Cal head coach Justin Wilcox talks Bears Spring Game

BERKELEY -- Cal head coach Justin Wilcox talks spring game format, the progress of Zeandae Johnson and more.

BERKELEY -- California head coach Justin Wilcox sets forth the format of the Bears' spring game on Saturday, and discusses the progress of Zeandae Johnson, Malik McMorris and the two-sport athletes. Also, from where did he pull some of the nuances that define how this staff does business?

"Entering the final week of spring ball, it'll be a really, really big week for us. We've got four days of work to get in. It was good to come back today, after a really good practice last Friday, where the defense did some really good things and made things tough on the offense. Today, really flipped the script, and the offense did some really nice things, and you could see the improvements, from Friday to today, on that side of the ball. Just real spirited out there, and guys getting a lot of work, and these repetitions that we get, the 11-on-11, the individual drills, just so valuable for everybody on our team. It's going to be a big week for us. The guys brought some good energy today, and I would expect that to continue until Saturday."

On the return of Antoine Albert to the team after redshirting in 2016, when he was slated to start coming out of spring ball a year ago, but got no snaps under Art Kaufman: "He's doing some good things, just like everybody. He's out here working to earn more playing time, and learn the system. His role, we'll see what it is, as we finish spring and get into summer."

How important is it to have a working five for the offensive line, and to build both sides of the ball from the inside out: "Yeah, obviously, to get the play started on both sides of the ball, you've got to be solid, and we're working through some different combinations on the offensive line, and the defensive lines, so these reps, this position work, is so valuable for these guys, and coach Wood (Steve Greatwood) and coach Azz (Jerry Azzinaro) are doing a phenomenal job teaching these guys, and really, you can see the growth from the first practice 'til today, is significant, so that's important."

How did you come up with the tandem coaching technique, pairing Tony Tuioti and Jerry Azzinaro coaching outside linebackers and defensive linemen, together: "Just the structure of our defense, it's the best, in terms of the way the positions work, and kind of the crossover between them. There's a fair amount of that, so they're working together on a lot of different things. It's just best for us."

On the weather variations in the spring, with rain and hail, if that's good for the team to practice in different conditions: "Sure. We're not in charge of the weather. We'll play, and we'll play games in the heat, we'll play games in the rain, we'll play games in the snow. I think it's one of those things: What's your mindset coming to practice, and not being affected by things we can't control."

Having to move between practice fields -- Maxwell and Memorial -- due to women's lacrosse games: "I think it's good to change the picture, and whether you're going from the stadium to Maxwell halfway through the practice like [today], I think that all can benefit, from, how does it affect you? If you can control what you can control, and worry about the next rep, I think those things are valuable lessons, and it's another way to change it, and make our guys adjust when they need to."

Both Tim DeRuyter and Darius Allensworth have talked about the value of charting "missed opportunities" -- missed tackles and dropped interceptions, for example. They said it starts with you, so where did you pick up that method of motivating the defense: "You get a certain amount of chances to change the game on defense. Obviously, we've got to do a great job, fundamentally, and being sound in our techniques and our systems, and then when we have an opportunity, whether it's for a strip or an interception or a loose ball or a sack, whatever it is, that we've got to capitalize on those opportunities."

Where did you pick that up from: "I just picked it up over time, different ways to track things that really matter. There are so many statistics, we don't track a lot of different statistics, but that's one of them, especially on defense: If you have an opportunity to change the game, are we taking advantage of those?

Your defense at Wisconsin had one of the highest turnover margins in the country (No. 9, +0.86 per game): "You talk about turnover margin, it's the single most important statistic there is in football, and it goes for both sides. It's all three phases -- offense, defense and special teams -- they all play a part in that. I think if there was any secret formula to creating more on defense, and protecting it better on offense, then everybody would do it. I think it's just a combination of different things -- confidence in what you're doing, the execution, again, taking advantage of the opportunities and protecting the ball on offense, so I think there are a number of things that play into that."

What do you think of the way Zeandae Johnson has come on? "I think Z has done a really good job. You see significant growth from practice one until now. He's a talented guy. He's just got to do some things more consistently, and I think, the more and more he plays, and the more he's around coach Azz, the better he's going to get."

On McMorris, Demetris Robertson and Ashtyn Davis playing two sports, and thoughts in general on two-sport athletes: "I think it's a case-by-case basis. I think all those guys have earned the right to participate in another sport. I wouldn't say we're going to have the entire team play two different sports, but it's a case-by-case basis. If a guy is going to earn that right because of his achievements, then we can work it out that he can still be here for as much as he can, and we'll support them in doing that."

On McMorris's role: "I think he's doing a really good job. He's got a unique skill set. He's a really big, strong guy. He's physical. He's got, obviously, a low center of gravity, but he's a very talented athlete. He's coordinated. He can catch the ball. He's physical, he can move people off the line of scrimmage, so he's a really unique athlete, and we're excited to have him, and we'll utilize him."

On the format of the spring game this Saturday, and will they be healthy enough to have two full teams? Since the start of spring, Josh DraydenDePriest Turner, Gentle Williams and Evan Rambo have returned off the injured list to at least some kind of active duty. "It'll be similar to our first Saturday practice that you were at. There will be a lot of elements of a traditional practice, and then we'll get into some situational football."


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