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Random Monday morning thoughts

Things that have been bouncing around in my head that are not worthy of a post by themselves:

  • A reminder to everyone thinking about the Cal/Texas rematch: Cal could have still won last years game even if Texas had made the extra point.  Not only would the game still have only been tied, there was still 1:11 on the clock when Cal got the ball back.  Cal had already had 3 touchdown drives shorter than 1:11 in the game and the Texas defense was pretty tired at that point.  It’s reasonable to think that Cal would have won the game in regulation, to say nothing of the coin-flip likelihood that Cal could have won in overtime.  I say this because there’s this wide misconception that the ONLY reason Cal won was because of the missed extra point.
  • I’ve been trying to understand the math behind why a neutral site game is more profitable to Cal and it finally hit me: It’s because the revenue sharing for the Pac-12 TV contract has no incentive to host non-conference games.  If Cal had 3 road games for it’s non-conference slate, the money it would get from the TV contract would be the same as if it had all 3 games at home.  So, effectively, what these 3rd party games do is effectively rob a game from the TV contract and then create a new separate TV contract for the single game, where the TV revenue is not split between the 12 teams, but instead only split between the two participating teams.  And since the TV money is WAAAAY more than the ticket sales (particularly for a weak non-conference game), it’s a no-brainer why the money works out for Cal.  (That said, I wonder what it costs the conference?)
  • A bit of an off-topic statement: but medal counting at the Olympics really gets under my skin because there’s so much apples vs. oranges going on.  In some cases it’s that a college’s medal counts are per person (so having 3 people on the water polo team counts for 3 medals) vs. a countries being per event (so a whole team of water polo players get one medal).  In other cases it’s the fact that certain sports (swimming and track and field in particular) have lots of medals to win where-as others allow for only one metal per Olympics and then calling the one with lots of medals “the greatest”.  It’s just a bunch of false comparisons and over stated rhetoric.
  • Nevertheless, way to go Cal by being among the top colleges represented at the Olympics, no matter what metric one uses.
  • Back to football, I’m starting to really worry about the back-side of the defense.  Between the attrition at linebacker last off-season and now losing Drew in the secondary, Cal better be ready to score a lot of points if it hopes to win games.

Back for another year

Fall practice started yesterday.  From the off-season news and the reports from yesterday, it’s looking a lot like 2015: Offense should be productive with an experienced QB (David Webb) and young WR’s but defense may struggle mightily unless they can fill the holes among their young talent.  There’s reason to hope the Bears could be much better than 2015 (better O-Line, reasons to believe defense will not be as susceptible to the big momentum-deflating plays), but there’s also reason to fear it will be a season with lots of promise, yet too much of a  frustrating inability to put all the pieces together consistently, game after game.

In any case, I’ll be doing my usual thing: Game predictions, post-game posts, podcasts for games I go to, and random musings.  Any particular requests for content this year?

Go Bears!

Thoughts from practice

I was able to make it to the open practice last Sunday.  Here are my various thoughts:

  • The Bears appear to be making use of Maxwell field these days during practice.  It used to be EVERYTHING happened inside Memorial Stadium.  While I don’t know what they were doing over at Maxwell, the fact that the defense was missing for the 1st 45 minutes or so and then the kickers were missing for most of the rest of practice (despite having been in the stadium for the 1st hour) suggests they were over there when absent.
  • Much has been made of Malik McMorris as a former DE who, in part because he is short, is being tried out as a 310 lbs. fullback.  Perhaps I just didn’t catch him on a good day, but what I saw was unimpressive.  He was very easily winded, constantly with his hands on his hips.  He didn’t run very crisp routes when going into formation.  He dropped a very easy catch.  In fairness, he seemed to do well blocking during running plays.  In other words, he looked exactly what I’d expect a converted DE to look like.
  • In man-on-man drills, the D-line was making the O-line look pretty bad.  It was hard to tell if it was because the defense has gotten better or if it’s a sign of weak O-line play, but whatever it was, it was a pretty uneven matchup.
  • However, when the O-Line was playing as a unit they appeared a lot better.  I would call it a stalemate, which was plenty for the passing game of Cal which gets the ball out pretty quick.
  • As reported elsewhere, the coronation of Rigsbee as the center seems to have been premature.  Granado had the 1st string center spot for nearly the whole practice and Rigsbee was back at right guard.
  • On the defensive side of the ball I was very gladdened to see much, much, much more press coverage out of the DB’s.  It’s clear the defensive staff has a lot more confidence in their backs than last year.  Now, as to how they performed… well… it wasn’t horrible.  Nevertheless, expect some long plays on broken coverage this year.  I’ll still take that over what we had last year.
  • True freshman safety Billy McCrary impressed me with his speed and his aggressiveness.  He’ll have to learn how to be more subtle as his current technique will flagged for pass interference too often, but I see a big future for him.
  • In other defensive back news, can someone tell Darius White to shut his yap and just play football?  I forgot how much that guy likes to mouth off.  Maybe I shouldn’t be too harsh as it seemed to fire up his teammates and be a positive influence.  I’ve just never been a big fan of that sort of yapping.
  • For the quarterbacks, it is quite obviously Goff 1st and then Forrest 2nd.  Forrest impressed me.  I think he’ll do well when he comes in for relief of Goff.  He had good touch and his decisions suggest he has command of the playbook.
  • There are two freshman QB’s, Ross Bowers and David Maaghul.  Bowers was clearly the better thought of by the staff and got the 3rd string reps.  The game hasn’t “slowed down” for him yet and he was having timing issues with the WRs.  I do like his delivery and seems to throw a good ball.
  • Lasco is looking better than ever.  He looked REALLY fast to me.  He’s way too fast to be called a “power back” at this point, which is what he was perceived as in the past (with Muhammad at the “speed back”).
  • Finally, the kickers.  Both of the place kickers, Matt Anderson and Noah Beito have the leg to kick 50+ yard field goals, but both left something to be desired in their accuracy even with 35 yard field goals (BTW, everything inside the redzone is 37 yards or less).  Their accuracy did seem to go up once it was inside 30 yards.

Overall what I saw was a team that seems to have a lot of potential but also has enough holes that we shouldn’t expect miracles.  One thing I will say is the quality of play out of the 2nd and 3rd strings was a lot higher than in years past.  It should mean that we shouldn’t need to hold our breath for the rest of the season once a couple of guys get injured.  This team is a LOT deeper than in the past.


Are you ready for some football?

Fall practice is upon us so it is time to bring the blog out of hibernation!

It looks like expectations in Berkeley are pretty high.  I was surprised to see the Pac-12 media poll put Cal in 3rd, ahead of Washington (surprising), Washington State and Oregon State (not so surprising).  That would suggest they’re anticipating about a 5-4 conference record and one would expect that they would see us going 2-1 in non-conference play (losing to Texas).  So a 7-5 season.

I guess that jives with what my expectations are, although I have hopes that Cal can beat Texas.  I’d be surprised to see the team go 6-3 or better in conference.  There’s an outside chance Cal finally gets the Ax back, but loses to Oregon and USC seem likely and ASU/Utah is the harder of the two cross-division options we have (the other being Colorado/Arizona).  When you add in UCLA and even Washington (in Seattle), hard to imagine there’s only 3 losses there.

But, maybe the team takes another big step forward this year.

Speaking of which, so far at fall practice the general feel is that the defense is significantly improved.  That would be great news if true.  The defensive line is providing good pressure and the secondary has found a nose for the ball, with Evan Rambo alone picking off the ball 4 times in 3 days.  Of course, there’s plenty of reason to wonder about all of that.  Is the offense regressing?  Or perhaps the offense just isn’t in rhythm yet?  Or is it all talk and “significantly improved” means they’re not unbelievably horrible (125th in nation), but just really, really bad (100th in nation)?  Frankly, I don’t think we’ll really know until they line up against Texas in the 3rd week.

As for the blog, here’s what you can expect this year:

  • OTRH podcasts for home games
  • OTRH podcast for the Texas game (yes, I’m going!)
  • Weekly game preview posts with predictions
  • Weekly post-game celebratory posts (or wailing and gnashing of teeth when necessary)
  • Occasional mid-week posts as interesting topics come up
  • A handful of fall practice posts, including one after the 8/16 practice which I will see in person

So kinda the same as the last couple years.

Here’s hoping for a great season in Berkeley!

Injury bug hits Bears

Ugh… are we doomed to the same fate as last year?

Football: Tough day for Bears, who lose Nathan Broussard, Jeffrey Coprich, Quentin Tartabull to serious injury

There will always be injuries, so one shouldn’t get too worked up about any single one… but THREE in one day?

I think this team has enough talent and after last year has enough experience to win a few games it shouldn’t. But that won’t be the case if the injury bug hits us again. 2 or 3 more of the level of Broussard and Coprich (who’s a bit of an under-performer) could be trouble.

Back in business for 2014

Another year is upon us with fall camp starting on Monday and I’ll be back to regular posting at least a few times a week between now and when the Bears wrap up their Rose Bowl winning season on 1/1/15 (ahhh… wouldn’t that be nice… OK back to reality).

Of course, commenting requires info/stuff to comment on and to that end, it’s nice to see how many practices are open to the public this fall, although I wish it was back-loaded instead of front-loaded. (see here for details.) Unfortunately I’ll be lucky to make even one of them… although I might be able to get one in. Nevertheless my data will mostly be limited to what I read from others.

Speaking more broadly about the upcoming season, I think what I’ve been working through in the off-season in my mind is how to set my expectations appropriately. What do I reasonably want from this season?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • First and foremost I want to see something that is for the betterment of the student athletes. When they look back on this 10, 20, even 50 years down the road, they validly look at their time at Cal as something they’re glad they had in their life.
  • Second, I want to have an enjoyable time watching and thinking about Cal football, with my family, particularly with my sons. Saturday’s in Strawberry Canyon can be a great joy.
  • Third, I want to see a strong effort on the field. I want to see a team that has little to regret when the game is over. If they lose, it was a noble effort. If they win, it’s something we can all be proud of.
  • Finally, I want to see a team that gives me hope for the future. I want to see a team that is improving and that’s there’s reason to believe at some point in the not too distant future I can have more specific goals for the team than the above.

I very specifically don’t have a win total I’m shooting for nor specific games I want them to win. But I’m pretty sure that all the above goals won’t be met without at least a few wins and far more competitive games than we had last season.

Any thoughts on those goals?

(More specific posts on various units, predictions and projections to come.)

Thoughts on limited press access to practices

At least from my corner of the blogosphere the announcement by the coaching staff that the press will now only be invited to practice for the first 20 minutes of practice and the last 10 minutes, cause a tide wave of emotion and reaction. I wanted to give my thoughts:

Before I get started, a little note on what happens in these times during practice. The first twenty minutes is entirely warm-up and individual drills. This has always been the time that traditionally photographers and TV crews were allowed to shoot. Nothing of note gets reported from this time frame other than who’s not there and who’s in red or yellow (which suggests they’re injured). The final 10 minutes is generally a wind-down time including field-goal practice and the leftovers of scrimmaging. I suspect that with the new rules it’ll be pretty content free. I mean, that’s the whole point, right? What I’m saying here is that for the most part, the press is no longer being given access to practice at all. Those minutes were chosen carefully and there’s no illusion from Tedford or the press that it was an attempt to do anything different.

Now, onto my thoughts…

The first thing to note is that this is completely Coach Tedford and the University’s prerogative. There are no rules that regulate how much or little press access a team must give. One could argue this is an oversight by the NCAA. While they make all kinds of rules about recruits and all kinds of various things, they leave press access completely untouched. As I’ll go into details later, Tedford’s concern is that the coverage of his team is much more thorough than some of his opponents. As such, I suspect that if the NCAA came up with rules that forced equality, it could eliminate this problem entirely and Tedford would be more than happy to comply.

The second thing to note is that the change that has been made is not uncommon. I don’t have exact numbers but I suspect that the new rules are closer to the norm across BCS teams than not. As an anecdotal piece of info, LSU got some heat for making the same change not too long ago. Yes, USC and Florida both have completely open practices, but they’re the exception not the rule. It’s particularly worth noting that these are the teams with the most talented players. That’s not exactly a secret and it ensures that they’ll continue to be on top with reasonable coaching that knows how to take advantage of that talent differential, whether or not their opponent knows what is coming.

The final initial note is that I completely agree that there is a competitive disadvantage to having more reporting on one team than their opponent, which is Tedford’s concern. When Cal’s reporters are giving play-by-play breakdown of what happens in practice and Maryland’s reporters are getting filtered information from the coaching staff, there’s no doubt that the Maryland coaching staff can learn a lot more about how to beat Cal than the reverse. And yes, the coaching staffs read all this stuff. Make no mistake about it. I think that as the season progresses this advantage is less and less because game film makes up the difference, but even at the end of the season, it could still have a small effect.

So, overall I’ve got no problem with Tedford restricting access. What concerns me a bit is the way it was gone about, in two ways:

First, it feels to me like the horse was already out of the barn on this one. They should have been looking at the daily reports that were being done from the get go and made whatever corrections they thought were appropriate a couple weeks ago. To make this change now suggests to me they weren’t playing close enough attention. This is particularly bad because people started signing up for subscriptions based on the level of info provided. Rivals provides a 7-day trial and after 7-days of awesome play-by-play breakdowns, I bet there were a number of people who signed up for year-long subscriptions based on that. A week later, their reason for subscribing was eliminated and I feel bad for them.

Second, I think there’s a better way to go about this. Since only approved media is allowed, there’s a way to limit this without disallowing press access to practice. We had been given rules on what was allowed. Pictures and video could only be taken at certain times. Descriptions of formations were not allowed. Descriptions of plays had to be vague and the emphasis had to be on the players involved not the details of the play. All of these rules had been followed by the press as a whole (yes, I’m sure there were minor oversights here and there, but holistically, they were followed). So, if Tedford was concerned about what was being reported, why didn’t he just handout a bunch of additionally restrictive rules and let us stay? No play-by-play… OK, fine. No completion percentages or yardage information… OK, we’ll follow that too. Whatever it was that he was concerned about, new rules could be put in place that we would have followed and it could have just as easily accomplished the goal.

But in the end, Tedford is responsible for this team and its success. He did what he felt he needed to ensure that success and I can’t fault him for that. While it will limit what I can share, I guess that’s the way it needs to be. I just wish it had been handled a little bit differently.

#2 QB is Riley

Tedford loves to keep the QB decision close to his chest, there’s no question about it. But at some point, he’s got to pick who’s going to the snaps during practice, forcing his hand. That’s what happened yesterday as Riley started taking all the 2nd team snaps.

Tedford insists that it doesn’t mean much for next year or even later in the year should Longshore go down with a multi-week injury. While that may be true in principle, if Riley ends up getting many snaps behind center during games this year, it’ll make him the logical choice for full-time duty later. So in my opinion the best way to tell where Riley and Reed sit for future full time duty is to see what percentage each of them gets in mop-up or other backup duty to Lonshore.

Some pontificators are concerned that because Riley is the younger of the two QBs, Reed may be looking for a transfer. It’s hard to say for sure and it may be why Tedford continues to keep his cards close to his chest but personally I’m not too worried about it. If he’s going to leave, he’s going to leave. We’ve got plenty of depth at QB and its better to let the young man do what he thinks is best for himself than pressure him into doing something that may not benefit either himself or the team.

2nd week of practice

Here are some of the story-lines from practice since my last post:

  1. The backup quarterback position still looks no more resolved than it did a week ago. If anything it’s more up in the air as Tedford has added Bryan Van Meter name to the list of possible backups. Van Meter is a junior and has been mostly overlooked ever since Longshore established himself as the best QB in 2005. When Longshore got hurt and “Booya backwards” took over, it cemented Van Meter’s spot in the back of people’s memory banks. Tedford definitely threw a wrench in everyone’s expectations by bringing his make into the discussion.
  2. Two starters have been named on the defensive line. Rulon Davis got the spot many were thinking he’d take on the inside and Tyson Alualu although written in ink as a starter is only penciled in on the inside. Mika Kane, Tad Smith and Cody Jones look to be fighting for that last starting spot but will likely get plenty of playing time during the season as the coaching staff indicated that they will be rotating players in and out more this year. Overall things are looking up on the defensive line.
  3. Along those lines, the defensive line has impressed some with their ability to get into the backfield, particulary in scrimages. From my vantage point I’m not sure if that’s a positive for the defensive line or an indication that the offensive line hasn’t gelled yet or is weaker than we fear. Generally speaking, its been very quiet on the news front for the offensive line. Again, I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.
  4. Speaking of scrimages, to date the offense has been the better of the two units. This is really no surprise.
  5. Although it is to be expected, the list of injuries continues to grow. The biggest hit is that starting fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou is going to be sidelined for about a month with a knee injury (MCL). It’s particularly worrisome because his backups, Brian Holley and Zack Smith, are pretty fresh and how long it can take knee injuries to heal. Most of the other injuries have either been minor in nature or to players that don’t figure into the mix much.
  6. On the depth plus side, this year looks to have the highest number of true fresmen who won’t redshirt in Tedford’s tenure. As many as five will be playing this year including running backs Best and Shane Vareen, defensive end Cameron Jordon and cornerback Chris Conte who started in Syd’Quans spot as he sat out a day for a minor injury.
  7. Finally, speaking of true freshmen, Jahvid Best continues to impress. His teammates have been calling him Jahvid the Jet and the coaching staff continues to rave about him making all of the comparisions to Lynch and even Reggie Bush that raise people’s eyebrows.

First week of practice

The first week of fall practice is in the books. What are the developing storylines:

  1. Hampton looks to be 2nd corner: Not much of a surprise really. With 3 talented safeties (DeCoud, Hamption and Hicks) and at least one backups with talent (Peele), it seems prudent to move one over to corner. It sounds like the youngin’s Brandon Jones, Charles Amadi and Darian Hagan just aren’t ready.
  2. True Freshman Jadvid Best is special: With two talented redshirt freshmen running backs competing for the #2 spot behind Forsett (Montgomery and Slocum) it’s surprising just how much press Best is getting. He looks to be something special and may just have what it takes to be the #2 back… well… at least by midseason. We all know how tough it is for new players to understand the complexities of the Tedford offense. For now, Montgomery seems to have the inside track on the #2 spot.
  3. Jackson returning kickoffs: During special teams practice, DeSean has been back to return kickoffs. This has been speculated about a great and it looks like it’s a strong possibility.
  4. Backup QB still up in the air: Both Riley and Reed have had their ups and downs during practice and neither have particularly shined. It’s further proof that likely the worst thing that can happen to the bears is a Longshore injury.
  5. Defensive line still troublesome: With Derrick Hill coming into camp out of shape and Phillip Mgakogu being sidelined for a second season with knee problems, the defensive line looks to be the weak spot this year although it’s too early to count out the current starting four of Tad Smith, Cody Jones Matt Melele and Tyson Alualu… there’s definitely talent there.
  6. Linebackers continuing to impress: Williams, Follett and Felder have all gotten mentions for their strong play and the unit as a whole looks both both strong and fast, as well as deep.