BERKELEY -- As fall camp progresses, a familiar theme has emerged. Players in the California secondary struggle to stop wide receivers, while defensive linemen and linebackers consistently make plays in the backfield. Thus, nickel packages with five defensive backs and only two linebackers wouldn't seem to play to the Bears' strengths as much as a traditional 4-3 defense would. Then again, head coach Sonny Dykes and the rest of the Cal coaching staff are anything but traditional.
"We're going to be in so much nickel," Dykes said. "A lot of times we're going to have two linebackers moving forward, and a lot of the game plan against Northwestern will be nickel."
Part of the reason why the coaching staff feels confident in frequently having five DBs on the field is the emergence of Damariay Drew and Isaac Lapite. The two have been steady throughout camp, and the play of Lapite especially has helped ease worries about the absence of Avery Sebastian and other members of the secondary. Lapite didn't look caught off guard at all defending the option during work against the scout team offense. On one play, quarterback Austin Hinder -- playing the role of Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter faked the pitch before deciding to keep the ball and cut inside, but Lapite wasn't fooled and tackled the Colter stand-in for no gain.
"Isaac's been one of the most consistent guys on our team," Dykes said. "We're playing him at a couple different spots, at nickel, and outside, and he's been good at both of those."
Speaking of Sebastian, Dykes is not going to rush his recovery, but that doesn't mean he isn't excited about how the safety has progressed since his violent collision with Jeffrey Coprich last week.
"He looks great," Dykes said. "He's starting to feel better. We're going to handle him carefully, and bring him back slowly. As he feels better, we'll allow him to do more and more work."
Sebastian can only hope to make as much of an impact when he returns to the field as defensive end Puka Lopa has so far this fall camp. The sophomore has been a force with the second-team defense. In preparing for Northwestern's spread offense, Lopa blew past tackle Brian Farley to tackle Jonah Hodges in the backfield on a designed option, showing impressive speed, strength, and instinct.
"It's good to have him back," Dykes said. "The guy plays with great energy. He's a little undersized, but he runs well and plays hard all the time. He's explosive, and he gives us a little bit of a different look at that spot."
The only player who might be making more plays on the defensive line is the one currently ahead of Lopa on the depth chart: Kyle Kragen. The two players are both relentless and fast. The main difference is that Kragen has two inches and fifteen pounds on Lopa, and that allows him to be slightly more physical. That physicality showed when he absolutely blew up Alex Crosthwaite today in O-line vs. D-line drills.
-- We have a Darius Allensworth sighting. The freshman corner intercepted one pass from Jared Goff intended for James Grisom, and almost had another. Grisom did win the majority of the reps between the two, though, and it's looking like Allensworth may redshirt despite the lack of depth at the cornerback position.
-- Dykes said linebackers Nick Forbes (back) and Khairi Fortt (knee) are continuing to work their way back from injuries, with Fortt being closer to full speed.
-- Defensive end Sione Sina, defensive tackle Jacobi Hunter and cornerback Adrian Lee all spent the majority of practice lugging metal chains up and down the Memorial Stadium steps.
Dykes said Hunter and Lee could have played on Monday, but were held out for some more rest. Both should play on Tuesday, with Hunter most likely still being held to limited contact after a scheduled doctor's appointment.
-- Defensive end Brennan Scarlett is seeing the doctor tomorrow, and Dykes hopes he will be able to go full-contact afterwards at practice.
-- Defensive end Dan Camporeale came up with a touch-sack on quarterback Zach Kline during 11-on-11 work, and Kline's resultant throw to Kenny Lawler was nearly picked by safety Jason Gibson at the 30-yard line. Camporeale flashed often on Monday, getting pressure off the edge.
-- Freshman defensive tackle Tony Mekari showed up well in OL-DL work, as did defensive end Todd Barr.
-- Linebacker Michael Barton showed well against the simulated Wildcats offense, fitting his gaps and stopping the run.
DAY 14: Lapite Steps Up
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