CULVER CITY, Calif. -- With California's fall camp just around the corner, head coach Sonny Dykes -- while not yet revealing the full schedule – did unveil the general tenor of the Bears' 24 practices before preparation starts for the Aug. 31 opener against Northwestern.
"We'll start like everybody does, and have our three non-padded practices early, and then progress into pads," Dykes said. "How many days are we going to be in full pads – full pads meaning pants – not that often."
Because of the speed element to the new offense, Dykes felt that Cal could get the needed work in largely without having to dress in full pads, which, he said, would help the players concentrate on staying upright, as opposed to going to the ground, where they can sustain injury.
Practices will be every day in the afternoon – save for two-a-day practices, which will be around 10 a.m. and then the second at 4 p.m. -- from August 4 until the beginning of prep for the Wildcats.
"Two-a-days will depend on how we're holding up," Dykes said. "We'll have some. Will it be young-guy emphasis? That's going to depend on where we are, in practice. We're not going to have two-a-days to beat our chest and say ‘We have two-a-days.' We'll use our practice opportunities."
Camp will be open to "anybody who wants to come," Dykes said.
The Bears will close some practices during the season, but, Dykes says, "it's not going to be much."
"We'll do it more to almost make you guys appreciate getting to come, in some ways," Dykes laughed. "We'll see how it goes. If all of our plays end up on the internet, and we're trying to get ready to play Northwestern and some guy's filmed us running some special package and it's on the internet, then we're probably going to close practice. If it's not, then we probably won't."
Second to the quarterback conundrum, Dykes said that the next-biggest task will be to develop depth in the defensive backfield, and beyond that, iron out special teams.
"We're starting from scratch there," Dykes said. "We've got to get our personnel on special teams nailed down quickly, and that's a hard thing to do."
On the pre-fall camp depth chart, Brendan Bigelow and Darren Ervin are the two kick returners, with Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs as the No. 1 and No. 2 punt returners, respectively.
"If you have young players who are going to contribute, they're going to be on special teams, so there's a million moving parts to that," Dykes said. "We've got to get our punt team squared away fast, we've got to get our kickoff team squared away fast. We've got to make sure we feel good about our field goal and extra-point teams."
Dykes said that every starter on both sides of the ball – up to and including the backup quarterback – will be in the mix on special teams. "He may be on onside, if he's a good athlete," Dykes said.
"You want to make sure that, whoever's on your punt team, they have hundreds of reps, before they go out there and punt the football," Dykes said.
Dykes said that the Bears will pit the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense quite a bit during fall camp, and that practice will extend to the regular season.
"We'll go against each other, basically the first 24 practices," Dykes said. "I think Practice 25, we'll split up and start working for Northwestern, but we want our practices to be as competitive as possible. We'll work against each other, and I believe the speed of the game is much more important than scheme, so teaching guys to play fast and play to the speed of the game is going to be more important than teaching them how to line up a certain way."
During the season, Dykes said, the Bears will "go good-on-good quite a bit," virtually every practice.
As for substitution, receivers will tap themselves out, but, Dykes said, "in critical situations, we'll substitute them."
"That's a learned process," Dykes said. "One of these guys is going to be able to play every play, and one of these guys is only going to be able to play two plays at a time. That's just different body types, different conditioning levels. Sometimes, guys like Khalfani Muhamma – he's in tremendous shape, he runs one of the fastest 100 meters in the country – a lot of times, those guys wear our really fast and can't play 10 plays in a row, where a guy who's a long-strider can play 20 plays in a row. That's part of figuring that all out. The only way to figure it out is to have them run and see who can do it."
Defensive substitution will not simply be "free" or "limited," Dykes said, but will be done by necessity.
"If it's warranted, yes; We're not going to put in the second-team defensive end if there's a huge drop-off, just because we feel like we need to bring him in," Dykes said. "We're going to play the guys we think are good enough to play, whether it's offense, defense or special teams. I hope the number's 22 on defense, and if it is, we can substitute a lot. We'll see what that number is. We're going to play the guys who give us the best shot to win."
Dykes addressed several walk-on players on the newly-released roster, as he has had success with walk-ons at his previous stops.
"There's going to be some surprises," Dykes said. "[Cormac] Craigie, he's an intriguing guy. He's got some size. He's got some length. He runs around pretty well, he's athletic. His tape in high school, he's a pretty good player. He's playing safety – a position where we're going to need some depth. He could be a guy who you look up and go, ‘Woah, who's this guy?' and he'll be playing. Who knows?"
Craigie played one season as a post-high school graduate at Trinity-Pawling School in 2010, after attending Piedmont (Calif.) High School. He then redshirted as a true freshman in 2011 at Richmond, before attending City College of San Francisco before transferring to Cal. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder played quarterback at Trinity-Pawling and at Piedmont, where he also played baseball.
Dykes figures to use recruited walk-ons even more as his tenure in Berkeley progresses.
"We ought to be able to get really good ones," Dykes said. "We ought to be able to find guys we can bring along in our program, and that's going to be a big emphasis for us. This first year recruiting, we were just trying to hold on to the guys we had. Now, we'll be actively recruiting walk-ons. I think our ability to help them get into school is a huge advantage for us, as we go out and recruit these guys."
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