Notebook: Day Four of Spring Ball 2021
It's still not quite normal in California Memorial Stadium this spring, as the Bears are still split up into two sides of the field, still testing for Covid-19 frequently, and still haven't gotten back in their locker rooms at the current juncture. That said, Justin Wilcox reiterated something that he said last fall, that they're feeling somewhat normal in their practices.
"There's still protocol that we have to follow in terms of testing and outdoor meetings," Wilcox said, "so that's not back to normal yet . Having the entire team back on the field to play 11 on 11, and having more depth to get more repetitions, that's probably where it feels more normal to everybody, we have more excitement than we've had in a bit."
With it having been nearly a year since the Bears had their spring practices halted due to Covid-19, there's been a need for more reps, more practice and more development to make up for lost time. Cal's running multiple groups of team on either side of the field, allowing for the Bears to get as many reps as they can for everyone on the team.
"Really everybody is getting time right now," Wilcox noted, "I'd say the reps are damn near identical for every guy on the team, they're all getting reps."
Among those Cal is looking to develop this spring is Jermaine Terry. The Kennedy (Richmond) product was Cal's highest rated Bay Area signee since Jared Goff and has enrolled early as a true freshman. At a listed 6'4" and 275 lbs, Terry is a big part of the Bears plans on offense going forward, and new tight ends coach Geep Chryst has him taking the offense in a little slower than some of his more tenured teammates.
"He's got a lot of effort and hustle, he does weigh 268 pounds, that's a big youngster," Chryst noted, "and I'm really proud of the way the veteran guys have taken him under their wing, because they're learning so many things every day. We see a lot of tight ends play the on the line position and off the line position, we're really just concentrated with JT on the line of scrimmage as a 'true Y,' that way he can sink his teeth into one area of responsibility. All the other guys are learning off the line, on the line, and even in the backfield."
"Jermaine is a big, physical guy," Wilcox added. "He's got great size and I think he's learning a lot at a rapid pace. It's kind of like drinking from a fire hose for a lot of these youngsters. We haven't slowed down in terms of installation, we've got so many veteran players and we go quickly on installation, so sometimes for those young guys, offense or defense, the multiples can grow, there's a lot to think about. As long as he continues to work at it, from the meeting room to the practice field to the weight room, we're going to continue to work with him, and excited that he's with us. He's got a ton of tools, we're going to continue to push him, and he's got a great attitude so far."
Terry has the size right from day one to play right away, though Chryst has noted his joy in being on the football field might be his best attribute so far.
"For that weight he does move around well," Chryst said, "we joke that he's got heavy hands, when he does punch you, there's some gunpowder behind the punch, and he's got a joy about playing right now, which goes a long way in spring ball too."
Chryst had his first media session with assorted Cal media today, where he discussed returning to coaching at the college level. The last time he coached in a college game was the 1990 Copper Bowl against Cal, and while he has had a long run coaching in the NFL, the college game is something he's ready to jump back into.
"Fortunately, with my brother Paul being at Wisconsin, I don't feel like I've missed a beat. Then having two sons that have played, I'm a college football fan," Chryst said. "It used to be that you felt a lot of scheme started in the NFL then trickled down to college, I think we're seeing some scheme from the college game bubble up, even when we were in San Francisco, we ran a lot of pistol stuff, some of the zone read. I think there's been a bridge that people have been crossing back and forth scheme-wise and coaching-wise."
The difference between the NFL and college is the age of the people you're working with on a day to day basis, and Chryst had some jokes, while noting that it has been easy to communicate with his group.
"I thought I saw a gray hair or two on Tonges," Chryst said, "he told me it was from stress and has nothing to do with his age, but they're great kids. Starting with Collin Moore, here's a kid with a 4.0 GPA, you're not gonna find anyone smarter than him. Communication has not been a problem, though some of these guys haven't had their driver's licenses all that long."
Chryst also has an analytics background. He started a company called Game Analytics Inc, working as a consultant with the numbers around the game. Bill Musgrave credited him with knowing the percentages about when to go for it on fourth down, and the Bears' new coach noted that there has to be a balance between the numbers and what's on the field.
"More often than not, fans realize that more teams are going for it on the plus 50, trying to extend that possession," Chryst said. "The analytics I was involved in, we're trying to take a deep dive, there's a lot of different ways that you can measure analytics, some people will say expected points, if you're here, you expect to score this many points. The other way to see it is win probability, sometimes when you're watching an NFL game, you'll see some Amazon thing that says 'the Atlanta Falcons win probability is now 99%' it seems like both of those are nice, but you want to have a mix of the two so veteran coaches can trust their hunches."
Chryst also comes in having worked for Musgrave at his last stop in Denver, and hit the ground running in teaching the tight end room an NFL offense.
"He's running an NFL offense," Chryst said of Musgrave, "which is great for these guys. He's not watering it down and he's challenging them to learn these concepts and execute at a high level. We had a really good practice today and I saw them take some real steps. This system is built not just for one, but two tight ends to be contributors, and a lot of teams are going to 10 personnel. You see USC having a lot of receivers on the field. With the second year in the offense, the quarterbacks in particular but with the whole offense, you can get deeper into the playbook, you can make adjustments that take advantage of some of the individual skills you have on your roster."
Now, Chryst will have to do a couple things moving forward. The first is recruiting, which Chryst has experience with as a father of two FBS football players.
"For a week, I'm appreciative of all the support staff that has helped me get ramped up. Being a parent of one, Keller (Chryst) was a national recruit, offered early by a bunch of teams and then my youngest son Jackson was at the other end of the spectrum, lightly recruited. That has been a great bookend for me realizing where these guys we're recruiting are," Chryst said. "There's sometimes diamonds in the rough, take Jake Tonges, who was lightly recruited walked on here to Cal, he's a phenomenal player, one that I have high expectations for. The recruiting game is its own world, we love tracking and assigning value to these kids, but ultimately they have to get on a campus and make plays. There's two things you're looking for. From a player's perspective, you're looking for fit, does this fit me. If I'm a talented tight end, I'm not going to a program that doesn't use the tight end as a blocker or receiver, you want to define what your system is and find the players that fit that system. The second thing you want to find with recruits, no one's a finished product when they step on board, so do you have the attributes that you can work with to develop at the position."
The second piece is the continued development of the tight end position, as the Bears look to get more consistent production out of the group there.
"What you're trying to find is a role for all seven," Chryst said. "The younger guys know that their role may not be for a year or two down the road, we want to give them a sense of immediacy, all those guys are getting reps, and that's what we need to find them those roles."
A big piece of Cal's development moving forward is their size. The group is collectively bigger, something Wilcox made note of.
"It has been a few weeks of strength and nutrition," Wilcox said, "so collectively, the team is up 647 pounds. We definitely want to get bigger, we have some bigger framed guys that can carry more and more weight. Obviously it needs to be good weight, but it's encouraging that the strength and conditioning with Brian (Johnson) and the supplemental nutrition has been a part of that as well."
Wilcox has mentioned the need to get bigger as a whole (with a need for good weight), and having a consistent routine this spring, as opposed to the chaos of last summer and fall, has helped.
"Any time you're off for an extended period of time, with what we were living with last summer to early fall, it was hard to get into a rhythm or routine," Wilcox said. "We've had a better rhythm since the end of the season, and it has allowed guys to build their bodies. They're eating well, and those things all matter, the workout, strength and conditioning, the nutrition, rest."
Wilcox is still coaching the defensive back room alongside grad assistant Ryan Conry, and while the Cal head coach seems to be having plenty of fun in the role, he noted the plan is to have a new assistant coaching the position sooner rather than later.
"I would expect that to be soon, like I said last week," Wilcox said, "we aren't going to hire somebody just to hire somebody. We wanted to make sure we got the best person for the program. We've got some excellent candidates and I would expect there to be somebody named soon. Even with that said, I'll be involved with that group moving forward."
With his involvement in that group, Josh Drayden noted on Saturday that the players have been a bit more on the edge with the head man in their position room, making sure they're getting everything right, something Wilcox hopes will continue.
"I've noticed that they've been real coachable, the meetings are productive," Wilcox said, "the walkthroughs are good. I hope we're always a bit on edge, players, coaches, support staff, that's what it takes for all of us to improve."
- Four players are out for the spring: DL Aaron Maldonado, OL Gentle Williams, OLB Curley Young, and DL Ethan Saunders. No specifics were given for their injuries
- Without a couple of defensive linemen, Cal is getting their entire defensive line reps. Brett Johnson is playing in a 5, 4i, 3 technique role more than the nose guard spot, as the Bears' two nose guards in the 2020 class are making moves.
"Stanley's getting reps, Ricky Correia has flashed a few times," Wilcox said, "I'm encouraged by him, all those defensive linemen are getting a ton of work."
- Cal's Kicking situation is open, despite Dario Longhetto having been the primary placekicker for the Bears in 2020.
"We're going to create more and more situations for those guys as best we can," Wilcox said "it's an important thing to create scenarios for the kickers."
- Collin Gamble continues to get noticed for his play on the field.
"Collin is playing both corner and nickel," Wilcox said, "Collin is a really twitchy guy, he's getting comfortable in the defense to where he doesn't have to think so much, looking forward to him developing."