BERKELEY -- Of the seven interceptions the California defense turned in on Wednesday against the scout team offense, six were by Bears defensive backs. Two Cal DBs teamed up for an eighth forced turnover, with Damariay Drew and Cameron Walker teaming up on a strip and fumble recovery.
"They're getting better. I'm really encouraged by the strides that we're making defensively," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "I think our guys are practicing better and starting to figure it out. Hopefully, we'll get some carry-over. We've talked about it before that we've just got to embrace the process and keep getting better and keep working harder every day, and the results will show up."
Walker had himself a heck of a day, adding a jumping, juggling interception to the fumble recovery and then sniffing out two wide receiver fly sweeps with Trevor Davis playing the part of Oregon State's Brandin Cooks -- who will get the ball on fly sweeps several times per game, using his speed to get to the edge and get favorable match-ups.
"They do a good job on offense. They spread the ball around. Yeah, Cooks may be who we perceive as their guy – good player – but a lot of other people in that offense have contributed," said defensive backs coach Randy Stewart. "They're not Cooks-dominated. If somebody's dominant, it's the quarterback, getting the ball where it needs to go, to who it needs to go, when it needs to go, getting them in the right plays, making the right reads."
Cooks has caught 63 passes – more than twice as many as the second-most prolific Beavers receiver -- but Oregon State will likely be without tight ends Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith, who have accounted for 38 catches and 392 receiving yards this season.
How does that affect what the Cal secondary does?
"It's not a one-man show," Stewart said. "Tight ends? They've got multiple tight ends. They've got multiple receivers. We've got to worry about ourselves. Yeah, we know where he's going to be; no question about it."
Walker, for his part, said on Tuesday that he didn't know if he's going to keep on playing safety next season, once Avery Sebastian returns from Achilles surgery, and Dykes said on Wednesday that the staff isn't looking much past the noses on their faces at this point, much less next season.
"We're thinking about practice tomorrow, honestly," Dykes laughed. "That's what we're thinking about. That stuff will take care of itself. He'll end up getting big enough and he's still learning how to play, but he's a really good player."
While Walker had a fine day, he was just one of several defensive backs to make a big impact, as Kameron Jackson turned in a pick-six against Austin Hinder guiding the scout offense, Michael Lowe split a pair of picks between Zach Kline and Joey Mahalic, and Drew jumped a Davis route for a pick in the red zone.
Joel Willis was also very active on his second full day back from a head injury, coming up with two big breakups against the scout team in seven-on-seven work. Dykes said that both Willis and linebacker Jalen Jefferson will play on Saturday.
"They're young guys that have talent, that haven't played a lot, so every practice, every day, is important for those guys to continue to develop and get better," Dykes said.
Currently, Adrian Lee -- who had a pick on a 40-yard bomb on Wednesday – is sitting ahead of Willis at corner, but this week, he's been taken to task several times by defensive coordinator Andy Buh.
He's been here longer. This is the first, from what I understand, opportunity he's had to play, so time-wise, I guess you could call him a veteran. Experience-wise, not so much of a veteran. It really comes down to what we do and how we do it. It's about us, and to win this thing and to be good, it's a long time coming. It's 90-100 plays that we've got to play. We play 12 games; that's 1,200-1,500 snaps you've got to take to win it all, and you've got to play all those snaps to win."
Several weeks ago, Stewart, unleashed a pointed broadside on his charges, saying, "I know what people think of this program; it's not good, and I can't do everything. You guys have to help me."
How far have they come, midway through the season?
"Every day, a little. Bit. More. And, we all must take responsibility," Stewart said. "It's not me getting you to go. It's me getting you to go, it's you getting you to go, it's you getting your teammate to go. Do it yourself, bring somebody with you. It's about mentality, attitude and character.
"There's a reason Cal, 1958 season, 1959 Rose Bowl – that's the last one – and we've had some great players here. You know what? Let's quit underachieving."
Tailback Jeffrey Coprich scored three times during work against the scout team on Wednesday, while Brendan Bigelow continued splitting time between the inside receivers and running backs, scoring both on a run and a pass.
"I would expect him to play a little bit of both, a couple different positions," Dykes said. "I think he can probably do both."
Inside receiver Richard Rodgers also got carries, and while he wasn't entirely comfortable toting the rock from the backfield last week against UCLA, he's going to grow into his new role come hell or high water.
"I think it's always a little bit of an adjustment," Dykes said. "I'm not sure it's the thing he's most comfortable doing, but I think he gets more and more comfortable every day."
Eight is Enough
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