BERKELEY -- Demetris Robertson is expected to make his California track and field on Saturday at the Big Meet against Stanford, which Justin Wilcox "fully supports." Wilcox also breaks down team tackling, spring break film sessions, tight ends and the integration of stand-up ends and outside linebackers.
"It's good to get back out here after a little bit of a break. I know the guys were energized to be back out here, as well. They did a good job, after having some time off, of not taking a step backwards. I thought it wasn't as clean as you'd want it, but they did some really good things, and it's going to be a really important three weeks for us, as we finish off spring ball. All these practices are so important. Every drill we do, every rep we take is so crucial. But, it was good to get back out here, and [it was] real competitive today."
Team tackling periods, with offensive players tackling, offensive coaches coaching tackling -- has he seen dividends? "Well, we do it every day. We meet on tackling every day, as a team. We don't know if it's paying off, because we haven't played yet, but it will, as long as we keep working the fundamentals, and the things it takes to be a good tackling team. That's the idea."
Where did he get the idea for everybody to work on tackling: "Everybody, for the most part, does tackle. Hopefully, the quarterbacks don't. Hopefully, the kickers don't, but at some point, even an offensive lineman might be on a punt, or a defensive lineman, and obviously every defensive player, receivers are involved in special teams, running backs [are involved in special teams], so everybody at some point needs to be able to make a tackle, so I think it's important to work on it."
On Robertson running track (he's not been in pads yet): "He'll be back and forth between track and football. He's spending a lot of time with track, and he's competing there, and we fully support him. He's done a great job being involved up here, as much as he possibly can."
Do you like having a break in spring ball, for spring break? "I think it's good. You get in, and get some work done, you set a foundation and you take your time. The guys, they take their time with their families and friends, and most of them will be active in some way, so they came back, and I think they're in good shape, and moving around well. I think it's a good thing."
Did they take a step back on the first day: "Absolutely, and, like I said, it wasn't perfect. There will be plenty to correct, but they're into it, and their attitude's been great. I wasn't necessarily surprised that they were ready to come back, and excited. It's a good feeling."
What he's seen in the improvement of Cameron Goode, Hamilton Anoa'i and Aisea Tongilava, all of whom have looked stronger at the point of attack, using their hands more effectively, locking out and shedding blocks, in BearTerritory's practice observations: "That whole group is doing a really nice job. Tony Tuioti, coach Azz (Jerry Azzinaro) and coach [Tim] DeRuyter with the front, they'fe done a really good job teaching them the fundamentals and the schemes, and those guys have taken to it, soaking it up. They're fun guys to be around, because they want to learn, and they work hard. Every rep they take is so valuable."
Note: It's genuinely intriguing to watch Azzinaro coach. He's simple, direct and rapid-fire in his delivery of coaching. The linemen are responding. It's not all about yelling or volume, and he doesn't have to slow down, which shows that the linemen are picking up what he's laying down in the meeting room. At least the times that BT has observed him, he's seemed downright professorial (appropriate, since his nickname is The Professor), but he has, at times, shown his Brooklyn boxer roots.
On how Robertson and the wide receiver group as a whole has impressed him (it's arguably the strongest unit on the team, with Robertson, Melquise Stovall, Jordan Veasy, Vic Wharton, Kanawai Noa and Jordan Duncan returning): "Yeah, really good group. Versatile. We've got some bigger guys with some size, who can make some catches, when people are on them. Then, you've got some guys who can stretch the field and some guys who can work the middle of the field. It's a good group, and Nick Edwards has done a really nice job with them. It's fun to have them out here, competing. It's good for our defense, and good for our DBs, in particular."
Did you watch any tape over spring break of practice: "Oh yeah, yeah."
What did you see: "Oh, just things that we need to improve upon, whether it's a drill or a scheme. That's what we do, in our time. Coaches had some time, as well, to get organized and get their feet on the ground, here. We watched some tape, too."
What, in particular, stood out: "I don't know if there's any one thing, just the things we wanted to look back on -- the drill work and the fundamentals that you're teaching, to see it carry over to the team and the 11-on-11, and you're seeing that. Again, it's not perfect. We've got a lot of work to do, but you see the marginal gains, day to day, and that's what's important."
When you look at Practice 1 versus today, you talk about marginal gains, but do you see a little bit more if you watch the first one, back-to-back, with the last one: "Yeah, if you watch the first practice and this practice, it's significant, and that's to be expected. It needs to be that way."
Impression of Cameron Saffle, who just put out yet another viral sensation: "Really, extremely hard worker. Smart guy, tough. He's got all those intangibles that you look for, that we're trying to find at a new position. He's standing up a little bit more, which he did a little bit in high school. Another guy with just a great attitude who comes to work every day, puts his time in, cares about his team. He'll continue to grow, with the more reps that he gets."
He's taking to that adjustment: "He does. He does. And, it takes some time. It's a little bit more natural for some guys than others, but he's been doing a really nice job, and Tony Tuioti and coach Azz have been great for him."
From your time at Wisconsin, you used that stand-up end/outside linebacker, a fourth guy on the line, a lot. Do Saffle and Evan Weaver fit into that? "Yeah. The front guys, we'll see where they fit the best, and that's what spring ball is for. The more reps they get, the more they kind of end up sorting themselves out into what positions they'll play. We have an idea, based on their skill set. Those things will be fluid, going forward, but we have an idea right now."
Physically, how did these guys come back, after the break: "They did a good job. You take a significant number of days off, so it's expected that they'll be a little different, but I was pleased with how they came back from break, and it showed that guys were active during break."
Note: Cal's players have looked notably bigger than a year ago, particularly the running backs, with all showing major muscle gains.
The quarterback situation: "Doing a really good job improving. Really, it's about learning, and practicing, and so again, there's just so much time. I wouldn't say anything's been settled by any means yet. They'll continue to develop through spring, and through fall."
Have you been pleased with how the tight ends have become a part of the offense: "Yeah, absolutely. Some guys with some size in there, and will use it. They're physical, and learning some new techniques, in terms of the run and pass game for them, but they've done a great job, and it's a group that, again, has some versatility, some bigger guys. Malik [McMorris] has a unique skill set. We're going to use him. Charlie Ragle's done a good job teaching those guys, drilling them in those fundamentals."
No sense of urgency to name a starting quarterback: "Absolutely, I think that's spot on. We want those guys to learn, go out and compete, hone their skills, and those things will sort themselves out as time goes on."