DAY SIX: Defensive Breakdown

Kyle Kragen and Jacobi Hunter have big days up front, as the linebacking corps continues to hum without a key member.

BERKELEY -- So far this fall camp, the way California's offense performs dictates the performance of its defense, and vice versa. But despite a better offensive performance today, the defense still had a strong practice overall, even with the continued absence and limitations of several key players .

Avery Sebastian, Sione Sina, and Viliami Moala (out due to academic obligations) all were absent from drills, and Trevellous Cheek, Chris McCain and Alex Logan were in and out of practice with hamstring, shoulder, and foot issues respectively.

Head coach Sonny Dykes spent about half of his post-practice press conference discussing the injuries, saying that McCain and Sebastian should be good to go for Monday's full-pads scrimmage. However, the timeline for Cheek's recovery schedule is a little more up-in-the air."

"He pulled a little bit of a hamstring," Dykes said. "Hamstrings are funny, you never know how serious it's going to be, but he's a guy who could be out for a little bit of time."

But not all injury news for the Bears was bad news. Redshirt junior middle linebacker Nick Forbes finally returned to the field today after two days of being a no-show due to back spasms. Forbes was mostly limited to individual drills, as the coaching staff wants to closely monitor his recovery process.

"We're going to bring him along," Dykes said. "It's a back injury, and sometimes those things flare up when there's a lot of work. So we're going to rest him, and try to be preventative. The idea is to get him healthy, get him practicing everyday, but we don't want to put too much on him right now."

Forbes is a huge part of Cal's defense, but one reason why his absence hasn't seemed as obvious these past two days has been the stellar play of Hardy Nickerson, Jr. The redshirt freshman has fit in seamlessly with the first-team defense, in large part because of how hard he works on every play.

"He's a guy who we thought, based on his performance in the spring, might challenge Nick for the starting spot," Dykes said. "He's continued to improve his game. He is incredibly dedicated, focused, ambitious, he's a good athlete -- all the stuff you want from the position. He's made the most of his opportunity."

Another guy who made the most of his opportunities today? Jacobi Hunter. The true freshmen defensive tackle ran with the second-team defense, and may have been the defensive MVP of 11-on-11s. He was in the backfield all day long, first recording a contact sack on Jared Goff, and then breaking up a screen pass by walk-on Joey Mahalic that could have gone for a big gain.

"Coach [Barry] Sacks said he would throw me under the bus," said Hunter of Sacks challenging him to perform along with the big boys. "So he did it, and I think I did pretty well, so hopefully I can continue to get reps."

The weakest defensive unit today was the secondary, in part because they forced no turnovers. But even their performance was solid compared to some previous days.

Kameron Jackson had the hit of the day when he absolutely destroyed Bryce Treggs on a short out route to the left side. Treggs hauled in the pass from Goff and turned up field, but he only got a few steps forward before Jackson brought the boom. Literally. There was such a loud pop to the hit that it sounded like the construction going on along the northeast side of the Memorial Stadium rim was right on the 50-yard line. Jackson only stands 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, but he made it clear that Sebastian is not the only heavy hitter in the secondary.

NOTEBOOK
Kyle Kragen tallied a tackle-for-loss on running back Khalfani Muhammad and a sack of Goff in 11-on-11 work. Kragen was also stout in the short receiving game, making two stops of receivers in 11-on-11s. Goff was also sacked late in 11-on-11s by Todd Barr and Deandre Coleman.

*****

Freshman nose tackle Tony Mekari was very good in one-on-ones with the offensive line, with a notable rep coming against interior lineman Mark Brazinski where he got up under the fifth-year senior's pads and delivered a solid pop to get to the tackle bag.

*****

Khairi Fortt was very disruptive up front, flushing Goff from the pocket and allowing Hunter to punch a pass out of the air, intended for Jeffrey Coprich on a jet screen.

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