Aug. 3, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO - California participated in the annual Bay Area Media Day Thursday in San Francisco. Read below for comments from head coach Jeff Tedford, as well as seniors Daymeion Hughes, Erik Robertson and Desmond Bishop.
Head coach Jeff Tedford
We at Cal have been working very hard this summer. Our players have been very dedicated in what they've been doing, not only on the field but also at summer school, and we're very proud of what they've done.
We're really excited about this season. Going into this season, we're more experienced than we were last year. Last year, we were the youngest team in the Pac-10. We have a lot more experience this year. We have eight returners on defense and seven on offense. We feel like they've really been able to come together over this last season - not only through a season in which we ran into some adversity along the way, but in the off-season. I thought they did a great job, from winter conditioning to spring football, to really come together as a team.
There are high expectations at Cal, and we're embracing those high expectations. Our players, that's why they came here, to be mentioned in preseason as far as top 10 and those types of things. But our players also understand that those things really mean nothing, that we've got a lot of hard work to do, that expectation is all external, and that the expectation that really counts is the internal expectation of how we expect to prepare each and every day as we go through camp and enter the season.
We open the season at Tennessee, which is going to be a great challenge for our program. Tennessee is traditionally a great football program and they were down last year, so they're going to be very motivated to get back on track.
You brought two defensive players and one on offense - what does that say about your defense? You've got a lot of returners and were very dominant at times last year.
We feel good about our defense, with eight returners. You look at the defensive line, led by Brandon Mebane, who is a real force inside, who really demands a lot of attention - you really need to double-team him or he's going to make for a long day. And then Nu'u Tafisi, of course, at defensive end - those guys up front really are the leaders.
At linebacker, we've probably got the most gifted group of linebackers we've had, led by Desmond Bishop, who is a senior, and two freshmen All-Americans - Anthony Felder and Worrell Williams - and we feel like were really athletic at that position.
The two corners have started for three years for us. Timmy Mixon and Daymeion Hughes have played a lot of games for us. So we feel good about the experience we have on defense, the talent we have there, and the continuity we have on the coaching staff. Coach (Bob) Gregory has done a great job of putting the guys in position to be successful. These guys should be a very solid unit having one more year of experience under their belt.
With all the talk about Cal's offense, does the defense get overlooked at times?
I think they do, yes. I don't know if that has something to do with the fact that the head coach is seen as more affiliated with the offense - maybe that has something to do with it - but if you look at our defensive stats, our defense has been tops in the conference in a lot of different areas, in the top 10 (nationally), as well. Two years ago, we were the only team in the top six in rush and pass defense, but I do think the defense can get overlooked.
With so many quarterbacks in the fold, how do you evaluate so many different guys?
We're going to have to make a decision early because we cannot continue to have four or five guys taking reps. They're all going to get reps in the beginning, but then we're going to have to cut it back and start putting it more proportional for who's competing for the spot, really. The first few days of practice will really tell that.
When do you expect to make a decision on your quarterback?
Probably by the end of the first week of practice, we'll probably start cutting the reps back and start narrowing in on who really needs a lot of reps. Given some of the different techniques and fundamentals in some of our new offense, it's very important that you hone in on who's really taking those reps.
Has Joe Ayoob shown anything to make you think he might be able to win the job back?
Absolutely. Ayoob had a great spring, very solid. His focus is much different than a year ago. Coming in as a junior-college transfer, you don't really know what it's all about, and there's a lot of things different with Joe. Joe really realizes the importance of the play of the quarterback position at this level, he realizes the focus that it takes, the attention to detail on fundamentals, so I'm really proud of the way Joe has worked. He's gained probably 20 pounds, up to 225 pounds, he's just solid weight. He's just really, really worked hard, and I'm really proud of how he's persevered through some tough times last year.
Could those tough times help him the long run?
Absolutely. I think he's going to be able to draw on that because he has told me that he knows that he can play quarterback in the Pac-10. He understands what went on last year, and he also understands that he's worked hard to overcome those things. I'm sure he will draw on the times that he did have success, because he did have success last year. But I think last year got as bad as it could possibly get. It could only get better for him. So I think that's really taken some of the pressure off of him.
Which quarterback's talents best lend themselves to your style of offense?
I think they all do. There's going to be a little more shotgun implemented into the offense, and I think when the quarterback runs, if you were to say, "Who are the best runners?" you'd have to say that Joe and Steve [Levy] and Kyle [Reed] are more runners than Nate [Longshore]. That's not to say that Nate can't run, but you know, those guys are more productive as runners right now.
How has Kyle done in terms of his knowledge of the offense during the spring?
He's still learning. It's a lot for any young guy to handle. He came along during the spring but he's got a lot more to learn, so this camp's going to be very valuable for him to continue to learn our system.
With the high-profile first game, the high rankings and expectations, is all that a good way to start the season for this team?
I think it's good for this team, because we do have experience. I think we have people on this team that have high expectations, and I don't think that they're fazed or overconfident because of the expectations, because we talk all the time about the external expectations from media, polls and things like that. We don't focus on those. The expectation that we do focus on is the expectation of preparing to our fullest every single day. If we can do that, to reach our full potential, then we have a chance to play well against anyone on our schedule.
I think going to Tennessee will be a good thing for us, to be able to start the season off against a traditionally strong opponent in a hostile environment. I think our kids are going to really look forward to it.
Are you doing anything in camp to prepare the team for the humidity in Tennessee?
Yes, we will practice off-site, we'll wet the field down. We're going to try to find as much heat as we can, wet the field and try to create some humidity. We're going to try and simulate, as much as possible, that environment, whether it be with noise or weather.
What are the strong suits of each quarterback that you have?
Nate, with the mental experience from being around Reggie Robertson and Aaron Rodgers, the preparation of being in the offense and game-planning, he has the most experience in that regard. He doesn't have the on-field experience of Joe, on the other hand, but the physical part with Nate - he's a big, 6-5, 235-pound sophomore with a great arm and can throw any ball on the field - he's got a lot of positives.
Joe is the most experienced quarterback we have as far as playing time on our team. He has been through a season of game-planning, of game preparation. Of course, his assets as far as his physical attributes are his athleticism and mobility. He's a very strong competitor and a very tough guy.
And then Steve, his attributes are his competitiveness, his love for the game and his passion for game.
Kyle's attributes are that he's big, strong and fast, and probably possesses all the physical tools - being able to run and throw - but still needs some seasoning as far as the experience and the mental part and the game preparation.
Any concern about the offensive line? Having lost three starters, with all of them getting drafted, that's a pretty major loss for any team. How are you adjusting to that?
The offensive line situation is going to a be key focus in camp. Losing those three guys, they played a lot of games for us and they were very big, powerful guys. You're talking about guys in [Ryan] O'Callaghan and [Aaron] Merz that were 330-360-pound guys, and an All-American center in [Marvin] Philip. So yes, there is going to be a learning curve there for some of the guys up front. We feel like we're talented there. It's going to be a focus to try to get eight to nine guys who can fit in at different positions, but we feel like we're athletic there.
We feel that Alex Mack at center will replace Marvin just fine. Andrew Cameron coming back really gives us some experience at the left tackle position. Erik Robertson has played a lot of games for us, and Scott Smith was a starter last year after Cameron went down, so there's some experience there. [Bryan] Deemer has played for us, Noris Malele has played for us, but I'm really excited about the addition of Tyler Krieg, the transfer from Duke, and the junior-college transfer Mike Gibson, who have just been doing great things in the weight room. They're really athletic, big, physical guys, so I'm really excited about how those guys are going to fit in and make strong contributions to that front.
Is there anything new to report on Steve Levy's situation beyond his one-game suspension?
His situation was resolved yesterday. He's back with the team and will report with everyone else. But he will not make the trip to Tennessee.
With the changes on the offensive line and the new spread offense, how does that affect Marshawn Lynch?
We're still going to be able to run the ball from two backs and do those types of things. To implement the run game out of the spread is something that people can be very successful with, and I feel like we will have success running the ball out of the spread. I think our line is very athletic, and if you put together our speed and talent at the receivers, when you spread the field, they better go out and cover those guys. And if they do, that creates running lanes inside. And so it may be an advantage for us to create more running lanes for our running back s to run through.
How much will you use the spread offense?
It will depend on personnel and situations. We'll see a lot of that through camp, when we'll figure all that out. It could depend who our opponent is, what the personnel match-ups are, what the situations are - a lot goes into it, so we don't have this magical number or percentage. It's all going to be dictated by who we're playing and what our game plan is.
Are you still calling the plays this year?
Mike and I will both call them. If I want to jump in right after a play, I'll just call the personnel group and he'll know I have it then. But he's going to be prepared to call all the plays, too.
So you will have veto power then?
I won't do that. We won't have enough time to do that. Especially with the clock the way it is now. We've been doing a lot of research with clock management, and it's going to be imperative that we get going right away. We want more plays in a game, not less plays, so we have to be efficient and get the plays in.
Defensive back Daymeion Hughes
On playing at Tennessee in the season-opener:
"I feel like it's the most important game of the season. It's the first game, and we're anxious to get out there. We experienced some adversity last season, and we've built up a lot of expectations. That's going to be the first challenge for us, to get in there and handle business."
On what it will take to win the Pac-10 championship:
"We have a lot of talent on our team, so it's just about everybody getting together on the same page, being really cohesive out there and supporting each other. That's going to be the most important thing, and really just trying to gel as a team."
On being a national power for the past few seasons:
"It's more expected now than it was a couple years ago. You expect to win games, and you know which teams are going to give you a challenge. We still try to take every game just as seriously as the others, but we're in a position now where people are challenging us. We look at it differently than being an underdog."
Offensive Lineman Erik Robertson
On preseason expectations:
"I think we're handling it great. I can't say what's going to happen once you start playing, but all summer, I think the younger guys especially have a done a great job. We have a lot of returners, and that's really good because it's easier for older guys to deal with that and I think they've done a great job. I can't say the expectations have had an effect on me; I'm just worried about myself and I'm just going to play my game."
On preparing for Tennessee:
"We talk about that all the time, with the noise and the hostility. I think one of the best things they did was when we had our 6:30 conditioning before spring football. It's 6 in the morning in the locker room and you'll be hearing the Tennessee fight song. The loudest stadium I played in was Oregon last year; it's still a loud stadium, but not as many people. I'm excited because I like the hostility, it makes it more interesting."
Linebacker Desmond Bishop
On the match-up against USC:
"We beat them in 2003 and that sparked a rivalry. We're looking forward to it. They got us last year, so of course we're going to come back this year even harder and hopefully come out with a victory."
On the team's national recognition:
"We've been getting a little bit of publicity, but it's kind of blown up now. We have an opportunity to be mentioned with the top teams in the country. Opportunity is knocking right now, and we're focused on answering the call."