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Archive for April, 2008

Looking back on ’05

I’m going to be doing a review of every game in 2005 (see here for why). Before we get to the specific games, a trip down memory lane:

2004 had been the Bears best season in a half century. The Bears only regular season loss was in a nailbiter to USC on the road in the ever difficult to play at LA Coliseum. USC went on to win the BCS championship game, so while the loss was disappointing, it was hardly a loss to be distraught about. More frustrating however was the shaft job the Bears got by the BCS and were denied a BCS slot because of some suspect voting by the coaches and the BCS rules that allowed the Rose Bowl no flexibility in who to select (because every slot went to teams that were guaranteed a slot). Furthering the frustration, the Bears played horribly in their “letdown” bowl game, the Holiday Bowl, and lost, souring the end of what was otherwise an incredible season.

Nevertheless, at the end of 2004, 2005 was looking to be an even better season in the making. While Cal was losing their starting tailback, his replacement, a young Marshawn Lynch, had done awesomely in a backup role and was expected to fill in more than admirably. Cal also was going to be young at wide-receiver losing both Chase Lynman and Geoff McArthur but there were a number of talented new receivers in the wings, including 5-star recruit DeSean Jackson. The rest of the offense looked stellar with probably the best offensive line in the country, stud fullback Chris Manderino, the young but proven tight-end Craig Stevens and a Heisman candidate in quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

On defense, things looked similarly as strong. While the Bears were losing all of their top-5 tacklers in Ryan Gutierrez, Wendel Hunter, Matt Giordano, Ryan Riddle, and Joe Maningo, there was plenty of proven talent coming back, including Mixon, Hughes, McCluskey, Lupoi and Lorenzo Alexander. In addition, there were numerous well regarded young players looking to fill in, including Brandon Mebane and Ryan Foltz.

With that much anticipation, when Aaron Rodgers decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL draft, there was a great deal of disappointment. However, with Tedford at the helm and his proven ability to mold great college QB’s, there was hope that a good replacement would be found. That hope was re-enforced when the best junior college QB in the country, Joe Ayoob committed to Cal in the spring. Adding to the positive news, redshirt freshman Nate Longshore was challenging Ayoob for the job. With Ayoob presumed to be a good to great QB prospect, it was assumed that Longshore must be pretty good to be challenging for the starting job.

And that’s the premise for the looking back posts that are to follow, starting with the opening game at home against Sac State to be posted Friday.

Excuse Me For My Podcast

So this year, we’re going podcast-wild. We’ve added a proper podcast feed and now you can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes as well.

To add the podcast in iTunes, click the big shiny button:

Or if you don’t want to do the iTunes thing, just use this link to subscribe.

As Ken mentioned, we’re hoping to do a lot more podcasting this year, including Ken’s usual contributions as well as new stuff from myself, my compatriot Philip Michaels, and perhaps others. Stay tuned. Or podded. Or whatever the right word is.

Blogging plans for the slow period

Ah, the end of Spring ball. It’s a time of peace and tranquility. It’s a time when families get to know each other again. It’s a time when, well, the BearInsider message board becomes a near panic with nothing to talk about besides artificially created flame wars about each other’s mothers.

So to keep the peace, you can expect a steady stream of posts here on EMFMV, including the following:

  1. A “Looking back on ’05” series of posts recapping each game (starting Wednesday)
  2. An analysis of each 2007 game and what it tells us about 2008
  3. My early prediction for each 2008 game
  4. Coverage of the SAHPC trial and any progress there (has to be something by mid-June)
  5. Improvements to the auxilary pages including updated stadium pages in anticipation of my travels this fall
  6. Likely a couple of podcasts with the whole EMFMV crew
  7. An updated Pick’Em league page before fall practice starts

Any other requests?

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.

NFL draft

I’m not one who cares much about this sort of thing, but just for the record:

  1. DeSean Jackson: 2nd round, #18 (49th overall) to Philadelphia Eagles
  2. Craig Stevens: 3rd round, #12 (85th) to Tennessee Titans
  3. Thomas DeCoud: 3rd round, #35 (98th) to Atlanta Falcons
  4. Lavelle Hawkins: 4th round, #27 (126th) to Tennessee Titans
  5. Mike Gibson: 6th round, #18 (184th) to Philadelphia Eagles
  6. Justin Forsett: 7th round, #24 (233rd) to Seattle Seahawks

DeSean slipping to mid-second round and Mike Gibson getting drafted were only two surprises in the Cal list.

Back to Cal football…

Spring Practice #4 Podcast

This is the 4th and final installment in the Spring Practice Podcast series from the final practice on April 26th.

I made one error in the podcast. I referred to a Michael Geurts. His first name is actually Peter.

The podcast ends with audio from interviews with Tedford and Nyan Boateng. Here’s a summary of their quotes:

  1. Tedford on what he learned from Spring Practice
  2. Tedford on best performances in practice
  3. Tedford on receiver improvements
  4. Tedford on quarterback evaluations
  5. Tedford on when to name starting QB
  6. Tedford on size at receiver
  7. Tedford on NFL draft (sorry for background noise that starts here)
  8. Tedford on Jahvid Best’s status
  9. Nyan Boateng on fan interest
  10. Nyan Boateng on how spring went
  11. Nyan Boateng on Tedford compliments
  12. Nyan Boateng on hardest aspects of Spring Practice
  13. Nyan Boateng on easiest aspects (interview got interrupted, cut in audio)
  14. Nyan Boateng on being a leader
  15. Nyan Boateng on who team leaders are
  16. Nyan Boateng on differences between Florida and Cal
  17. Nyan Boateng on return game

Have a listen:

EMFMV: Your site for clean Cal Sports discussions

There are a million fun “take this survey” sites that do some analysis or another in a very unscientific fashion. You can add to that list a new one, the “Blog and Website Cuss-O-Meter”:

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?

As a point of comparision, here are the other Cal blogs I visit on occasion:

If you put in a bogus or very slow URI, it’ll give a 0% answer. So the n/a’s are ones I couldn’t get an answer back from as the sites were clearly responding slowly both to my own browser and to the Cuss-O-Meter. Noteworty however is Cal Football Fan, the one site that creates it’s own content that scored lower than me. Surprising was the high pecentage for Sturdy Golden Bear, who generally seemed to run a clean site at their now-defunct page (or at least it seems that way).

For what it is worth, as I said, the above list is all of the sites I frequent on occasion. That means it’s the sites from which I pick who goes on the blogroll. This summer I’ll be re-doing the blogroll and will be including new sites that have proven themselves to be worthy of being on my blogroll. For those who don’t know, I take which blogs I link to very seriously. There are those sites out there that’ll post a link to just about any blog they know of, and while that is a fine way to go about it, it has the downside of the list getting so long it is meaningless and hard to find the good needles in the haystack.

Here are the criteria I use:

  1. Moral content: The #1 thing to prevent your blog from inclusion on the list is any content that is morally offensive. The most common example of this is frequent swearing. Does it really add anything to a post to say a player is f-ing pathetic? Find better words to describe yourself. Other examples include any suggestions of violence against anyone, this is college football not a war, or personal attacks against players or coaches beyond just their capabilities on the football field. It’s OK to say that Joe “Booya” Ayoob is the worst player to ever grace the Cal sideline and Tedford is a complete coaching moron to have let him stay behind center for as long as he did (even though I’d disagree), but to say you want to rip out his bowels and force-feed it to Tedford crosses the line. Finally, I expect the comment sections being in line with my moral standards and that the comments of the blog’s author on other blogs meet the standards as well (one blogger in particular suffers from this problem). For the comment sections, I don’t expect one to moderate to the degree that all comments meet my moral standards, but that truly, wildly objectional comments are deleted and somewhat to moderately objectionable content is somehow rebutted/chastized.
  2. Frequency of posting: I’m only going to link to blogs with somewhat regular posting. Generally that means at least a couple posts a week during the season. I’m not too concerned with off-season posting but someone who is consistent all the time gets extra props.
  3. Quality of posts: What this means depends on what your blog is trying to accomplish. If you’re just trying to report news, I’m not going to hold it against you that you don’t have detailed analysis. At the same time, if your goal is news and you’re always a week behind everyone else, well, that’s not very good news. On the other hand, if you’re a game-analyst type guy, I’m not going to hold slower posting against you, but I do expect that your analysis is meaningful. Generally what this means is if when I go to your blog, do I find something worth reading?
  4. Longevity: I generally like to see that a blog has been around for atleast a year before it gets the nod. This is partially to give me time to judge based on the above criteria and also because lots of bloggers drop off within a month or two of blogging.

If you don’t care if you get a link on this blog, that’s fine. But if you do, those are the criteria I judge by. If your blog is not in the above list, consider this post a good place to comment and put your blog’s URL so that I can see if it is one I want to include in the fall.

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:

Next steps in SAHPC

Over at, they’re continuning on their unparalleled excellent coverage of the court case with their latest article, The SAHPC Case: What Happens Next?. Most of it covers what happens after an assumed favorable ruling for the University. The good news to me was the following:

UC has said they have made full preparations to begin work as soon as they are permitted to do so. One of the first steps would be the removal of the tree-sitters and the oak grove at the site so that excavations could begin.

That’s of course very good news. It’s also good news that the indication is that it will be very hard for the parties to get an additional injunction on appeal, both because of the inherent difficulty of doing so and because of the dollars required to get a bond if the City of Berkeley doesn’t join in the appeal, which is up in the air.

But all of those things are very much tempered by the worst quote in the whole thing:

Olson explained that in an appeal the entire case would have to be argued again in a court system that he said is much slower than the Superior Court where the case was first heard.

Did he just say SLOWER!?! How is that even possible?

So, thinking this all through, here’s what the Bears need:

  1. Court to rule in favor of University. AND…
  2. City of Berkeley decides not to join appeal. OR…
  3. Appelate court refuses to allow injunction on appeal.

Being the pessimist I am on this subject, let’s run those statistical numbers based on my guesses as to the likelihood that they’ll occur. I figure we’ve got a 50% chance that the court rules in the University’s favor on ALL counts (because any count against means additional delays). I figure it’s a 50% chance that Berkeley doesn’t join the appeal. Finally, I only give the appelate court credit for a 25% chance they’ll refuse an injunction because they’ll be suckered by the whole “irrepairable damage” crud for allowing the project to move forward.

So, 0.5 + 0.5*(0.5 * 0.75) = 68.75% chance this project is going to get further delayed by my humble estimates and admittedly somewhat pessimistic numbers.

Those aren’t numbers I like. I don’t pray about football (minus the safety of the team), but every day it keeps feeling to me like only hope for this project’s completion before Tedfor bails is the most fervent, humble prayers.

But maybe I’m just being too pessimistic.

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.

At spring practice on Wednesday

On Wednesday I was at Spring Practice and got to watch the 2008 Bears in action. I did my first podcast of the year on the way home and will post it tonight after editing it all together. (I would have done it last night but between Church responsibilities on Monday evening, a sailing club board meeting on Tuesday and practice Wednesday, my wife needed my support and help with stuff around the house and the 3 boys last night.) Also, I’ll be going to the open practice on Saturday and will do a podcast on the way home from that as well (although it probably won’t get posted until at least Sunday night if not Monday).

So look for those postings in the coming days.

Until then here are some notes I took:

  • The number of injuries piling up is troublesome. Longshore wasn’t dressed. Both Vareen and Best were redshirted. Follett wasn’t even there. And those are just the high profile ones. Luckily it’s just Spring Practice, but if the injury front doesn’t improve in the fall, it could make for a long season.
  • WR Boateng is looking to play a big role in the fall. He’s fast and big, two awesome qualities for a WR. A lot of throws in the scrimaging went his way as the #3 reciever.
  • Both the players and the coaches on the defensive side practiced with a lot of enthusiasm.
  • The receivers were dropping a lot of balls although both Ta’ufo’ou and Jeremy Ross (WR) made impressive one-handed grabs
  • Mark Boskovich (Sophmore Left-Guard) was hitting really hard during individual drills. The kind of hard that makes your head snap up from writing notes to see who just got creamed. If he hits like that on run plays during the season, expect to see a lot of runs behind the left guard next season.
  • Slocum looked REALLY fast. Like almost Best fast. He had great acceleration and was pretty darned nimble.
  • For all the talk of 3-4, I saw a lot of 4-3… or at least I think I did. There was a lot of linebackers cheating up in a number of plays and the practice jerseys are harder to pick out the numbers to determine who’s a lineman and who’s a linebacker.
  • The defense was the better of the performing units between the two.
  • Worrell Williams had two “free” interceptions that he dropped. He was kicking himself particularly after the 2nd one.
  • Brian Anger has a BOOMing leg. He’ll likely be a great replacement for Larson and may also have kickoff duties again.

That’s it for now.

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.