What a difference a year makes.
I don't know if anyone caught it, but the Bruins right tackle spoke with the media on Tuesday after practice following the beginning of preparations for the home opener against Virginia.
The Bruin players are so smooth with interviews, and the upperclassmen especially. They are obviously intelligent and accomplished young men and have gotten quite good at giving the right answers to the media. The majority of questions from the media are pretty predictable and aren't much of a surprise, so it's easy to be prepared with a good solid textbook reply.
But remember that this was a Virginia defense that tied the Bruin offense in knots last year. The Bruins had the ball on offense 12 times but scored on only one single drive in the entire game. The Hoos' D blitzed the Bruins incessantly, bringing extra men from every different direction and the line was woefully unprepared. They threw a typically piecemeal unit into chaos and stuffed the Bruins' vaunted offense with numerous tackles for loss and harassed its Heisman candidate QB for 5 sacks and several more hurries and scrambles.
With all of that for reference, there would obviously be a lot of eyes on this player and his unit this game.
So he was asked about the Bruins struggles against the Virginia defense last year, he pointed out there were some new faces on the line last fall, some injuries, and the challenges of playing on the road, and it contributed to their struggles. He was asked about the surprises the defense threw at them and he said they've studied that game and would be better prepared this time around. He was asked about the new QB this year and he complimented both of the main QBs in preseason camp and that the line would pay well no matter who was starting.
The interview was pretty standard stuff, which is the safe way and generally the right way for a college player to handle this sort of thing.
And then at the end, in one of the bigger (only?) mike drop moments of the preseason, he said something very unusual for a player who knows not to get too controversial or insightful, but something which was as macho a comment as I've heard in a long time.
Reporter: With Coach Klemm out for the Saturday game, who is going to be in charge of calling, I guess, line plays?
Bruin: We're veterans. We don't need anyone in charge of us.
End of interview.
Someone on this site is always wandering around saying things like, "Line wins games". I know it's kinda annoying (which, since I mentioned it, just might happen to be our new band name, though for an entirely different reasons. But if you're ever passing a Colorado bar and you see "Kinda Annoying" on the marquee, come on in...). But let's realize the reason the QB had such a great game is because he had time to throw and room to step up and wasn't getting squashed. When the Virginia D stacked the box to stop the run and dared our true freshman QB to beat them in the air, he promptly destroyed them.
I know we have a bunch of teachers on this site, and I love that because it would of course make Coach very proud. But I bet those teachers all would agree that instilling the right knowledge base and reasoning and problem solving skills in their students to allow them to solve problems on their own without further guidance or direction would represent a measure of success.
As a parent, getting our kids to the point where they can make good and responsible decisions on their own without us having to constantly look over their shoulders and get in their ears would be a measure of success.
So I imagine a coaching staff would be very satisfied to have a team that could go out and play a disciplined and mistake free game and execute at a high level and stay focused through 60 minutes with little direction or redirection or coaching from the sidelines.
Well, that's the ideal goal, anyway. The Bruins certainly weren't there on Saturday, but they were a lot closer than they have been before. Especially that right tackle and his unit. A unit whose center was the de facto coach through spring camp. A unit that hasn't had its position coach for large chunks of the offseason and for the game on Saturday.
This isn't to say the Bruins don't need coaches. They do, and they need them desperately. Football is the most coach dependent of the 4 major sports because the skills required for each position are so unique, and the melding of those skills into an offensive unit or defensive unit is so delicate and complicated, and because a play lasts for 5-10 seconds and then the situation is different and personnel and tactics have to be planned anew.
But the fundamentals are pretty consistent. Know the situation. Attack aggressively and disengage and react. Keep your eyes up and feet moving. Know your responsibilities for each potential circumstance and execute them. Want it more than your opponent. Position doesn't matter. Down and distance don't matter. Hell, football, baseball, hockey, job, school, relationship...it doesn't matter. Those fundamentals apply to pretty much anything in life. And when the player or employee or student has the awareness and maturity and motivation to do those things on his or her own, then you've got a winner.
I love my kids more than anything, but I think my ultimate goal is to make myself obsolete from a parenting point of view. As much as I'd love to just have fun all the time, there are responsibilities that need to be handled, and they still need a fair amount of direction in that area. Each day, I have to ask them if they've done their homework, and then when they say yes, I have to show them the email from their teachers with their homework assignments that they forgot about. And I have to remind them to get their gear ready for hockey or soccer, and when they ask if they have practice today I have to remind them they have some sort of practice during every free moment of my life. And I have to remind them to do their chores and when they seem surprised that they have to be done again so soon I have to point out that the dog poops every day and the grass continues to grow (sorry, California). But as they get older each year, they get better about knowing their assignments and starting them themselves, and packing up hockey bags or soccer bags and getting food and water ready for practices, and taking care of the dog and the yard. Someday I hope to get to the point where they really will have all the homework done and all their materials studied and practices managed and chores done, because then we can just spend our time dogpiled on the couch together watching movies and drinking root beer floats, which is what life is really all about. I can shepherd them now, but I won't, and can't, and shouldn't always be there over their shoulders. My success as a parent will have a lot to do with how prepared they are when they I'm not around and they are making their own calls.
In the end, the coaches, or teachers, or parents can only do so much, and then it's up to the players, or students, or children to go get the job done. The coaches can (and should) finesse some necessary guidance and changes along the way for our Bruins, but football still comes down to a linebacker making a tackle, and a corner breaking up a pass, and a receiver catching a ball and the QB getting it there. And it comes down to an O Line reading a defense and accounting for a blitz and adjusting to a stunt and making a block and driving a defender away from the guy with the ball.
So when I hear one of our linemen, a player who has been part of a group which has been very visibly embattled in the past, quickly shrug off a question and say he doesn't need a coach for the game this weekend, that shows me a player who is ready and willing to show his independence and self motivation and take ownership for his performance. It's a guy saying, "I got this".
And how well he does in that moment will be an example of how successful his coaches have been in getting him groomed for that moment. And he and his linemates "got it" yesterday.
I do find it very interesting that one of his greatest successes as a Bruin came while his regular position coach was absent, but that's a different blogpost.
It's one game. The QB is not a Heisman candidate. The opponents are going to get tougher. The games will be in more hostile environments. The consequences will get heavier. And all of those things will put stress on those players when it comes time to make decisions and execute them.
But one guy on this team sounds like the kind of kid, and student, and football player who is ready to accept the responsibility and challenge that comes with his position.
I think we have a lot of players like that on this team. And if we have enough, it's going to be a really fun season.