Another practice in the books for the California football team as the Golden Bears completed the fourth day of training camp on a sun-drenched Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium Thursday afternoon. Following practice, assistant head coach/passing game coordinator/outside receivers coach Rob Likens sat down with CalBears.com to discuss how his wide receivers are progressing in the first installment of Coaches Corner.
CalBears.com: How do you think the team will benefit from having so many veteran wide receivers returning for the 2014 season?
Rob Likens: It really helps, especially the quarterback. When you drop back, you've got all these dudes running at you trying to sack you, and if you don’t have full confidence that all of your guys are going to be where they’re supposed to be, you end up playing a little bit timid. You’re not playing as fast or making fast decisions. Now he has great confidence that they’re all going to be where they’re supposed to be and he can think faster, make decisions faster and just throw the ball in spots knowing his guys are going to be there.
CB: Who has really stood out to you over these first few practices?
RL: The four guys that have just done a great job are Kenny Lawler, Maurice Harris and we’ve elevated both of them. We just call both of them starters. They’re getting even reps. Same thing with Chris Harper and Trevor Davis. They start alternate reps so they’re both considered starters, and right now, they’re both doing a great job. Patrick Worstell, he’s a walk-on, and he’s really made a big jump from the spring too.
CB: What do you expect to see from the returners this season?
RL: Playing faster. We made too many mistakes in games and played a little hesitant in pressure situations, like we didn’t know what we were doing or weren’t sure. They knew what they were doing, but they played slow trying to figure things out. I think that we’re past that point. Now they can just play fast and I think we’ll be a faster offense because of it.
CB: Are there any new names you predict to embrace bigger roles this year?
RL: Jack Austin was a kid that was a redshirt freshman last year and I could see him playing in some games and doing some good stuff.
CB: Are there any camp traditions that you like to take part in or have your players take part in?
RL: We do have a talent contest sometimes. The coaches don't participate in it but the players do a lot of imitating the coaches, which is always great to see. The greatest form of complementation is someone trying to impersonate you.
CB: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of camp from a coach’s perspective?
RL: It’s time consuming. It’s like every second of your day is taken up and you’ve got to really have a tight schedule because you’re going to get an hour off here, maybe a half an hour off here and your body is going to say rest, but you know you can't, especially if you're going to watch film of your upcoming opponent. So any time I get some alone time or some quality time for myself, I spend it watching Northwestern film.
CB: And your favorite part?
RL: My favorite part is you kind of isolate yourself from the world for a month. You don't worry about politics. You don’t worry about anything else. All you do is just think about football and it’s kind of refreshing.
CB: What makes your coaching style unique?
RL: I’ve always believed that it’s my job to try to create an environment to be motivated, have fun and enjoy themselves at practice. Football practice to me is mundane and it’s hard, so on top of that you don’t want someone constantly screaming at you. I didn’t learn that way. I did not like people yelling at me all the time, that just didn’t motivate me. I tend to coach guys the way I was motivated and I try to bring a lot of energy to practice. I try to get them to be able to have fun, and as I coach them, I try to talk to them like men. The only time I yell at guys is when they’re loafing, when they deserve to get chewed out, but other than that, I’m trying to coach them and just trying to teach them to be the best wide receivers in this conference. I'm trying to teach them the finer details and they want to learn. They’re very hungry for that and that's what I think is unique about myself.
CB: What's your favorite drill for the wide receivers. How do you feel it prepares them for game situations?
RL: Every day we work on goal line routes, and whether we’re running corner routes, slants, fades, whatever, I love that because you watch football most of the time down in the goal line, down inside the five-yard line. Those are the pressure times of the game, so that’s where it’s going to show whether you’re prepared or not, whether you are going to choke. Everybody gets under pressure in the game. You look out and the fans are all standing, final seconds are clicking off the clock and a lot of guys just forget their technique and they just run and they don’t get open. So we work on that situation every single time we walk out here, that’s my favorite part. That why I think Kenny [Lawler] caught five touchdown passes in a two-game span using great technique on the goal line.
CB: To what level are you hoping to see the wide receivers elevate their game to by the time camp is over?
RL: I want to be the best in the Pac-12, no question they do too. That’s what we’re going to be.
CB: Besides X's and O's, what life lessons do you try to preach to your players?
RL: That life is short. I tell them that all the time. As a matter of fact, I do a really weird drill. I put an age up on the board that if I live to be the age of 70 years old, this is how many days I have on the Earth. Every day I come in there and I erase one of those days and say ‘one of my days is gone, guys. Life is short, you better take advantage of it right now.' So I try to teach them the importance of every single day. Try to be great. Don’t waste today doing things that don’t matter.