Many thanks to Ed Lewis and his crew from Bruin Sports Report for sharing multiple videos following today's practice as the Bruins prepare for Saturday's game against UC Berkeley. Unlike the intelligent, thoughtful, and analytical people who participate on BN, some "fans" get confused by big words and complex sentences, so this is a perfect way to get the message out today to all our brother Bruins. BN folks can watch, consider, and react.
First off: Head Coach Jim Mora
Some bullet points for those who are able (and willing) to read:
- The Bruins heard from the Pac-12 re punch in the Oregon game and discipline will be handled in -house. Hard to know what that means but it doesn't sound like a conference-imposed suspension is forthcoming.
- Mora highlighted that this regime has done some good things in the last two years and it's important they continue their progress and not panic after a couple bad weeks.
- The coaching staff tweaks their approach every week and will do the same for Cal. No specifics.
- Conor McDermott will get some increased workload but the staff doesn't think he is ready to go full time. They will continue to put in more packages to get him involved and Mora can see him getting more confident with his shoulder.
- The coach expanded his comments on kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn saying they are encouraging him and trying to give him guidance to keep his confidence up.
Second: DL Eddie Vanderdoes
First things, first, about that punch you threw in the Oregon game...
- Vanderdoes called his punch a "dumb" and "stupid" decision and he regrets it. He didn't take the easy excuse to blame an Oregon player for provoking it (even though there was probably something). He also didn't say what his specific punishment from the team would be. For a sophomore, I think his response here is pretty mature: he takes responsibility and lays no blame. Real maturity would have been not to throw the punch in the first place, but he is trying to replace Cassius Marsh, after all. Hopefully the young man has learned form this.
- EVD said the D line had trouble shedding blocks v the Oregon O Line and that contributed to the defense's trouble stopping the run.
- He thinks the defense probably suffered from too much intrinsic pressure lately and that the game got to feel more like a job. He noted today's environment at practice seemed a lot more fun and relaxed and he thinks that will translate to better performance going forward.
- He expects to see Cal go with both quarterbacks this week to give a different look for the UCLA defense and notes that Cal starting QB Jared Goff is a "stud" and the WRs are "unreal".
- Being a No Cal guy, Eddie expects to have a lot of his friends and family at the game this weekend.
The D line has been a real strength of the defense this year, and they frankly had a really bad game last Saturday. Kenny Clark was double teamed frequently and the rest of the DL didn't take advantage of their opportunities one on one. Remember, line wins games. Get off those blocks and mind your gaps.
Next up: OLB Deon Hollins
- Hollins talks about the problems stopping the run game and notes guys are missing their gaps and stresses the importance of discipline and fit it up properly. He said the onus is on them to play smarter and more efficient.
- Hollins also said they are preparing for both Cal QBs this week and they "definitely won't catch us by surprise".
- He noted that Mora stressed the importance for the defense to "get back flying around and have fun", and that the team has been "uptight" in recent weeks with the expectations. He feels like the team was a lot looser at practice today.
- Hollins says he prefers to start in a three point stance as he feels he has more explosion that way, though he has the freedom to start either up or down.
Hollins is one of those guys on D who is so quick and athletic he almost has to rein himself in a bit to stay square to the play and maintain his edge. He is relatively light so he does present a target for an opposing rushing scheme, and so his ability to control of this edge is really key to keeping QBs in the pocket and keeping the run game contained. Also, I'm sure I have, but I can't right now recall watching any videos of Hollins before, but he comes off as really articulate and well spoken. At this point, we have two defensive players who say they seemed to feel some stress from the expectations this year.
Now, OL Conor McDermott.
As expected, much of the talk centered on McDermott's injured shoulder and his ongoing recovery.
- Conor said it was a good experience to get back on the field. He said his shoulder is "feeling a lot better since fall camp" and "it felt healthy on the field"
- He added he needs to keep working on his shoulder in the training room as he doesn't have all his range of motion back. McDermott complimented Coach Alosi and the training staff for both his improving strength and confidence during his recovery.
- McDermott has gotten some playing time at tight end in specific running packages and he has appreciated the opportunity to get on the field, regardless of position. As Mora said above, look for his role to expand as he works himself back in to game shape and speed.
We've seen Malcolm Bunche and Caleb Benenoch get the snaps at offensive tackle this year, but they are both better fits as guards. Conor is one of the team's true offensive tackles and his recovery could be pretty important for the struggling offensive line. The unit did play better in the 4th quarter on Saturday when he came in the game but it's hard to judge how much of that was the lineup change versus the lopsided score at that point. Either way, we're always rooting for our players to get healthy and to be able to contribute and hopefully McDermott's comeback will keep gaining momentum.
Next, defensive captain, ILB Eric Kendricks
I love Kendricks. Dude is such a badass on the field. And I wish I had his hair.
- Eric's brother Mychal, a LB for the Philadelphia Eagles, has a bye this week and he'll be down for the game - on the opposite sideline. Mychal played for Cal. They haven't talked about the game yet, but "the week's early" he said with a smile.
- Kendricks talked more about defensive assignments and how the team popped their gaps more in the third quarter against Oregon. That's when the game got out of hand and he stressed how important it is they maintain their assignments and responsibility throughout the play.
- The Bruins have struggled at Cal in recent years and they'll need to come out hard and fast and play with a of enthusiasm from the start. Kendricks also mentioned the need for the team to play like its having fun, and the defensive captain acknowledged that expectations weighed on the team earlier. That's 3 defensive players making that comment. He did counter that today's practice was great and things felt better today than last week.
Kendricks had an unusually bad performance against Oregon, but he has been so great for so long, he's forgiven for a bad game. IEAngel can speak to this better, but I think at least some of Eric's game on Saturday was him getting frustrated and chasing plays when other defenders missed assignments, which then put himself out of position. Last Saturday aside, I'll still take EK as my starting ILB over anyone in this conference. Let's hope he has bragging rights over big brother next Saturday afternoon.
Finally, Center Jake Brendel
- Brendel says the OL is (finally) officially working on the same page and getting comfortable with each other in the run blocking game and that has contributed to the success that Paul Perkins has had recently.
- He called Conor McDermott a "solid guy" and a "technician". He also complimented Kenny Lacy and his natural attributes as he has seen more playing time lately next to Jake at left guard.
- Jake said that while losing two games in a row is never a good thing, the Bruins need to take the opportunities they learned from similar circumstances in previous seasons to teach the new players how to overcome this current losing streak. Similarly, he said the Utah game exposed some of their mistakes that they were able to correct against Oregon the following week.
Brendel has been the bedrock in a sandy offensive line this year, and we saw how the offense suffered in his absence in the Virginia game. I do have to ask, if he really feels that the line really has come together, why it took 6 games to get to this point. It just further raises questions about the effectiveness of the coaching staff with this particular unit. Line wins games. We're 4-2.
Thanks again to Ed Lewis and BSR for sharing all today's post practice videos. He runs a great site over there, and the recruiting news and inside info (available for subscription) is top notch, so hop over and check it out. You can also check out all the other material on Ed Lewis's YT Channel here.
Around the internets, Dan Greenspan with the AP had an interesting article on Yahoo! Sports today that touches on some of the comments from our players regarding how the team appears to have struggled with the massive preseason expectations. I am a believer that players, coaches, and teams can learn how to win. There is something to the idea of "been there, done that". Now it doesn't apply perfectly - witness the Kansas City Royals right now. But for a Bruins team that had never been lauded with legitimate National Championship hopes, the lofty expectations might have been too heavy a burden. That doesn't excuse the results this year. It's on the coaching staff to set a tone that puts the players (and themselves) in the best place to succeed, and the talk from the players above suggests that whatever tone was set within the locker room didn't pan out that way. In any case, with championship hopes now essentially extinguished, it will be interesting to see how the Bruins respond this week at a place that has been a horror show for over a decade.
But finding themselves back in the role of underdogs might not be such a bad thing, receiver Jordan Payton said.
''To be honest with you, I like that mindset,'' Payton said. ''I have always thrived on that mindset. I can't speak for the other 120 (players), but from the looks of the locker room it seems like they are doing just fine.''
While no one wants a return to the Gutty Little Bruins days that the article recalls, this team has the talent to compete on a national level. It's clear that it has lacked the mentality and the leadership to compete on a national level. The season hasn't gone the way any of us hoped, but if the players, and more importantly the coaching staff, take the lessons from this season and make the necessary changes that will allow this program to thrive in an atmosphere of high expectations going forward, then maybe something positive can come out of these two disappointing weeks.
We'll see how the Bruins come out this Saturday.
Of course, there's the other factor that the Bruins are on the road.
If UCLA is able to convert that spectacular running into a win, it would continue the unlikely trend of road dominance in the Pac-12 this season. The home team is just 4-14 in conference games, with all three of the Bruins' conference games going to the visitor.
''I was actually looking at that the other day, teams losing at home,'' Payton said. ''I don't know what it is. Maybe all the teams are getting complacent.''