BERKELEY -- The freshmen are going to have to play. That was the sentiment all summer surrounding the California secondary.
On Monday, the likes of Trey Cheek, Darius Allensworth and Cameron Walker all did some good things, and they all did some not-so-good things.
Head coach Sonny Dykes noted Walker, who lost part of his senior season to a broken collar bone, as one of the stand-outs among the freshmen, and the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder out of Los Angeles Loyola was tested early, going up against pesky Jackson Bouza and coming out on top about as often as Bouza got the better of him.
Allensworth showed a lot of physicality, as well as a surprising burst for a player who got his ACL operated on just eight months ago. Walker was perhaps the smoothest of the young defensive backs, mixing it up particularly well with fellow freshman Caleb Coleman during one-on-ones.
Cheek and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Maurice Harris were an interesting match-up, particularly because the tenacious Cheek gives up about four inches and 25 pounds. The plus with Cheek is that – while he did get beat, and at times, soundly – he wasn't intimidated at all.
Corner Stefan McClure had some rust about him on Monday, but when he was on, boy was he on. The first pass he defended in skeletons was an interception, and on his next turn, he broke up a pass to James Grisom.McClure's most notable attribute is his economy of movement. He doesn't waste energy when he doesn't have to, and he has a very smooth, quiet lower body with good explosion. He's not showy, but he's very effective.
As for another newcomer in the secondary – linebacker-turned-safety Jason Gibson -- reviews were mixed. He showed good vision and instincts, but his backpedal was uneven and a bit stiff. It's been a while since he's had to get low into his hips, and it showed. When Gibson was allowed to come up on inside routes, he was a bit more comfortable, mixing it up with Bouza on a crossing route over the middle.
Gibson did get beat – along with Michael Barton and Adrian Lee -- on a slant route by sophomore receiver Chris Harper, who wound up in the back of the end zone with the ball in his hands after finding the seam in the coverage.
Harper was perhaps the most notable receiver on the day, with the biggest grab coming on a 45-yard bomb from Austin Hinder into double coverage. Harper routinely found the ball in traffic, and even saved Jared Goff an incompletion by making a sliding catch in the end zone during 7-on-7 work.
Also standing out at receiver was Joel Willis, not for any play in particular, but for the fact that every time you looked his way, he was just flat-out impressive. His ball skills have improved markedly, and what really sticks out is his acceleration. Once the ball's in his hands, he can turn and burn with the best, and that's exactly what he did. He has a nice, low, smooth carriage, and really explodes out of his breaks.
The more one watches freshman receiver Jack Austin, the more impressive he gets, along the same lines as Willis. Austin saved Zach Kline's bacon more than once when the redshirt freshman threw into coverage, including one grab in triple coverage. Austin disappeared into a cloud of defenders, and then popped free with the ball. He could easily be the dark horse candidate at receiver.
Where's Bryce Treggs in all of this? Being Bryce Treggs. The sophomore wide out is a workhorse, and while last year he showed a little flash, this year, he's all business. He's easy to ignore because him catching just about any ball is a foregone conclusion, and he showed just that on Monday. The only balls he didn't catch were the ones a good 10 feet out of his reach.
Also making an impression was newcomer Trevor Davis, the transfer from Hawaii.
"Trevor Davis, I thought, was really impressive," Dykes said. "I thought he did some things today, making some plays on the football, and that's kind of what we expected out of him."
Other pass catchers, though, did struggle at times. Freshman running back Khalfani Muhammad had issues early catching the ball out of the backfield, and was going a bit too fast for himself. There were clearly jitters. About two-thirds of the way into practice, though, the true freshman speedster took a deep breath and just plain settled in. His handoffs were crisper, his hands were smoother and the speed was still there. On one play during full-team work, Muhammad caught a pass underneath from Goff and split Khairi Fortt and Hardy Nickerson before turning up field for a good-sized gain.
FALL CAMP: Day One DBs and WRs
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