Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio had just completed a recent spring practice when he pulled out a piece of paper that included his agenda for the afternoon. It called for such activities as kicking off with his eyes closed, kicking off with his eyes open, kicking off with a ball and kicking off without a ball.
New special teams coach Jeff Genyk is leaving no stone unturned. The former head coach at Eastern Michigan has brought a labor-intensive approach to Berkeley, as the Bears attempt to improve a special teams unit that was one of the worst in the Pac-10 last season.
Genyk, a former punter at Bowling Green who also coached All-America kicker Andrew Wellock at Eastern Michigan, has been working hard with Cal kickers Vince D'Amato, David Seawright and Tavecchio to examine every element of their game. Tavecchio and D'Amato combined to go just 15-for-24 on field goals last year, and neither established any consistency driving the ball deep on kickoffs.
"He wants us to be aware of everything, from how we wipe our brow to whether we breathe in our left nostril or right nostril," Tavecchio said. "He has us write down everything that happens, from when we start taking our steps back to actually kicking the ball. It's everything we do — how we warm up, how we kick, how we take our steps, how we breathe when we take our steps, where we look. He wants all of that set in stone."
Genyk says he learned that coaching technique from working with Wellock, who was a Lou Groza Award finalist in 2004. The idea is to have everything become so routine that external factors won't have an impact.
"They have to understand what the fundamental steps are — what they do pre-snap, what they do during the snap and what they do post-snap, and then make it the same over and over and over again, so it becomes unconscious," Genyk said. "That way, the kick in practice is the same as the big kick in October or November."
Genyk's biggest task in his new job is to find a way to improve Cal's punt coverage (No. 83 nationally last season) and kick coverage (No. 58). Obviously, part of improving kick coverage will begin with deeper kicks, but the Bears also were prone to allowing big returns last year.
"From a coverage standpoint, it's about effort, attitude and execution," Genyk said. "It's not necessarily about a fancy scheme. We have to build a foundation. We're doing a lot of boring drills, mundane things. Everybody wants to run down and tackle somebody. But believe me, they are all coming together."
Briggs, an incoming freshman who graduated early from Birmingham High-Van Nuys to enroll in time for spring practice, said somebody mistook him for Lynch on campus.
"I was walking down the street one time, and this guy is like, 'Marshawn Lynch?' I was like, 'No'," Briggs said. "Those are some big shoes to fill."
The physical similarities between Briggs and Lynch are striking. Both are bigger, stronger running backs with long flowing hair that peeks out of their helmets.
"He's bigger than me," Briggs said. "There is some comparison of the physical running. I feel like we probably both have that brute running style."