BTTV: Beau Baldwin's Swedish Excursion

BERKELEY -- Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin chats about the quarterback competition and his time as a player/coach in Sweden.

BERKELEY -- California offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin breaks down the quarterback competition, his strategy of moving receivers around the field.

"We got some full pads, got some situational stuff, and I'm continuing to see some strides being taken, and they're going to need to. We won't be a finished product, come practice 15. There's no way. No one ever is, because we know we still have two-thirds of our practices, really, plus summer workouts and everything that way, but I do like some of the strides we took today, and I'm excited about the guys, because sometimes, you can hit practice 12, 13, and guys can start trying to just finish spring ball, and there wasn't that feeling at all. They're still really working, very similar to the way they did in week one."

On the improvements to the offensive line: "More than anything, just communication and playing together, and honestly, that group has taken some pretty big jumps, considering new terminology and maybe some guys with experience, but maybe some guys without much experience, especially when you get into the two-deep of it., but you're definitely seeing some things. It just takes time, to really mold together, but I think, compared to a lot of years I've been in, I think the way we've come together, in certain things in the run game, it's come probably faster than sometimes I'm used to, which is a pleasant surprise. I know coach 'Wood (Steve Greatwood) would tell you, just like any of us, that we're far from there, and they're going to keep grinding that way."

What specifically do you mean when you say some things have come faster? Are the holes there, bigger and earlier? "Just sometimes, all five guys looking in unison, all five guys stepping in the same direction. When you see those O-lines that have that, they all are very much, it looks very much in tune, and it's five guys playing as one, and truly doing things at the same time, at the same levels, in certain things they're doing, so you can see those guys truly playing together in unison, able to bump off on switch calls in protection, able to do different things like that, that sometimes takes a little longer. That's where, to me, it's been a pleasant surprise, [compared] to certain years, where I feel like that can take a little longer."

Are they doing things that you saw Oregon's lines do when Greatwood was up there? "Oh, yeah, and you don't lead the country in running -- sometimes your eyes fool you with Oregon, in terms of, 'They're up-tempo,' and your mind always thinks 'up-tempo' means throwing it all over the yard -- people forget, I think many years, they led the nation in rushing, or were up there, and that comes from continuity within the O-line, that comes O-linemen, and doing that with tempo means that those O-linemen are going, and they're in great shape, and they're understanding how to play together, and think quickly, because they're snapping the ball so quick, that you don't have time to survey everything. So, yes, there are some similarities to that. Like all of us, we still have a long way to go, but yes, I was always impressed by that, whenever I saw that. When you really broke down and looked at the meat and potatoes of it, what it really was, regardless of some of [...] Marcus [Mariota] and some of the guys they had, skill-wise, you saw an O-line that was in front, leading the nation in rushing, or in the top 10 in different years."

On playing and coaching simultaneously in Malmö, Sweden, for the Limhamn Griffins after college: "When I first went over there, it was a fun little deal, and they still have it going. I've had some of my guys from Eastern go overseas and play. It's probably the level of small-college football, in terms of the speed of the game, and what it is. You're allowed one American on O, and one American on D. Those guys are also coaches. I was the offensive coordinator, while I was the quarterback, so what I meant was, sometimes, you're used to, as a quarterback, in high school and college -- because that's my experience up to that point -- scrambling, getting hit, getting down or whatever it might be, getting up, and you're used to looking to the sideline [for the next play]. You had an appreciation for the guys, way back in the day, who called their own things, because you'd get up, shake off the cobwebs, and then you'd have to figure out, 'OK, what's the down and distance, what do I want to run?' from the field. It was fun, though."

As a coach, do you feel that experience helped you, because you had to be in the fray, too: "You know, I think probably what it did more than anything, it probably really got me the bug. That's what I look at, because I knew I wanted to coach football -- I graduated with a degree in education -- but I didn't know exactly what level. You're 21, 22, and you're still kind of figuring things out, but probably, what it did, was truly show me that I wanted to coach college football. I really wanted to coach college football, and live that life, because it wasn't just the on-the-field stuff. That was less of it. It was the prep during the week, what it took to organize and run a practice, all those things got my juices flowing, and that was the first experience for that part. The playing and calling your own game was fun, it was different, but the during-the-week stuff is really what probably springboarded me to say, 'Hey, when I get back,' -- at that time I was in Ellensburg (Central Washington) -- 'I want to volunteer coach and join the staff for nothing, and grind and do that type of GA-type work,' and I was able to do that. I was fortunate that our coach allowed me the ability to do that."

What Chase Forrest and Ross Bowers have done so well in spring so far: "I think, more than anything, they're developing their ability to just truly operate. That takes time, with a new system, new terminology, where to go with the football, what to do, going from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C. Sometimes Plan A looks one way, and then post-snap, it changes. They're developing their ability to really operate, because at the end of the day, the best quarterbacks understand how to get the ball to athletes in space, how to move the offense, how to get the O-line in the right protection. I don't like using the word, necessarily, 'game manager,' but those guys who do it at a high level -- and also, I like to use the word, more, 'operate' -- you look at a guy like Kellen Moore, who always struck me as someone you might call a game manager, but he was a killer the way he did it, just because he was accurate with his throws, they were on-time, he was allowing fast guys to run with the catch without having to catch a ball behind them, this, that and the other. He really operated at a high level. They [Forrest and Bowers] have made huge strides in how they're operating within the system. They're reacting more. They're not getting a call and trying to process everything; they're getting a call and just knowing right away, what read one is, what read two is, where are your check downs, that sort of thing."

Differences between the two: "You know, honestly, they're pretty similar in a lot of ways. They really are. I don't have great differences between the two. They have a different level, in terms of, through the spring, one's out-practiced one, and the next day, the other will out-practice the other, and they're growing within that, but honestly, they're fairly similar. They're fairly similar in size, they're fairly similar in terms of certain things they do well, and certain things they need to keep working on. In other words, I don't look out there, wonder who's out there and think about how I'm going to call something. You could close my eyes, I'd call it, and it wouldn't matter which one is out there, in terms of what I believe gives them the best chance to have success, from a play call standpoint. 

"They're really similar. They're very similar in the throws they can make, they're very similar in certain strengths. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but there's a lot of similarities in what they both bring to the table. I wouldn't call the game any different right now, no matter who was in there, in terms of that."

Does Bowers's confidence carry over from off the field, to the way he plays; does he play confident: "Yeah, he does, he plays with a great confidence. He won a lot of games in high school, he understands what it takes to do that, and he does. He plays out there without fear, but with that, it's a fine line. You always have to play without fear, but you also have to understand how important the ball is, too. But, he has a good level of that, and he's continuing to get better. There's no question, he gets out there, he's confident, he's excited, and he's able, at different times, to flush things that don't [go well] and that's what I always want to see -- how does a QB respond to stuff that doesn't go right; does he come back and respond? They've both done a really good job of that at different times.

What is he looking for from his quarterbacks in the spring game on Saturday at 11 a.m.: "Continuing to grow in their operations, continuing to grow in looking to the sideline, getting the call, and if someone's not lined up, they can get them right, and just, if I feel like they went out there, and their mind was free, because they weren't thinking -- they were just playing -- that's what I want to see, taking another step in that direction. We're still a long way from that. There will still be those moments, but if I can see less and less, each practice, of those moments, and more and more freedom, just to go play and let 'er rip, then I know we're in a better place at the position."

On running backs Patrick LairdZion EcholsBilly McCrary III and Derrick Clark: "They're continuing to take tremendous strides. I think Pat, Pat's one of those guys who's played a decent amount of football here. I don't know what the total number of snaps is, but he's played some football here, so you can see that with him. He's got a confidence, but it's not over-the-top. He's confident that he's going to know exactly what to do and where to go, and sometimes, that gets overshadowed, or sometimes, people just look at that and go, 'Yeah, he's a smart player, he's this and that,' but no, he's a talented player. Pat's got some stuff to him. I know he had incredible high school numbers, and that carries over, so he's got some stuff to the way he plays the game, and he brings a lot of quickness, in terms of picking up the system. Billy, obviously, has a lot of speed, and is still working on how to truly play the position in college, [to] take some of his speed and quickness, and truly translate it to on the field stuff. You talk about both Z and Derrick Clark, a little bit different in their styles. Z's shown some things, an ability to get on the edge, very good hands out of the backfield, has some speed and that, and it's continuing, though he's not fearful of going between the tackles, either, which I like. You don't want that guy who, yeah, his strengths might be on the edge, but is he still willing to hit it downhill, and he is. DC is more of that between-the-tackles type guy. He's going to run downhill for you. He's not afraid of anything, and he's strong. We've just got to continue to work on his pad level, when he's in those situations, but there's no fear with the way he plays the game, either, which I like. Just a few things that we've got to work on. It's been fun. Fun to work with that group."

On moving receivers around, not having dedicated X, Y, Z and H groups: "I just think there's a couple of things, and we did that with our best receivers that we had at Eastern, and you're able to start to hide them. The best receiver to ever play at Eastern, Cooper [Kupp], he was all over the field, everywhere. What that does is, the defense doesn't always know where he's going to be, the defense doesn't know where he's going to line up. They want to try to cloud him or do some things, well, you don't always know where he's going to be, and that then puts pressure on them. There's also a piece to that, where you start learning -- if you just learn the Z, or you just learn the X, you start just memorizing your play, but you don't truly learn the offense, as a whole. You don't learn the concept. You don't understand why you're doing something to sponge a defender, to grab a defender, to open someone else up. You start playing in different positions, and that just becomes the expectation, you learn the offense as a whole. You learn the passing game. Then, when there's injuries -- say we have three healthy Z's, the one, two and three, and all of the sudden, we lose two or three X's, or however it might be -- those Z's, if that second Z is our fourth-best receiver, or fifth-best receiver, but he's behind another Z, I don't like to label them in that. He should be able to go play X, and then you can get your best three or four receivers, or two or three or four receivers, depending on your personnel, on the field, and they've got the ability. There are a number of reasons we like doing it. Again, it helps hide them, you learn the offense as a whole, and then, when you do run through certain injuries or certain situations, you can move guys around, and you can create match-ups. You can create match-ups with how they're going to line up in a certain formation, and get a certain receiver lined up with a certain safety, maybe, just by moving them into that slot."

As a note: Defenses did exactly what Baldwin describes -- clouding, rolling coverage, isolating -- against Chad Hansen during the second half of the season last year, because he rarely switched sides in the formation. Consequently, receivers to the other side tended to get short shrift, but because of the connection between Hansen and road roommate Davis Webb (they've been at about half of practices, and are training together in Berkeley), rarely did Webb look the other way. Combine that with the relatively simple route concepts designed to be run at a high tempo (which Cal did not do), and you have late-game interceptions, as in the San Diego State game. If those simpler route concepts are run at high tempo, defenses are on their heels, so the simplicity doesn't matter, but once it's slowed down, they can become predictable.

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