Interview: Robert Cleary

Redshirt junior <b>Robert Cleary</b> is having a break-out season starting at offensive guard. He talks about how for the last three years he's been working hard and how he thinks it's all come together this season...

Junior offensive guard Robert Cleary had so far been quite in his three years at UCLA. But then, in fall, he stepped up into the starting weakside guard position and has received nothing but praise from the UCLA coaches.

When you came in, you were pretty well hyped out of high school. Then you didn't play much, and now you're starting as a junior. How has the journey been?

"It took me a little while. I think having a new coach, Coach (Tom) Cable, has really helped me out a lot, fundamentally and everything. I think it just takes time. Sometimes it takes a while. I think it all came together, then, and I'm pretty happy about that."

How significant has Coach Cable's impact been on you? If he hadn't come to UCLA, where do you think you'd be?

"I can't answer that questions. I'd be here, I don't know. He really has had a big impact on me. He's given me a lot of confidence. He's been really supportive of me, and supportive of the whole line. It's a different attitude with everybody. I think a lot can be attributed to him. And the whole offense. He's all confidence. It's no b.s. but real confidence. He's just all business about getting ready to go and getting taken care of what we have to take care of."

Was the situation on the offensive line pretty bad before Cable arrived?

"I couldn't answer that. It's kind of a loaded question. I'm happy where we're at right now. I'll tell you that. He's been a big part of that. He's a great coach. He's well respected everywhere. He's coached some great players. And he's doing a great job here with us."

With how you improved, how much of it has been getting stronger, or how much is fundamental, or just more confidence?

"It's all three of those things. You keep working and then it all just kind of comes together and happens, like this year. I don't know if I really did much different. I've always worked hard. I've been here every summer. I've done everything asked of me. I think I had a little more motivation coming in this year. That's how you feel when you have a fresh start. So, you go out there with the attitude of, "Why not? Why can't I do it this year?'"

How has the move from tackle to guard changed things for you?

"I think the reason I'm playing is that the guard position fits my abilities the best. It's suited best to my ability. That's what coach was telling me. What I have to do at that position, the blocks I have to make, are the best ones for me to make. I might not do as well at tackle, but there are tackles who might do as well as what I'm doing at guard. We kind of put the pieces together this year. If you look at it, everyone is practically playing a different position from last year, besides maybe the centers. And we're switching side, which really helps out, just playing one position and learning one thing, it's quite a bit easier."

You utilize a zone blocking scheme, correct?

"Yeah. We're a zone team. We're an outside zone team. But we'll do some gap blocking and do some pulling. We lay our hat on the zone game. That's where we're making all of our yards. That's the basis of our offense."

With zone blocking, do you emphasize less physically taking on your man than making sure you're in the right position?

"That's something that coach Cable first really helped us with a lot, just our blocking. But in the scheme, we really do zone. You see what the Denver Broncos do, and West Coast teams that run the zone effectively, it's the same type of style that we're running. The same type of scheme. It's just not man on man. Defenses, you know they stunt, they do everything. So, it's our system and it works for us."

There have been some accusations that the offensive line is chop blocking. How do you answer that?

"We're going out there and playing honestly. Our integrity doesn't allow us to go out and try to hurt anybody. We block, and it's an intense game at the line of scrimmage. We're going to give it all, every play. We don't want anybody to get hurt. We don't try to hurt anybody, and we don't try to make any illegal blocks. Sometimes we'll hit a guy, and they fall under their own players and they think we high-lowed them. It's not happening. The referees aren't calling flags on us, and you know we're not doing it. We won't let ourselves do that. That's not how we want to play. We're not dirty like that."

How is it rotating with Robert Chai?

"It's cool. We both stay fresh. We both can go out there rested. Playing Pac-10 football, you have to be able to have depth, have some guys who are ready to go in there. It's working out well. Our line is doing good, and that's all that matters."

What do you think you still need to improve upon?

"I think I need to work on my strength a lot. I can see improvement overall from my first game to my fourth game. Just getting the experience of actually playing against other people than just our own team in practice really helps. My feet, you can always get better. But it's probably strength. I'm a 300-pounder, so it's not like I need to put on more weight. I just need to get a little more strength, so I can do some more things. But you can always improve on everything."


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