University of Michigan Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Ed Warinner
Call with New Orleans Media
Friday, April 24, 2020
How would you describe Cesar as a player? Is he kind of a cerebral guy, an athletic guy, kind of a mix of both? How would you describe him?
"Yeah, he's very athletic and he has a very high football IQ, so he's very football smart and understands what's going on, but he's very athletic and so that combination and he's highly competitive. He's a very competitive person, it's real important to him and he tries to win every play. He is a great combination of all the attributes that you're looking for. I mean, that's obviously what the Saints saw on him and that they're all true. I mean, he is all that. He was a joy (to coach). I was fortunate to realize early on coaching him that he was going to be an NFL player and I actually told somebody that said, I remember you told me two years ago after spring ball that Cesar would be a first round pick and this person obviously hit me up today and told me you were right. And I was like, well, yeah, he just has all the attributes you're looking for. I mean, there's really nothing he can't do that they're going to be looking for him to do in terms of the job descriptions of an interior offensive lineman, center or guard, and he's played both positions at the highest level."
Football IQ was something that we heard about him. What are some of the ways that that's showed up that's been maybe most impressive to you over the years being around him?
"Well, in all offensive systems there are people that are leaned on to make decisions, to make calls and communication. Some people do it entirely with the quarterback. You guys got a pretty good one so I don't know how that operates within the Saints offensive system. Other people have their centers make a lot of calls, but in our system at Michigan, the last two years with Cesar as a starting center, he made all the calls in the run game and all the protection calls and he made most of the adjustments in the protection calls as well and had a big hand in any run game adjustments. So he understood what we wanted to have done, what looks we wanted to run plays into, what communications we needed and he studied and worked at that really hard. It was really important to him and he was extremely good at it. I mean, we went back and reflected as you do in your offseason and reevaluate your performance and he graded out so high in terms of maybe once or twice in a whole season that he makes the wrong call. That's pretty amazing. I mean, we're talking about 99% accurate on his intellectual decision making on the field."
How would that 99% compare to some of the other guys you've coached and been around?
"I just don't think anybody thinks that anybody's going to do anything at that level. Not many people take a class in school and get 98% let alone football where it's very volatile, it's very changing, it's not always what you think it is. People are good on defense, disguise, hide things. So I would say that is at the highest, highest end of efficiency that you could find in football for that job description of a center or someone making the decisions up front."
Did you recruit him at all out of high school? I know you weren't at Michigan for much of his high school career, but did you recruit him at all?
"Not really. No, I did not. I was aware of who he was. I knew he went to IMG (Academy). I knew he was considered a top center or interior guy coming out of high school. And I know he was down at IMG and knew he played well there, but he really wasn't in the grouping of guys that we were recruiting at the school I was at the time, but that did not mean he was not good enough. It just meant you can't recruit everybody everywhere, but I knew who he was. So when I got here it was exciting to get to meet him and then to get to work with them and then it didn't take long into the process because when I got here, he played guard. He was playing guard his freshman year and I knew that just based on what I saw, when you get hired and you come in, usually it's January, February, you're not practicing, but the guys are working out in the weight room, they're doing lots of things and you try to evaluate the talent pool of guys you have in offseason conditioning and training and see what their movement skills are, their characteristics. It became really clear to me quickly that he would be our center."
How would you describe Cesar in the meeting room with the rest of the offensive line?
"He liked to sit right up front. He was right up front. He was very focused. He likes to watch film, he likes to study. He's very detail oriented. He asks questions, communicates, real clear communicator. He's a joy to be in meetings with. Some kids in meetings they put their head down, their eyes start closing, they don't pay attention all the time. Not Cesar. He's alert, he's into it, he's focused, he's watching, if you skip over a play, because we're limited in time in college. You're trying to watch an hour's worth of film on a two hour practice and cover all your installs. You've got five guys so sometimes you're ripping through the film and the biggest mistake might be a different position that is and you point that out and he might say, 'Coach what about me there? Did I, was that the right thing that I do?' He very much wanted feedback to be the best player he could be. Some guys don't like feedback. Cesar is not afraid of feedback. He just wants to improve."
So did you have conversations with the Saints and if so what kind of things did you tell them?
"Down the stretch here, I didn't really have any major conversations with them. I know they were evaluating him and so forth and we have different layers within our organization of people that talk to the NFL. Of course you've got Coach (Jim) Harbaugh who knows everybody in the league. I'm sure he's close to Sean (Payton) and so forth. So I did not really have any down the stretch here any significant conversations with them about Caesar, but I'm sure they did all their homework in terms of with the people because we have a personnel department and we have our head coach and our head coach has an executive assistant that was in the NFL. He was a GM in the NFL. So we have people that I'm sure they did all their homework, but I didn't have so much conversation with them down the stretch here. No."
What are the things that kind of standout about him? It seems everybody likes to talk about his ability to get out in space. What was kind of the things that made him special to you?
"There's really nothing he can't do. So then it's just, is he doing it to the most efficient way? He's very coachable. But yeah, I mean he has good power and strength. He has really good hands. He has good vision of what's going on in front of him. He can adjust. Like some guys aren't good at not, if the picture doesn't change then they do pretty well. But defenses change the picture pre-snap to post snap. That's the most challenging thing for o-linemen is what they see pre-snap changes. And even with his head between his legs at times, we had him blind snapping and doing some things. He's very aware of what's going on so he can make adjustments within a play, within a series. It's one of those things that when you feed him, it all makes sense to him, when you give him things, they all register and then he applies them and he does it quickly. It's not like, hey, I've got to make this, it takes me a couple of days to do this or a couple of weeks or I just can't figure that out. There's not any of those stumbling blocks in his progression. He's a fast learner and adjusts well. So I mean he can move people off the ball at the point of attack. He can pull, he can reach, he can pass protect. I'm sure what the Saints like is the saints have a very broad offense and they do things under center. They do things in the shotgun. 2018 season the center in a more pro-style offense, 2019 more of a shotgun spread offense. That blend of those two offenses together I think is what you see the Saints doing and I think that fits him perfectly. He's not going to have them teach him things and be like, yeah, I don't really understand what you're talking about or I've never done that before. I think he's going to have good exposure to all facets of what they're trying to do. Learning the terminology and what their expectations are, how they're aligned, how their o-line coach teaches things obviously that part (will be challenging). He'll understand inside zone, outside zone, power, counter, drop back protection, quick game protection. He'll understand five minutes, six man, seven man protection, none of that. He'll be able to just roll right with all the concepts that they do."
With the way the world is right now, is he the type of player that you feel like you could give a playbook to and then three months later he shows up and slips on a field and he'd have everything down? Do you think he'd be able to learn a lot of stuff on his own without on field work?
"I think he can learn quite a bit. I think though the nature of playbooks, I mean I'm around them. They don't tell, like my playbook has things in it, but it doesn't tell you all the nuances. You need to have these kinds of conversations. So I'm sure what they'll do is let them read through stuff, digest what he can digest from the written page and then they'll talk it through with them and then try to show him film on Zoom or whatever. But he won't have any trouble being ready to play regardless of how things move forward. And I know Sean made an announcement that the players just need to be ready in August or whatever day you guys go back to work there that you're not really doing off season OTAs and that. I saw that announcement, so I'm sure he'll be on the phone though on a regular basis, maybe with whoever he needs to figure it out. But he won't have any trouble. His football IQ is as high as I've been around in a college football player, so I don't think he'll have any trouble being ready to go. I feel really good about that."
You mentioned his attentiveness and how focused he was in the meeting room. Do you think that kind of helped him during this process? As you know, prospects weren't allowed to have as much contact with teams as they normally would during a typical year?
"I definitely think it helped him. I was really excited because like, I don't know if he got any meetings in at the combine. I'm sure he got some good meetings in at the combine and I think that really helped him. I think to some degree when you're an underclassman and you come out early there are a lot of things unknown and then you get to the combine and you're there four days before you work out. So there's a lot of opportunities for people to have meetings with them. I know he had a lot of meetings there, so I think people got to know him. The more they got to know him, the more they loved them. I think also he got to talk football and communicate with people. He's a great communicator. I think that's just who he is. That little window there helped him. And then he built up a lot of equity with people at that time. I'm sure the conversations they had with him via phone were good, but if people would have come to our facility and worked him out and had a two hour meeting with them in the o-line room, I think they would have been blown away if they would have gotten to do that. It didn't matter because he still was able to be taken in the first round. But I think that he would have excelled at that in person in meetings discussing football and football retention. He's one of those guys. Some guys learn doing things on the field, some guys don't. He's one of those guys that'll learn in a meeting, learn on the board, film meetings, walk throughs, all those things. He gathers information. By the time it's time to rep the play in the game or practices he's going to be ready to go."
He was a rarely penalized in college if I read some stuff correctly. What does that say about him and just never really taking a play off and being focused for every snap that he's on the field?
"Well, attention to detail is important. Technique is important. He understands the rules and what you can and can't do. He was good about that. He wasn't abusive or try to push the limits. Nobody wants to hear holding number 51. No one wants to hear that on the loud speaker in front of 110,000 people every game. He wasn't egregious about things like that. Just the detail of this technique was very important to him. He's just that kind of a guy. If you give him a test of 50 questions that he needs to know for a game, he's going to get 49 out of the 50 right because that is just the way he is. He wants to be perfect. The times that he had penalties with the cadence were really silent counts. Like you said, like people, the one thing he'll be used to is the loudness of your dome. I mean, the Superdome is loud. I've coached games, I've coached in the Sugar Bowl, it's loud and our stadium is loud. 110,000 people. So the noise on a silent count sometimes that part, but I know the Saints know how to deal with noise. That was about the only time he ever had any issues is just when we're on a silent count and you're trying to figure out when to snap the ball based on a clap or the quarterback saying something, there's a lot of noise. He was phenomenal about that. That's what I mean, when you look at his penalties per snaps and his mistakes per snaps. It's so low it's amazing. It speaks highly to the importance he places on doing well.
You said like right after you got to Michigan, you pretty quickly identified him as a center. What was it about him that made you say this is a guy who should be playing that position?
"Well, I mean, you try to find people that are still in the organization that know of him. You try to find some people that have unbiased reasons to give you opinions and so you want to have a clean slate for every guy, but you want to gather information from people that are there. So I gathered information from people that were there. I watched and observed as much as you can and then you start to have meetings with guys and get to know him. Then it became clear that this is the kind of kid that you want to be your quarterback of your offensive line. He very much wanted to do it, very excited to be the center and develop that skillset. Not that he hadn't done that before, but you know what I mean, he was playing guard the year before and move in there and become the guy. Yeah, just watching him run around and move and the things he does and you knew his physical traits matched up with what you would want in your center and there's a lot of different ways to pick where you put players. I mean everybody has a thought about who should play left tackle and what their body type is, what their talent level should be. Everybody has opinions about guards and centers. I like to put what I think is my best interior offensive lineman at center. Some people think I'm putting the smartest guy at center, I'm putting this guy, the shortest guy at center, I'm putting whatever. That has no bearing to me. Who's the best interior guy you got and put them at center? That's important and then who's the best edge guy you got and put him at left tackle. That's kind of what I'm watching to see from my perception, my experience."
University of Michigan Associate Athletic Director for Football Communications David Ablauf follow up:
"Hey Luke (Johnson), if I could add something from what Coach just said. Before he got there, Cesar was the number one ranked center coming out of high school and he was obviously projected to be there and that's what the coaches were looking for him to do. But we had a guy named Mason Cole who was going into his senior year and we had a young offensive line. So that was one of the things that Coach Harbaugh decided to move Mason Cole into center and Mason started 52 games for us and then ended up getting drafted in the third round by the Cardinals and started his entire rookie year with them. So it was one of those things where they wanted a veteran guy at center and Cesar earned at the end of that season, I think it was six or seven starts as a true freshman to speak to what Coach Warinner was talking about. He had earned his way into the lineup and started six or seven games at the end of the year. So then Coach Warner came in and identified what he saw and obviously kind of just took off from there."
Follow up response:
"You'll enjoy being around him because he is a personality and he's real serious about his work. But I mean when he's not in the meeting room and in the locker room and traveling, I think he's just a fun guy to be around. A good personality, funny natural leadership abilities, kind of a magnetic charisma personality guy. So all that plays into the fact that people love him on the field and off the field. So it's not just, hey, we like this guy because he's a really good player. You like being around him regardless of how good of a player he is. That's kind of cool too, is that he's just such a good person and he's a good family guy and cares about his family. He's this good all-around person and very driven. Like I said, you guys have well documented the story about his family and his father and things like that, but that really drives her to be the best. He is funny and he is fun to be around and he has a good, nice smile and you'll be drawn to him. You'll love to interview him when you get the opportunities."
Did he teach you any dance moves?
"Oh yeah, he is good at that. You've probably see some of them, but yeah, he has got some good ones. I stay away from that. I do not want to make Twitter because of my dance moves or lack thereof, but I was actually talking to him today, I talked to him earlier today. I talked to him last night afterwards. It is good stuff. I saw where Michael Thomas tweeted to him, so that was good. Got the team up North and the team down South rivalry going there on the Saints. That'll be good."