SCRIMMAGE: McCain Pulls Double Duty

Defensive end Chris McCain sees action all over the field as the front seven proves its mettle against an uneven Bear Raid offense.

BERKELEY -- At the beginning of today's scrimmage, the California offense and defense took turns deciding who wanted to make the bigger mistake. When the defense had 12 men on the field for the first play, the offense responded with a subsequent fumble. But while the offense continued to struggle, especially with false start penalties, the defense quickly turned itself around.

"The defense came ready to play," head coach Sonny Dykes said. "I was really proud of the defense and the intensity they had early."

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But as the scrimmage progressed, it was the offense which began to steal the show, thanks in part to – of all people -- Chris McCain, who just the day before had gotten into several altercations with his offensive teammates.

McCain made headlines in Monday's practice for being a valuable red zone weapon as an outside receiver. He was targeted twice by quarterback Zach Kline on back-shoulder fades in the end zone, drawing a defensive face guard on Michael Lowe the first time, and hauling in a touchdown pass over Isaac Lapite on the second attempt.

"We're just experimenting with some things," Dykes said. "He's a big guy, and we'll see if he can go up and catch the football. Maybe we'll see him again."

McCain, however, won't be abandoning his role as the starting rush end anytime soon. When he wasn't making plays on offense, the junior still found time to use his speed to get to the quarterback, nearly sacking Kline and forcing several rushed throws. McCain also blew up a reverse to Joel Willis that resulted in a fumble, recovered by the offense.

Dykes mentioned linebackers Jalen Jefferson and Hardy Nickerson, Jr., as two of the defenders that have stood out. After Nickerson missed a tackle that allowed inside receiver Richard Rodgers to get some extra yardage, the redshirt freshmen quickly rebounded to tackle speedy Khalfani Muhammed in the backfield for a loss on the next play.

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For the most part, the front seven looked impressive, despite missing Todd Barr (who would have played were it a real game, Dykes said), Sione Sina, Brennan Scarlett, and Khairi Fortt (minor knee injury). It was the back four that struggled.

With Stefan McClure sitting out to get a little rest, the defense tired down the stretch. Poor angles on the ball led to Daniel Lasco running practically untouched for an 85 yard touchdown, and Muhammad blazed past Damariay Drew on a 60 yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff, where Muhammad did most of the work.

Even when the secondary had a chance to come up with a big play, things didn't go their way.

Goff tried to force a deep ball to Jack Austin in double coverage, but overthrew the ball directly into the hands of Cedric Dozier, but Dozier couldn't hold on.

Cornerback Adrian Lee struggled all day against players like James Grisom (no offense to Grisom, who had a breakout day highlighted by a 34-yard pass over Lee from Austin Hinder). Lee showed he clearly still has a ways to go to be ready for the upper echelon of Pac-12 caliber receivers.

The bright spot for the day was the play of the linebackers. With Nick Forbes limited and Fortt out, Nathan Broussard and Johnny Ragin III used the opportunity to make plays all over the field, often limiting Darren Ervin, Brendan Bigelow and Khafani Muhammad to short gains on the ground. In doing so, they put themselves on the map alongside Jefferson and Nickerson. It's good to know that should any injuries happen, the middle part of the defense won't suffer a huge drop in production when the next wave of reinforcements comes in.

NOTEBOOK
-- Kyle Kragen came up with one sack, while Harrison Wilfley came up with a pass break-up at the line.

-- Dan Camporeale also registered a sack for a loss of one yard on Kline, and Antione Davis also picked up a sack and a forced fumble. Camporeale also tallied one QB hurry. Defensive lineman Marcus Manley deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage.

-- Michael Barton -- who saw time with the first-team defense – picked up a big stop on Kyle Boehm going for a two-point conversion.

WRITER'S NOTE: Cal fans are breathing a sigh of relief that junior safety Avery Sebastian is conscious and moving his extremities as he rests at Highland Hospital. All of our hearts continue to go out to Sebastian with the hope that he makes a safe and speedy recovery.

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