DAY 15 IN FOCUS: Interior Defensive Line

Defensive line coach Barry Sacks started coaching before all of his current charges were even a gleam in their parents' eyes, but that hasn't stopped him from having some fun with the interior linemen. PLUS: We take a closer look at the defense in our EXCLUSIVE VIDEO from Day 15.



BERKELEY -- Last spring, it was the Rob Likens-Zach Yenser Work Wife Show that captivated fans of California football. This fall, the star of the coaching staff – or, at the very least, the cult hero – has been defensive tackle coach Barry Sacks.

Sacks' propensity to mispronounce the name of freshman Tony Mekari has led to a series of rhyming pseudonyms for the 6-foot-2, 265-pounder out of Westlake Village (Calif.) Westlake product, including Tony Salami and Tony Bologna.

Two days ago, Sacks went through his lunchmeat menu, and Viliami Moala -- impressed with the true freshman's performance and motor – suggested that he upgrade to ham; not the porcine sandwich-filler, but HAM (slang for going hard as a mother*****). Sacks, seemingly blissfully unaware of the double entendre, retorted, "But that doesn't rhyme!"

The rest of the interior linemen had a raucous laugh. That was then. On Tuesday, Sacks went to a more carb-based theme, dubbing Mekari, "Tony Macaroni." Waving his arms up and down, his charges couldn't help but join in, chanting "TO-NY MAC-A-RONI! TO-NY MAC-A-RONI!"

"It's fun!" Sacks crowed. "I like having fun."

The interior defense has taken quickly to the affable – if eccentric – coach, and he to them. Sacks has in particular gravitated toward Moala, who, on Tuesday, spent more time with the first-team defense than recruiting classmate Mustafa Jalil, drawing great praise from Sacks, who has been coaching since before any of his charges were even born (starting at Portland State in 1986).

"His hair's on fire. His hair is completely on fire," Sacks said of Moala, who returned to practice in full on Day 10 after taking care of some academic obligations. "He exhausts every part of his body out here. He is a lot of fun to coach. He's taken to coaching extremely well. It's fun. It's like somebody threw a bunch of gasoline on him and lit him on fire. His hair is on fire, literally, and that has a way of working its way around. People want to hold up to that level. It keeps going. The fire goes."

Moala and the interior line were primarily focused on stopping the run on Tuesday, though that was a dubious proposition. The scout team offense was able to run seemingly at will up the middle, though senior Deandre Coleman did break through for a touch-sack on Austin Hinder during scout work.

Three straight times during that series, though, the Bears defense was gashed by runs up the middle, where the tailback ran, virtually untouched, through the A-gaps.

"It's order of the day – really, the order of every day. Some days look better than others, obviously," Sacks said. "Sometimes the Red Sea does part. That's why we practice."

Moala, though, showed improve pass rush moves, particularly during OL-DL drills.

"He's really come a long way with his pass rush," Sacks said. "He's getting a great takeoff. He understands. He's really concentrating on what it's going to take to become a complete pass rusher. The situations, the looks, the formations, really is all going to help him to become a complete [pass rusher] – target, have a plan, keep your feet moving, front the quarterback, all these things: The principles of pass rush."

While the depth on the ends is perhaps one of the defense's biggest strengths, even without powerful Brennan Scarlett, the interior is stocked, as well, with Coleman, Moala, Jalil, Harrison Wilfley (still hampered by a shoulder injury) and Gabe King, as well as emergent freshman Jacobi Hunter, who's still on the shelf with a shoulder injury.

Sacks has enough variety in skill sets and body types to tailor the interior to the situation, be it plugging the run or getting penetration in passing downs.

"There are going to be some people that are going to be great in some of those pass rush situations that will come on the field and have that type of ability, that burst ability, and we've got some guys that are run stoppers, who are going to be able to be on the field in those capacities," Sacks said. "It's going to platoon a bit in that direction – not completely, but there's the complete player who has both, who can both pass rush and stop the run. In certain situations, in certain defenses, we'll have some guys that are pass rushers […] It's competitive, and right now, they really want to please. I like that. It's fun."

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