DAY 16: Fortt-ress of Solitude
BERKELEY -- As Khairi Fortt has slowly recovered from a knee bruise over the past several days, earning more and more snaps as the first team WILL linebacker the healthier he got, there was always a sense that something was lurking, waiting. On Wednesday, that something arrived, as the Penn State transfer had his best day yet with the No. 1 defense, including an eye-opening, one-handed, airborne interception of Austin Hinder during scout team work, eliciting plenty of big reactions from the stands and the sidelines.
Fortt played all day with the first-team linebacking corps, including Jalen Jefferson (SAM) and Hardy Nickerson (MIKE), but there was some shuffling in the corps, as there was throughout each of the defensive units.
With Nick Forbes completely out on Wednesday – head coach Sonny Dykes said that he is "kind of going to be an every-other-day guy, as we probably get into game week," – freshman Chad Whitener saw time as the second-team MIKE linebacker.
Apart from Fortt's pick, two other Bears defenders came down with passes on Wednesday, including Joel Willis against the scout team offense in seven-on-seven work, and Darius Allensworth during offense 12-on-11s (2 QBs with the offense, each throwing one of the possible routes), though he was admonished by the staff for not letting the receiver catch the ball, as the scout team was supposed to be servicing the offense, at the time.
The defensive backfield had an up-and-down day, on the whole, though, perfectly characterized by cornerback Cedric Dozier.
During seven-on-seven work, Treggs frustrated Dozier by making a quick jumping snatch for six yards on the left from Jared Goff. One play later, with Goff at the opposing 15, the freshman signal caller looked for Junior Espitia on the quick out, but a diving Dozier picked the ball off at the 10.
In 11-on-11s with the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense, Zach Kline went over the top to a leaping Treggs at the opposing 30 for a 35-yard bomb over Dozier. On the next play, though, Kline saw his pass to the right batted down at the line of scrimmage by Antione Davis, who bullied the much-larger Christian Okafor.
Later, in work against the scout defense, Marcus Manley tallied a touch sack on Kline.
Michael Lowe was strong both in pass coverage and run support, and during seven-on-sevens, the redshirt junior sniffed out a pass from Goff to Treggs in the back of the end zone and swatted the ball out of the air with authority.
Goff tried the same pass again from the five, but that time, Kameron Jackson got the better of Treggs for the breakup.
Adrian Lee was back in limited action on Wednesday, with Willis taking most of the second-team snaps in his stead. Beyond Jackson, Stefan McClure and Lee, though, the cornerbacks are a bit of a mix-and-match affair.
"We can do a lot of different things," Dykes said. "[It] depends on how much nickel we're playing. [Isaac] Lapite would be the backup and Joel Willis will probably get into the mix back there, as well, as he continues to progress. We're starting to develop a little bit more depth, but it's a position where we need to stay healthy."
Defensive end Kyle Kragen saw time with the first-team defense on both sides of the line, trading back and forth with Chris McCain.
At this point, though free safety Avery Sebastian continues to work his way back from a concussion, doing more footwork and agility drills on Wednesday, there's a good chance that Damariay Drew takes first snaps alongside Lowe on Aug. 31 against Northwestern.
"I would say, based on, if I had to guess today, I'd say probably," Dykes said. "But, I think Avery – and this is a lot of supposition on my part – I think Avery will probably be dressed and be available."
Drew has taken advantage of his opportunity with the first-team defense, surpassing Alex Logan, who struggled again on Wednesday.
"I think [he's] just grasping everything," Dykes said of Drew. "He's got reps, and I think that's been the biggest thing to me, over the last two or three days, is that guys are starting to get settled in with those positions, and understanding what we're doing defensively. What we did was we threw a lot of stuff at them, and now we're getting more focused and narrowing it down, now that we're starting to get into a little bit of preparation for Northwestern. That's allowing the guys to get more comfortable, play faster and be more consistent."
Both Jacobi Hunter and Harrison Wilfley were back in pads, though Wilfley was a bit limited. Most of the snaps on the interior of the first-team defensive line went to Deandre Coleman, Viliami Moala, Mustafa Jalil and Gabe King.
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