Pre-Fiesta Bowl interview: Mike Bloomgren

After a somewhat shaky start to the season, Stanford's offensive line has rounded into one of the top units in the nation yet again. The Cardinal allowed only nine sacks all season, and averaged more than 200 yards passing and rushing per game, despite losing three starters from last year's squad.

After a recent Stanford bowl practice, The Bootleg caught with offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren to discuss the growth of the line, as well as some of the unit's younger players. Below is the transcript of our interview.

The Bootleg: From San Jose State way back to now, in what ways has the starting offensive line unit grown this season?

Mike Bloomgren: Back to San Jose State, golly. It seems like in some ways that was a couple days ago, and in some ways it seems like an eternity ago. When you talk about how the offensive line has grown, that San Jose State game was probably our worst rushing performance of the year. Honestly, we did a lot of things that were certainly uncharacteristic of Stanford football in the past, and uncharacteristic of where we've come to be. And those young guys that everybody had all those questions about? I'm not sure anybody has questions about them anymore. Sitting here we knew that Jonathan Martin would have a great year and David DeCastro, and they were first-team All Americans. And Cameron Fleming and David Yankey, who were kind of unproven entities, ended up being freshmen All Americans. And all Sammy Schwhartzstein did was get us in the right protection, right play every time and really just did a great job. Those guys came a long way. They really did.

TB: With DeCastro and Martin, and we'll focus on DeCastro now because a lot of people do view him as the single best guard in college football, you've been in the NFL, how would you characterize the level of David's play this season?

MB: Elite. Absolutely elite. We talked about something in one of our first run game meetings. That was Russ Grimm's Hall of Game induction speech where he said the greatest joy in football is to move a man from point A to point B against his will. That's something David DeCastro does better than anybody in college football right now. He just grinds people up, plays with a physical mentality. Again, I think he's elite as a college football player, and I fully expect him to be elite in the NFL whenever he chooses to go.

TB: Then with the two young guys, the freshmen all Americans, can you say a few words about their development and in what ways they've improved as the year has progressed?

MB: If you talk about David Yankey, you talk about a guy that we were playing at tackle in the spring and honestly most of training camp and kind of was just getting his sea legs, for lack of a better term, in there the first two games. Against Duke he allowed a hit on Andrew on a twist. Pulling, didn't look real comfortable pulling. So we needed to come a long way in a short time. Luckily we got that bye week. During that bye week he made a commitment to do everything we asked him to do and his pass protection has been awesome and he pulls so well that at times you say, ‘Was that 52 or 54?' And that's about the best compliment you can give a kid on this football team in my opinion.

MB: With Cam, Cam's a guy we knew had a lot of potential. We started to see glimmers of it in camp. As he got his conditioning and understood how to play four quarters in a football game, he went against some of the best competition in America and just handled it.

How would you assess the progression of the true freshmen?

MB: There's three freshmen really, when you talk about [Kevin] Reihner, [Brendon] Austin, then Brian Moran, right here down the road. Those guys have come in and they've done a great job. This bowl practice has been so outstanding for them. Get a chance to come in and run our stuff instead of the opponent's scout stuff on scout team. And they've done a nice job. Spring will be a big determining factor on how they can help us next year and where.

With Cole Underwood and Dillon Bonnell, the same class as Yankey and Fleming…I know Cole got some more playing time in the Notre Dame game… how have they progressed? I know Dillon was working through some injuries, if you could just comment on where that pair is at right now.

MB: Unfortunately Dillon didn't get to do much this season. He ended up getting another surgery, so we're real anxious to get him back full strength and see what he can do. With Cole, Cole had to step in there when we had those two injured tackles after USC. He had to come from the scout team then take reps with the ones. He started earning our trust. And he did a great job. He grew up a lot in the last month of the season, so much so that we did play him a lot against Notre Dame. We played him in some tight end and certainly he's a guy that we feel confident not only as a spot player at guard, but he's evolved into really our backup tackle. Him and Tyler Mabry are guys that we trust in there at tackle right now.

TB: I know you touched on it earlier, but given the fact that you could have a few guys off to the NFL next year with Martin and DeCastro, how important are these bowl practices for the younger guys, the guys we just talked about in getting them more confident heading into the spring?

MB: They're invaluable. It is essentially another spring football that we get to do with these guys. And I think it's no secret why in the way the NCAA is put together that bowl teams continue to be bowl teams. Because they get that practice and get to develop those young guys.

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