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Pac-12 Media Day - In-Depth With Cal MLB Jackson Sirmon

July 23, 2023
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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA -One of two sixth-year seniors at this year’s Pac-12 Media Day, veteran middle linebacker Jackson Sirmon was one of the biggest pickups in the portal of 2022, finishing the 2021 season with Washington with 92 tackles, including the game-clinching tackle in UW’s win over Cal in overtime that season. His total was good for fifth in the conference.

The then fifth-year senior lived up to his billing, adding 104 tackles in 2022 for the Bears, good for third in the conference along with a game-changing scoop and score fumble recovery in Cal’s Big Game comeback win over Stanford.

This spring was Sirmon’s fifth spring ball and an opportunity to become battle-tested against Cal’s new offense under new OC Jake Spavital.

"I think it's unique every time you have a new offense," Sirmon said, "I'm excited for it. It's gonna be a lot more similar to the offenses that we're gonna face week-to-week during the season than the previous offense that we had, which will be great. It'll give us a ton of reps. And just the style of offense, we're gonna get a lot more reps in at practice. So it's gonna be good for everybody. We'll have a ton of reps invested in stopping that scheme by the time we get around to the season."

The differences between last spring and this year’s session were marked for the veteran ILB and his defensive squad. 

"Everything," Sirmon said the differences. "One thing that's probably pretty obvious is the quarterback is gonna run, and that's hard to contain. He's really fast so that is challenging. A ton of RPO, a lot of pullers, a lot of what we call problem plays. They've done a good job of dialing up plays that puts one person or several people in conflict in a couple of positions so I think that really stressed the defense and you never know when you're gonna be that guy put in that position. So they keep you on your toes and there's a lot of things you have to worry about."

Last season, the Bears were forced to play a more passive style of defense to compensate for the lack of push on the DL with so many defensive linemen from the 2-deeps out coupled with a young and somewhat inexperienced defensive backfield. This spring saw the defense playing with more of an edge and a style probably better-suited for DC Peter Sirmon.

"I think personnel could play a role in that," Sirmon said. "We did get thin on the D-line, and we even got thin in the secondary towards the end of the season with injuries. This year, we've got a lot of new DBs that I think will help us out, which would be great and if the D-line's back and healthy, I think that will allow us to do some other things this year."

Sirmon was asked if he felt the defense was more aggressive in the spring sessions.

"I think it might have been," Sirmon said. "Part of that is I think we're mixing in some new looks. I think part of that is the new scheme because we have different looks for a new (offensive) scheme. And I think part of that is just our defensive staff does a good job of just trying to, not reinvent, but come up with new things every year so it's not just the same defense so it's not too predictable. So I think they do a good job with that. We'll have some new things this year, we'll run some stuff that we've always run and try and run it better than we have and mix in the aggressive elements.”

Another element of the new look on defense was the addition of a trio of new linebackers who look to factor heavily into the mix this season if not start.

Clemson portal transfer MLB Sergio Allen‍ will be competing to start opposite Sirmon in fall camp and he made his presence felt early.

"I think he had a really nice spring ball," Sirmon said of Allen. "I'm excited to see what he does during fall camp. I think he's done a great job of coming in and working his tail off. He's a great dude, really easy to get along with and a great teammate.

"I think he's a really tough player where he's not afraid to stick his nose in there on plays and hit people, hit O-linemen and run forward and cause some havoc. He's done a good job of picking up the defense. And I think he'll take another step during fall camp.

On the outside, another new linebacker is Florida transfer David Reese, yet another sixth-year senior. The former Gator made his presence felt quickly in spring ball.

"I think he's he's another guy that's done a really good job. The guys on the team love him. He's a great teammate. Hilarious dude. He's a good-looking player. He's built really well. He made some good plays in spring ball. He's another guy as he continues to pick up the defense will get better and better. So I think he's poised to carve out a nice role and have a good season. He's got some great tools and I think he'll be able to help us out."

A third addition who is technically not a new addition but one who will be new to the field this season is redshirt from ILB Kaleb Elarms-Orr‍, who spent last season rehabbing from an ACL injury sustained during his senior season of high school at Moreau (Hayward, CA).

"He's doing great," Sirmon said of Elarms-Orr. "He's taken a big jump in the mental aspect of the game, picking up the defense. But he's a fantastic athlete. He's kind of athlete that if he goes to a combine, he's one of the guys that would stick out. He's very fast and very explosive and as he's kind of paired that up with taking that step mentally, his game has improved a lot and he has an opportunity to have a really nice season for us and carve out a role in the team."

Yet another new face on the linebacking corps is former redshirt soph safety Hunter Barth‍, who made switch over the spring to inside linebacker, where his toughness and aggressive style serve him well.

He's done well," Sirmon said.  "It's not an easy transition just because the closer you move to the line of scrimmage, the faster things happen and you have to see just as much while not being able to see as much in your field of vision. So it's a it's a tough transition but he's done a good job. He's done a good job picking up on new responsibilities at linebacker and he's a tough guy. So he's had no issue with coming in and playing like a linebacker. It's just kind of developing the instincts and getting the vision for the new speed of things from the line of scrimmage. But yeah, he's done a good job."

Another difference Sirmon sees is a determination to not be on the losing side as frequently as their five losses by 7 points or less in 2022. Frankly, they don’t want to hear that stat anymore.

"I think we've got a new mindset," Sirmon said. I think it's been a very productive spring and summer as far as working hard and trying to improve every day. I think we've got a little more of an edge this year, which has been nice to see, definitely. Even with all new guys coming in, I think some of the new guys have done a good job of bringing in some of the attitude but also at the same time, fitting in well. It's been good. We'll be playing some really talented teams so we're trying to flip the script this year.”

With the new faster-paced offense, both sides of the ball need to come into the season in better shape than they’ve ever been in before to stay fresh despite the faster tempo of play.

"Yeah, we've been running a lot and getting in great shape," Sirmon said. "The only problem is the first game will be in Denton at what, 1pm (3 pm CST)? It's been great weather but we've got to get ready for the heat. I think we're gonna do some things, travel around a little bit in fall camp to get ready for it.

"I remember when I moved back to Nashville, my first fall camp practice, we had two-a-days and after the second practice, it was probably 7pm and I was walking to my car and both my quads cramped up in the parking lot and I laid down on my back in the middle of the parking lot for like 10 minutes until I could crawl my car."

After starting his prep career his first two seasons at Loyola HS in Los Angeles. the hot, humid southern climate was an eye-opener.

"It didn't take long to adjust but it is different,” Sirmon said. “I remember those August practices were brutal."

"It'll be good. We'll be we're gonna do some things to prepare and then we'll be ready for that. But it's one of those things that like, it's gonna be hot. Suck it up. play some football."

Heat or no heat, September 2 in Denton can’t come soon enough for the Bears or their fans.

Related:

Pac-12 Media Day - In-Depth With Cal Center Matthew Cindric

Pac-12 Media Day: Wilcox, Cindric and Sirmon Take the Stage

 
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