here than anyone could cover but the key piece of information to remember is that the A and B gaps are covered by the 4 defensive linemen, with each defender assigned to a single gap.

What that means is the the bulk of the offensive line is taken up handling the defensive line. If they put one lineman on each of the defensive line, that leaves just one lineman for either stunting (where they leave their position and move to another spot for extra blocking support) or double-teaming a particularly strong defensive lineman. Of course more complex blocking formations exist where a lineman stunts even when it means leaving a defensive lineman unblocked (to be either picked up by a another player such as a fullback or to be run away from so that it doesn’t matter that he’s not blocked) but for your base formations, the key point is that 4 defensive linemen pretty much occupy all the major gaps and therefore occupy most of the offensive line’s blocking ability. This leaves the linebackers free to run to the ball on running plays, or either blitz or fall back into coverage on passing plays.

Hopefully this illustrates the balance of the 4-3. It puts both sides of the ball on pretty similar footing. Since a stalemate is a good thing for the defense, particularly on running plays, one can see why this is a popular defensive scheme. However, when the 4 defensive linemen are under-performing, it also gives an advantage to the offense, particularly on passing plays.

The standard way a 5-man offensive line blocks a 4-3 defense on pass plays is to have the center and guards collapse the A gaps. That takes care of the defensive tackles who generally are trying to get through the A gaps. That leaves the defensive ends working against the offensive tackles who are either trying to get through the B gap or spin outside to the “C gap” if there is no tight-end blocking. Generally speaking the defensive ends can either get around the ends quick enough or try to “shoot” the B gap requiring assistance from the guard and freeing one of the defensive tackles, so that the 4 defensive linemen can get pressure on the QB without assistance from the linebackers. Additionally, the 5 linemen have their fill with the 4 defensive linemen so any linebacker blitz is going to have to be picked up by a one of the skill players in the backfield (tight-end, fullback, runningback) or the QB is going to be in trouble quickly. However, with a weak set of defensive linemen since the offensive line has each man covered, they won’t be getting much pressure and in this scenario, the stalemate works in favor of the offense.

All of this brings us finally to the 3-4.

The 3-4 is a weaker run defense when one ignores the talent level of the players involved. With 3 defensive linemen to cover 4 gaps (both A’s and both B’s) it requires that the defensive linemen well anticipate which gap the running back will be going towards. The nose-guard is assigned both A gaps and the defensive ends cover their side’s B and C gaps. The linemen need to anticipate when gap the offensive line is trying to open up and choose the appropriate side of their offensive lineman to fight for. This also requires that the linebackers be well in sync with their linemen to cover their holes. Even when they are in sync, the extra 3-5 yards off the line the linebackers are makes for a difficult run stopping situation.

The pass-rush situation, on the other hand, isn’t nearly so bleak. Now that it is the offensive line who has to guess which gap to fill (because the defensive linemen have two gaps they can go to). The standard A gap collapse that the guards and center like to do doesn’t work as it’s applying 3 offensive linemen to a single defensive lineman. Also, the offensive linemen know that they’re going to get at least one linebacker rushing and it’s again a guessing game for them to figure out which gap is going to be overloaded. In many ways, the 3-4 gives the defense a lot more flexibility for passing downs. They can drop 8 into coverage if they desire with 4 linebackers or they can easily rush 5, with some flexibility as to which 5 that might be, while still leaving 6 in coverage.

Looking back on 2007, one can see why it might be tempting to go for the 3-4 in 2008. The rush defense of the Bears was fairly strong, but their pass rush was one of the weakest in the conference. The 3-4 optimizes towards making it easier to pass rush while increasing the difficulty of the run stopping. Assuming our talent levels stay the same, this would balance out the strengths/weaknesses of our defense, or at least that’s the theory.

Will the run stopping penalty outweigh the increased pass rush? Only time will tell. Nevertheless, I hope this primer is helpful for those who may not know much about the difference and what to look for if the Bears start to use the 3-4 more next season.

Spring practice keys to success

Spring practice started yesterday. I’m hoping to make it down for a few practices as a reporter for Rivals, and I’ll give updates after I go down. Please let me know if you’re interested in any specific info because I’ll do my best to find out.

Until then, this is what I see as the keys to Spring Practice:

  • Round out the defensive line: The biggest weakness of the 2007 Bears was the defensive line. They were unable to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. While their run defense and hole filling was acceptable to good, for the Cal defense to be successful in 2008, they’ll need to get better play from their defensive line.
  • Who’s the 2nd cornerback: Is Conte ready to make the jump to a starter? Or is Darian Hagan, who has very little playing time, an alternative? Finding a 2nd solid cornerback will round out the secondary and make it a solid unit with Ezeff and Hampton Hicks at the two safety spots.
  • Wide recievers: There’s no question that the most inexperienced position in 2008 will be the wide-receivers. With the top 3 guys all gone, guys that got all the playing time, there’s very little experience at WR to take the field this year. Also the talent level is a little down, although not horribly, from DeSean, Jordan and Hawkins, all of whom are NFL prospects. Finding dependable route runners will be key to the success of the offense.
  • Starting running back: This is potentially a non-issue with so many promising talents in the backfield. Nevertheless, this is the first time in 4-5 years that Cal hasn’t had a proven backup with lots of gametime and proven starter potential to fill the gap, now that Montgomery has left the team. Yes Jahvid Best seems to have the potential to be as good as Marshawn, but with his hip injury last year, his amount of playing time was less than desireable for being the starter in 2008. The good news is that between Best, Slocum, Vereen and DeBoskie, there’s plenty of talent and at least one of them should have what it takes to grow into the starter role.
  • Who’s our quarterback: It’s no secret that Longshore is more popular with the coaching staff than he is with the fans. To make matters more difficult for the coaching staff’s decision, he seems to have worked really hard in the off-season to correct his throwing motion that went downhill after his severe ankle sprain last season. Nevertheless, it would be wise for the coaching staff to have a good idea of who the starter is going to be early in fall camp. For them to do that, they’re going to have to know their strong preference by the end of spring camp.

If they can sort those things out, I think the Bears have the potential to be a contender in 2008. If a couple of them fall short, particularly the wide receivers and the defensive line, it could be a long season for Bears fans.