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BERKELEY -- For the third straight day, tailback Brendan Bigelow practiced without a knee brace. For the third straight day, with every rep, Bigelow got faster, got smoother and got quicker. Now, with only just a sleeve around his thrice-operated-on knee, Bigelow is starting to look like that elusive ghost of his old self again, particularly on a snaking, weaving run to paydirt from 40 yards out during work against the scout team.
"It's been feeling really good," Bigelow smiled. "I have a lot more confidence in myself, and it's been good."
Bigelow said that he is the closest to 100% that he's been in quite some time, saying that he's as good as 95%.
"I'm right there, right where I want to be," Bigelow said. "Finally."
The biggest difference, Bigelow said, is not just the speed, but the way he moves with the ball.
"I'm just trying to be smoother with my cuts and everything," Bigelow said. "I'm just being more dynamic, because, before, I was moving like a robot, moving left to right. It was a little hard for me to run with that [brace]. I took that off, and it's all mental. I took that off, and my confidence skyrocketed, so I'm happy about that."
While a healthy Bigelow will no doubt be a boon to the still-developing Bears run game, neither Bigelow, nor Khalfani Muhammad nor Daniel Lasco nor Jeffrey Coprich -- who got quite a bit of run on Wednesday -- can do much without a healthy and nasty offensive line.
"I think he feels better," head coach Sonny Dykes said of Bigelow. "A big part of him playing well is the way he feels, so I think, as long as he feels good, then that's going to have some positive results."
With Matt Cochran still out due to a high ankle sprain, two players got snaps at the right guard spot, with Alex Crosthwaite taking the lion's share of first-team reps, followed by Geoffrey Gibson. Bill Tyndall saw time at second-team left guard, and also subbed in a bit at center and right tackle (along with Brian Farley), while starting right tackle Steven Moore spent the day in a red jersey as he returns from a head injury.
"He bounced around a bunch today, which was good," Dykes said. "He's done a nice job for us, filling in where we needed him to. We've gotten a little bit banged up on the offensive line, but he's done a good job filling in."
Dykes said that, while there is the potential for Tyndall to start somewhere on the line should Moore not be able to go, he expects his starting right tackle back.
"I think he'll practice full-go tomorrow," Dykes said. "I would think Tyndall would play, and he can play a lot of different positions. He's been real versatile. It's been a big deal for us, the fact that he can do a bunch of different things."
Dykes spent much of the day with the offense, while he'd spent the last two practices this week – and several last week – with his eyes squarely focused on the defense, but he did flip to the defensive side of the ball in time to see Michael Lowe and Damariay Drew each turn in a pick in skeleton work against the scout team offense, headed by Austin Hinder, simulating Connor Halliday.
"Part of it has just been my familiarity with what they're doing offensively, so it hasn't been as much the defense as it has been trying to help our scout team kind of simulate Washington State's look," Dykes said. "I'm pretty familiar with what they do. That's why I've spent my time over there. That, and just being over there with those guys."
Kameron Jackson (lower leg) was also back in pads for the first time, though he didn't get much action in contact work, as Isaac Lapite manned that side of the field and came up with two near-picks early in skeleton periods, as the secondary saw continued improvement.
"A lot of it has to do with practicing with the same guys for consecutive days," Dykes laughed. "That's been something that we haven't had a chance to do much of this year, so that helps."
In full-team work against the first-team offense, Lapite also came up with a break-up against Drake Whitehurst after the defensive line sped the game up and pressured quarterback Jared Goff, according to defensive tackles coach Barry Sacks, who applauded his charges, saying "that's what happens when you play fast."
"Isaac's improved, Joel Willis has improved, Stefan [McClure] has improved; I'm liking what I'm seeing from all the guys in the secondary," Dykes said. "I think they're playing with a lot more confidence. It'll be a good test on Saturday. This is a team that knows how to throw the ball and has good receivers. This is how they make a living: Throwing the football. We'll find out how much better we've gotten."
Linebacker Nick Forbes did not get any reps with the defense.
Back on the offensive side of the ball, Goff and Zach Kline continued to share first-team reps, with Goff taking roughly 60% of the first-team snaps, showing much quicker read progressions.
"We think we'll probably name [the starting quarterback] tomorrow," Dykes said. "[Goff]'s pretty unflappable. I think Zach's had a really good week of practice. Zach, I've been really happy with the way Zach's responded, and I've been really happy with the way Jared's responded. I think Jared was able to move on, get over it and move on. That's what you want to see out of a young quarterback."
James Grisom was perhaps the most consistent receiver on the day, with the highlight being a 30-yard huck from Goff, on which he made a diving snag at the opposing 40.
Special teams coordinator Mark Tommerdahl was notably more energetic than usual, which is quite a high bar in itself. He harped on his punt coverage unit during extended special teams periods, yelling out, "Our reputation got destroyed in one night. Get it back."
"We had a bunch of issues," Dykes said after the Bears gave up two punt return touchdowns to Bralon Addison last weekend. "We had two low punts. We'd been getting 4.5 hang times, and we had a 3.3 and a 3.4, so we had two short punts that were right back on us fast with a good returner. The first one was as a result of a bad punt, and the second one, we had about 15 players miss tackles. Some guys missed tackles twice."
Richard Rodgers has been named a game captain for Saturday.
Mark Brazinski was named to the list of over 170 semifinalists for the Campbell Trophy (formerly the Draddy Trophy), also known as the academic Heisman.
Sophomore safety Cormac Craigie and Lasco have been named the Jonathan & Judy Hoff Football's Scholar-Athletes of the Week, Dykes announced Wednesday.
"Though I am very thankful to be recognized as a scholar-athlete of the week, I am more grateful to be surrounded by such great people," Craigie said. "Our academic support people have given me all the tools I need to excel as a student-athlete at Cal."
"It's all thanks to the support group we have here," Lasco said. "They know how to keep you focused and motivated."
Each week two players earn the honor that recognizes student-athletes for an academic skill that has developed through practice, a study habit that has formed into an effective routine, a positive measured outcome that has been achieved through a course assignment or exam, and/or a leadership trait that has been portrayed through academics.
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