BRO: So, it's about time the o-line coach here caught a few breaks, don't you think?
BP: Well, we've certainly had some problems academically and with injuries since I've been here, but I told Rick (Neuheisel) when I got here it was going to take four years, I thought it was going to take four years for me to straighten it out. And, I feel really good about this group. I think we have some veterans that have played a lot of games with (Kai) Maiava, Mike Harris and Sean Sheller and the only other thing – and I don't like to bring it up all the time – losing Nik Ablele and Xavier Sua-Filo, that hurt me, because those two guys right there were going to be No. 1 draft picks. Now, we'll get Xavier back, but unfortunately Nik can't play anymore.
But I feel good about this group. You know, last year we made a lot of improvements in the running game – as a matter of fact that was the fourth best yards per attempt in the last 20 years at this place. You probably didn't realize that, did you?
BRO: I knew what the top was – that line that came off the scrap heap in, like Karl's first or second year I think it was, but, no …
BP: We had a tremendous emphasis on improving this running game and we accomplished what we set out to do. We averaged 4.4 yards per carry – that's the fourth best in the last 20 years. And I think with Jim Mastro coming in – he's the expert in zone-read offense. I really don't like the name Pistol, you know what I mean. The Pistol is a formation, it's not an offense. And we're really not doing anything different than what Oregon does – they do it out of the shotgun, because the quarterback lines up here and the back lines up (to the left or to the right) beside him. That's shotgun, right? So when they did this, instead of shotgun they called it Pistol. Our guy lines up behind the quarterback. But it's the same principles as Oregon uses in its offense. It's read zone.
I think we have some decent depth. I'm looking forward to working with Alberto Cid. He reminds me very much of … he's a bigger Eddie Williams. I think we have some other young guys, with Chris Ward. Kai Maiava, we've got to keep him healthy. We didn't have him at all last year. And then of course we're going to get (Jeff) Baca back at some point. I don't know when that's going to be, but talking to the trainers I think it's going to be early on in the season that he returns and at that point I'll plug him in and fill in for whoever we determine to be the weak link and we'll go from there.
BRO: You mentioned Cid and I would think that having a guy that is a little more mature physically than some of the other younger guys in the program is going to be very, very important.
BP: I'll tell you what, there's always a transition period with junior college players for the most part. But, having the time that I've spent with Alberto, he's very mature for his years and I think he'll pick things up quickly and I think he'll be an asset.
BRO: I talked to him a few weeks ago. He said he was working out – fortunately - and that his bench was up around 415 or so …
BP: Yeah, and he weighs about 320 pounds. He's very mobile, strong, good kid, hard worker …
BRO: What do you need from him from Day One, just walking in the door?
BP: Well, I need for him to learn the offense as quick as possible so that he's reacting and playing rather than thinking. You know, he's got to get used to the new line calls and communicating with the rest of the line and so on and so forth and just learn the system. I'm going to spend as much time as I can on and off the field in order to get him ready.
BRO: His JC offense, was it a zone read deal? Is he coming in with any sort of experience in this kind of offense or with the blocking schemes?
BP: You want to know something, I really don't know. I can't remember. I just watched him individually and what he did and I liked what I saw. I thought he was a good sized kid who showed a good motor and showed toughness and has mobility. That's what you're looking for.
BRO: Good place to start …
BRO: Sean Sheller is another guy who has to be there from the start …
BP: Sean is going to play the quick side tackle. Mike Harris will be the strong side tackle. Kai Maiava will be back at center and then we have Chris Ward and Wade Yandall and Alberto Cid and Casey Griffiths, who was injured all last year, and those guys will work the guard spots. I have some really interesting, good, I think, young freshman offense lineman and hopefully we'll be able to redshirt those kids. Then Brett Downey had a good spring. You know, he's gotten a lot bigger and stronger, he's understanding things. He's matured. And so I'll tell you what, I'm optimistic. I feel good. And like I said I'd really feel great and be on top of the game if I had Xavier and Nick Abele. But these young kids coming up here, Will Oliver and Torian White, keep your eye on them. I hope I don't have to play them. This might be the first year that I haven't had to play a true freshman.
BRO: That would be a nice change …
BP: Like I said, our depth has been getting better every year, our productivity has been getting better every year, and, you know, we've got to keep Kevin Prince healthy and I think we can be OK.
BRO: With Sean, that quick tackle, I have to keep reminding myself that he was there before he had his off-road accident and got hurt a couple years ago. He came back and struggled, was on the defensive side for a while …
BP: You know, they needed some help on defense and so on and so on. But when they filled the holes they had on defensive I was able to bring him back on offense.
BRO: Yeah, but you look at the available players, and who might be an option, and it's like Sean really has to be the guy. So, you know, how comfortable are you at this point that he can really, now in his sixth year, recapture that …
BP: Oh, I think he'll have a terrific year. He's gone through a lot, you know, with the knee and so on and so forth and he's excited to be back and he's in good shape. I expect him to be a leader and play well and I really believe that he will.
BRO: I remember talking to him last year, physically, he was still kind of in that progression getting back to where he was pretty much through the whole season …
BP: He's ready to go now. He's as healthy as he's been in a long time. All these kids have worked extremely hard during the off-season and I think they're excited to get back. I think it's going to be fun.
BRO: Griffiths, with the back issue, how healthy is he?
BP: Griffiths had a back issue and from what I understand, that's cleared up now. I'm looking forward to that. I've never really had a chance to work with him extensively because of the back issue, so I'm interested to see what he can do. But he's got good size and is a very smart kid. He's going to add depth to that position and maybe one of those freshman kids will end up as a backup. Hopefully I won't have to play them, but you never know.
BRO: I would think one of the tackles will have to be in a position where they are ready to play … maybe not ready, but able to play if something happens.
BRO: Do you see one of those two guys ahead of the other at this point, just starting off?
BP: I'm not sure at this time. I'm really not sure. I was impressed with both those kids on film and I'll know a little bit better on Monday. But they both have good size, good range … they're athletic. They're what you're looking for.
BRO: Torian, we talked to him a while ago. He is still working on some very basic things, as far as stance and stagger, things like that. Has it been your experience that those things will come pretty quickly once they understand what and why and all that?
BP: I think it does. To me, I'm not worried about these kids physically. It's the mental aspect of the game and getting used to the speed of the game. The speed of the game from high school to college is … what can I say, I don't know how to put it …
BRO: They're different games …
BP: As it is, I'll never forget my first game in the NFL, 1994, the speed of the defensive linemen was shocking, as it is for these kids coming out of high school. They're going to have the same experience playing against some big kids that are a lot faster than they're used to seeing at the high school level.
BRO: You mentioned Coach Mastro and some of the things that he's done. Your experience most recently at Wisconsin, obviously completely different type of offense …
BP: Oh, at Wisconsin … I had two Outland Trophy winners on the same team. You know, I've had three overall and two of them were at Wisconsin in Joe Thomas and Gabe Carimi, who was a first-rounder this year with Chicago. And so, yeah, up there I had big strong kids and we ran power football and they still do. But, I mean, that's what you get paid to do as a coach – use your personnel wisely – and that's why I recommended to Rick a year ago that instead of running a power football philosophy like I had at Wisconsin that we should go to zone read ad I know we made the right decision.
BRO: Is that because physically, body-wise, those players aren't here or …
BP: It's because it adds an option element to it, you know? Who has got the dive? Who has got the quarterback? Who has got the pitch? You know, so, like you say, look at Oregon. They haven't had any offensive linemen drafted into the NFL. But they lead the United States in rushing. As did Nevada. They didn't have any pro guys on their line, either. You have to use your personnel wisely and I think we're in an offense now that utilizes our abilities better.
BRO: Long term, like you said, you're not going to see a Gabe Carimi or a Joe Thomas every year …
BP: And Jim knows all the nuances to this offense. Our biggest thing this year, which e have to do better from last fall, is we have to make sure we do a better job marrying our passing game to the running game, out play-action game has to be better, and it will.
BRO: The pass protections, big changes or …
BP: No, not really. Protections, there are only so many ways you can protect. We've added some wrinkles to it that Mike (Johnson) brought with him from the San Francisco 49ers, which I'm familiar with because, you know, of the 12 years I spent in the National Football League. But we added some wrinkles to the protection scheme, but basically it will remain the same.
BRO: How much do you see that helping in that regard?
BP: Sure. Especially, I mean, you have to have play-action pass or else your runs are going to dry up. You have to compliment all your runs with play-actions and screens and so on and so forth. We realized this spring what we had to do. I thought we had a good spring and now we'll just add, we'll continue on here in the fall and I'm looking forward to the first game.
BRO: Let's run through some of the players … you've got the three seniors. Mike Harris has played a lot of football here …
BP: Yeah, he has. And so has Sean Sheller, really. And Kai Maiava has. Until he broke his ankle he had started every game since he was a true freshman at Colorado. Then Chris Ward got into a couple of games this past year. Our lack of experience really is at the guard position, with Alberto Cid and Wade Yandall hasn't played at all and neither has Casey Griffiths. I have Greg Capella also, though, who played some games, a couple of games last year, so he has a little bit of experience and he can play guard or center. Brett Downey, like I said, inexperienced. But he has worked hard and I think he's ready to be a contributor. And after that, I've got those young kids – Will Oliver and Jake Brendel and Ben Wysocki and Torian White. As I said when we started this conversation here, I knew it was going to take some time, and I've had some serious setbacks along the way. But I feel confident going into this fall that we can be productive.
BRO: With Harris, he looks a little leaner, in a little better shape …
BP: Yeah, I think all those kids. They know this is their last chance to play. I thought that's what I had going with the group last year – I had a lot of seniors. And they played above everyone's expectations, really, you know, and I think we certainly will be better this year.
BRO: Brendel, is he center only?
BP: Brendel can play center or guard. We'll take a look at him at the center position to start, and Wysocki will be a guard. Kody Innes is another guy going into his second fall here now and he can play center or quick guard and of course we have the two young tackles in Will Oliver and Torian White.
BRO: Considering the guards haven't really played – Yandall, Griffiths …
BP: I'm not concerned about it. They played this spring, you know, so they have a spring under their belts. Yandall actually has two – he came in here early. They lack game experience, but, I don't know, I'm not excited about it. They'll be fine.
BRO: With Wade, he had the concussion at the end of the spring and it took him a while to get back into the weight room, to get on the field for conditioning and what not. Is there any concern that he will be a little short coming into fall camp?
BP: It took him quite a while to recover from that concussion and I hope that he's finally totally healthy. I suspect he is, or the trainer's wouldn't clear him for practice. But he was off for quite a long time. I'm not sure exactly how much of the conditioning he missed, but he certainly missed part of it.
I think he's fine now, though. I think he's been over that now for quite a while. But he's young, you know, he's been out there the last two months.
BRO: Ward also has made some improvements, physically …
BP: Sure. Mike Linn does a terrific job with our strength and conditioning program. They come out of high school and now they're growing up and their maturing. They're more lean and have increased their strength.
BRO: Ward, having played a little last year …
BP: He and Capella both played last year. Chris, we're starting him off on the quick side, and we're going to take a look at Wade and Alberto Cid on the strong side.
BRO: How much has he progressed through the spring?
BP: Well, you know, having played in a couple of games is a major benefit to him and then of course he went through a spring practice now, which is his first spring practice. You know, he got into the game at Texas and USC before he even had a spring practice, so I expect Chris to really progress and become a factor in our lineup.
BRO: But what did you see from him in the spring that made you think he has taken a few steps forward?
BP: Well, I always tho0ught Chris was a good athlete, even when I was watching him as a sophomore at Mater Dei. He's has good intelligence, he has good size, he's a good athlete.
BRO: The strength component with all these guys, are they where you need them to be?
BP: With their personal strength? Yes. Like I said, Mike does a good job. A lack of strength is not a problem. At one time it was here, but not now.
BRO: Part of the four-year plan?
BRO: What else goes into that? I mean, when you got here, the numbers were down, the players didn't have a lot of experience playing at a really high level …
BP: I think it was just … you know, the numbers were down. Who is the kid that decided he was going to give up football? Aleksey Lanis. He was a starter. You know, then I didn't think the strength level when we got here for this team was what it should be, and that's why coach brought in Mike Linn. It's been a gradual process, and it wasn't anything that was going to happen overnight. And, like I said, we've had guys go on missions and guys get hurt with Maiava breaking an ankle and Baca breaking a leg … you know, Baca ineligible academically last year. It's been one thing after another. I plug up one hole in the dam and it springs a leak over here.
BRO: And you've only got two hands …
BP: Right. But, really, I feel confident. I feel good. We're not there yet. This process is not over, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel here. I just hope I have enough time to complete the mission, because I've been dealt some bad cards in a high-stakes poker game.
BRO: You mentioned Coach Mastro and the nuances. What did you do in the spring to get the line from where it was to where it is now, to where you're feeling comfortable?
BP: You know, Jim is working with the tight ends and the F's and he kind of works with everybody when it comes to the running game. And, what he brings to the table is just tremendous experience in this offense, in the read zone offense. I thought we did a good job last year, having just gone through that for the very first time. And, now though, I'll tell you, we're able to take it to another level.
I think everybody has a better understanding now, we've gone through it for an entire season and a spring and so, I mean, we can hit the field running here. They've seen it, and they understand. And when you understand you can play faster.
We can take it to another level. I'm really confident if we can and I'll be extremely disappointed if we can't. Like I said, we have a year under our belts and Jim Mastro knows the nuances that will make us more productive.
BRO: Is it a matter of being boiled down, simpler, targeting the right guys?
BP: It's a matter of play calling. Taking advantage of what the defense gives us.
BRO: Was there ever a point last year where you thought, ‘OK, they have a pretty good grasp of this now.'
BP: I think it was just a gradual learning experience throughout the year. You just roll your sleeves up and keep working. We have a long way to go, but I feel confident about what we can do.