VIDEO TAGS: 91 blue Trevor Kelly, 73 white Jordan Rigsbee, 96 blue Chris Palmer, 57 white Addison Ooms, 33 blue Noah Westerfield, 55 white Dominic Granado, 97 blue Tony Mekari, 66 white Chris Borrayo, 75 white Aaron Cochran, 92 blue Marcus Manley, 56 white Michael Trani, 72 white Kamryn Bennett, 74 white Matt Cochran, 24 blue Antione Davis, 59 white Brian Farley, 79 (helmet) white (blank jersey) Vince Johnson, 54 white Deion Oliver, 77 white J.D. Hinnant, 95 blue DeVante Wilson, 45 blue Kennedy Emesibe, 9 blue James Looney, 11 blue Jonathan Johnson, 75 blue Puka Lopa, 13 blue Kyle Kragen
BERKELEY -- California’s offensive line, is, in a word, a bunch of “badasses,” says a man who should know – in fact, the very man that offensive line protects – quarterback Jared Goff.
“They’re just different,” says Goff. “I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know if they’re – I don’t want to say ‘tougher,’ because they’re all tough guys; I don’t think that’s the right word – but they just don’t take any crap anymore, I guess. They’re just badasses, all five of them, even the six, seven guys, they’re just badasses, because they don’t take crap from anybody.”
That difference has been made by new offensive line coach Brandon Jones, otherwise known as The Only Man the Line Takes Crap From.
“I feel like I’m just your typical offensive line coach: I’m obviously really negative, because there’s just so much stuff we’ve got to get done here,” says Jones, in his first season as the Bears’ offensive line maestro. “Accountability is probably the biggest thing [and] the most important thing to me. They’ve got to understand that we’re all in this together, myself included. They’re a reflection of me, and I just want them to do things right.”
From coach and players, to positional groups on opposite sides of the ball, the emphasis this spring has been on exactly that: The Bears are all in this together. That includes Jones and defensive line coach Fred Tate.
“I have a ton of respect for him, obviously. He’s been a lot of good places,” says Jones, who came to Berkeley from East Carolina. “He’s a pretty good ball coach, and I just try to learn, respect my elders. I spend a lot of time with him and Art. They kind of school me up a lot. Just wisdom, and what they’ve learned along the way. They’ve been great. They’ve been awesome. I like all the coaches, honestly.”
Coaches coaching coaches, as it were. Aside from that, though, Tate actually helps Jones’s boys get better.
“I know his kids’ weaknesses, and he knows all my kids’ weaknesses, obviously, since he’s been here,” says Jones. “He’s been good to work with, and whatever we need, he’ll give it to us.”
Through the first half of spring ball, the defensive line has been giving the offensive line all it can handle, but the offensive line has fought back. Like Goff said, these guys aren’t going to take any crap, especially when it’s an ornery noted redass like Jordan Rigsbee, though that aggression still has to be channeled, at times.
“Jordan, I thought his was stupid, and that’s why we up-downed. That’s one thing that I will not let us do, is hurt this team,” Jones says. “All that stuff, we’re going to limit, and that’s why we run for it after practice. I’m just trying to kill ‘em, get ‘em in shape.”
Between the three returning starters – Rigsbee, tackle Steven Moore and left guard Chris Borrayo -- the Bears have 26 penalty flags on the offensive line last season returning.
Jones made sure that this group watched every single one.
“I hate administrative penalties,” Jones says. “I think we had 26. That's one thing that we address. We’ve watched every one of them – false starts, unsportsmanlike’s, stupid stuff. And I tell them that.”
“They’ve gotten a lot better,” says Goff. “They’ve improved, definitely. Coach Jones has done a great job with them, I think. That’s a big thing. He’s really kind of changed their mentality a little bit, and they’re really improving, every day. Every day, you can see it. Every day, you can see their demeanor change, and they’re getting a lot better. I’m happy with what they’ve done, and they’re happy with what they’ve done, as well.”
The other weakness that Jones has sussed out is conditioning, and he’s slowly, but surely, beating that into his players.
“It’s just fatigue. I know coach Damon [Harrington] did a great job getting them stronger, and I know that was his big emphasis, and that’s what we needed to have,” says Jones. “My deal is trying to get them in shape, that’s why I’ve been on them pretty good about running to the ball, and just good tempo, because that’s conditioning in itself. I usually run them for penalties. That’s what I’ve been trying to do to give them some mental toughness.”
Doing up-downs for bad reps, running the offense at full-tilt and running for penalties after practice all serve to fix the problems that Jones has diagnosed, but that doesn’t mean he’s a taskmaster, through and through. He’s very much a pragmatist.
“I’m really more of a players’ coach, and I want kids to be comfortable,” says Jones. “It does you no good to put a player out of position. They lose confidence and they’re not very effective. If you were a right-side player in high school, I keep you on the right side. If you’re a guard, I’m going to try to keep you there, as much as I possibly can, just so you’re comfortable. That’ll put us in the best positions to be successful.”
The only side switch we’ve seen through spring ball was the last practice, when Dominic Granado switched from right tackle on the first team to left tackle on the second.
One of the players who’s seen the most growth – aside from Vince Johnson, who took over at left tackle with the first-team group – is Aaron Cochran, the younger brother of the – as of now – starting center Matt Cochran.
“He’s getting better. He’s getting better. I think the biggest thing with him is just being consistent, which is all of them, and coming ready to work it every day,” says Jones. “I’m not the easiest coach to play for. You can’t take any days off. He’s been good. We’re just trying to get him to put it together every day.”
The younger Cochran has been playing with much lower pad level and better leverage, staying over his feet and not over-reaching, though that does happen later in practice, and it’s something that Jones has been working to correct not only with Cochran, but with all of his charges.
“I think the biggest thing is, they get fatigued, and when they get fatigued, they get sloppy, they get low, they get higher, their body language gets bad, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid,” says Jones. “We’ve been good about body language. I got on them pretty good about putting their hands on their hips. It’s a sign of weakness. They’ve really bought into it. If you notice, they don’t do that anymore. It’s just getting them to play 11 or 12 plays back-to-back, full-speed, being consistent and all that good stuff is what we’re trying to get to right now.”