As the California football team completes the second-to-last practice of training camp Friday afternoon at Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium, the Golden Bears are focusing on the season opener at Northwestern. Following Friday's practice, linebackers coach Garret Chachere had a chance to sit down with CalBears.com and discuss how the linebackers are doing in another installment of Coaches Corner.
CalBears.com: With camp winding down, how would you assess the linebackers these past few weeks?
Garret Chachere: I'm really happy with their progress. The older guys are leading and the younger guys are following. Both groups of guys are working hard and I see improvement everyday. Are they perfect? No, but they strive and they’re working to be perfect everyday. That helps them get better and that helps you as a coach.
CB: Which of the newcomers really impressed you throughout camp?
GC: All of them.Every kid who’s here either as a freshmen or a junior-college transfer in their first year, I’m very pleased. A lot of times you enter a season with freshmen and junior-0college guys and you say ‘we misevaluated that one or we missed on that one.’ I’m very pleased with all of them. Even our freshmen walk-ons are doing a heck of a job.
CB: What are you hoping to see from Michael Barton this year? Is he the leader of your group?
GC: We have a number of leaders. We have Michael Barton, Jalen Jefferson, Hardy Nickerson and then even a guy who’s hurt for us right now in Nate Broussard. Those guys are our leaders. They’re our older guys. We’re really heavily loaded with younger and first-year kids so all four of those guys are our leaders. What I expect out of Michael Barton is what I expect out of Hardy and Jalen and that is to lead the group both with their emotion, with their knowledge and with their toughness, and then for them to lead us into victories. So hopefully they’ll stay healthy and help us win games, but if they’re not for whatever reason, they’ll bring these younger guys along where someone needs to step in for one of them.
CB: Can you talk about what freshman Devante Downs brings to the unit?
GC: Devante has done a great job. As I mentioned before, all the freshmen are doing well. Devante is a guy who has a lot of talent and it’s showing more and more everyday. This is the first time he’s played the middle linebacker position but he’s shown an aptitude to have a great future here. He just needs to keep on going, keep learning and keep trying hard. He’s just a freshman, but you wouldn’t know it sometimes and then sometimes you know he’s a freshman. You just got to keep reminding yourself that he is a freshman and be realistic, but he’s doing great.
CB: What makes your coaching style unique?
GC: My mom was a teacher for 35 years. I kind of look at coaching football as teaching football. If you come at it from that point of view, you teach the game to the kids instead of yelling at them and thinking they should know it. What you want them to do is learn the game and then be able to transfer it on the field. If you can’t teach them how to associate words and concepts then it’ll never happen. Teach them concepts, and if they can learn the concepts, they can learn the game. I try to have everybody involved and try to play as many people as possible. If you can play as many people as possible, the guys will prepare because they know they’re gonna play. It keeps morale up, it keeps the togetherness and the brotherhood going.
CB: What's your favorite drill for the linebackers? How do you feel it prepares them for game situations?
GC: My favorite drill I do is a drill called ‘Devlin’s Triangle’ and it’s named after a coach who I coached with at the beginning of my coaching career. I’ve taken that drill and kind of adapted it a little bit. His last name was Devlin and that’s why it’s called Devlin’s Triangle. It teaches the linebackers to read pulls and to fit really tightly on these pulls. A lot of times the linebacker will miss it and if he does see it, he doesn’t know how to fit it. This drill really trains their eyes to see the pulls and know where to fit. I’d say easily that’s my favorite drill. If you ask any linebacker here or any linebacker I’ve ever coached they would tell you that’s my favorite drill.
CB: Besides X's and O's, what life lessons do you try to preach to your players?
GC: I would say basically appreciate the opportunity. Remember why you came here. Most of the kids will tell you they came here to play big-time football and get a big-time education and I always remind them of that and not to cheat themselves of that. Not to cheat that 17-year-old kid, that 18-year-old kid who said I can go here and play football and get the best education. Well if you’re not giving your all in football, your not going to be able to play your best football. If your not giving your all in education, you’re not going to be able to reap all the rewards for coming to a place like Cal. I’m really big on guys saying ‘thank you’ to people who have helped them along the way. People that help you like to hear that. If you know that someone’s helped you then you’re more apt to help someone else going forward in life.
CB: What have been the biggest differences in your unit between last spring and now?
GC: I see a tremendous change and improvement for the positive. Guys know the system better, I know the system better. I think we’ve also improved because the guys know me better and I know them better on a personal level. When it comes to football, they understand what I expect, the things that I’m really a stickler about and the things that I may give them a little leeway to make their own decisions. In a game, they’re out there, I’m not out there. So you have to give them some leeway to make some decisions. On the field, they know me better and I know them better. Off the field, I know them better and they know me better.
CB: The coaching staff talks about being fast. How important is it to have 7-8 guys that you can cycle in and out?
GC: If you can cycle guys in and out of the game, it keeps people fresh in the fourth quarter when you need people to be fresh. But you can’t do that unless everybody is ready to play. That goes back to preparing the guys where everybody can play. When you get the guys in there, they know what they’re doing. Everybody feels good about them knowing what they’re doing and they’re going to give it 100 percent. Not only do they know they’re getting in, but they know they’re going to get back in. So when you do that kind of stuff, guys go out there and play as hard as they can because when they’re tired we’ll put somebody in and when those guys get tired we’ll put them back in. So when we talk about playing fast, that’s a key component to playing fast.
CB: Any names we should keeping an eye out for?
GC: Hardy Nickerson, Jalen Jefferson and Michael Barton are our three older guys. Really when it comes to younger guys, I hate to mention one because I think all of them are going to help us. It’s like your children, you don’t like one more than the other. You love them all, you don’t love one more than another. I think all of them are going to play for us this year, but again, those freshmen have a lot to prove. The names that I’d like to throw out there are Jefferson, Barton and Nickerson. They’ve been here awhile and those are the guys that everybody needs to keep their eye on. They’ll determine our success defensively.