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BERKELEY -- The first day of California's spring practice was cold and rainy, but that didn't keep wide receivers coach Rob Likens out of his trademark shorts. That was one of the only things that remained the same for the Bears, who have undergone quite a change since their last game in November. Even the pre-practice stretching routine was different.
"Everything from practice structure, obviously stuff from what we did in the offseason, in terms of strength and conditioning, the approach we're taking with our players from a philosophical standpoint, some things that are different in what we're doing in recruiting. Practice structure is going to be a little bit different," head coach Sonny Dykes said before practice began. "We're going to utilize the padded practices, the full-contact practices. They'll be a little different than we've had them in the past. A lot of different things. Obviously, you have a philosophical change that's taken place defensively, with a new coaching staff. We're going to do some things differently in special teams this spring, probably develop more depth on our special teams, and kind of fine-tuning and making changes to what we're doing on offense."
There were also several roster changes to be noted, including the absences of inside receiver Jacob Wark, running back Darren Ervin (who helped out at practice with the running backs) and defensive backs Adrian Lee and Isaac Lapite.
"Wark's going to focus on baseball. Darren's going to medically retire," Dykes said. "I hate to lose both of them. They're both good kids, but I certainly understand.
"Adrian's serving a suspension. We're going to see if he comes back or not, and then Isaac, as of right now, is not with us. His deal is just kind of some personal things he's working through, so we'll see how that works."
Wark told BearTerritory that he plans on graduating this spring, and "beginning a new chapter in my life."
With Lee and Lapite out, and Avery Sebastian and Stefan McClure still in red jerseys, new defensive backs coach Greg Burns had a skeleton crew to work with on Monday, led by Cameron Walker and Darius Allensworth.
"The biggest goal, and I told everyone, no one's a starter and no one's a backup," Burns said. "Everyone has an opportunity to prove themselves. It's an even playing field. The reality is, is do they believe me? Do they think I'm saying it just to say it, or are they going to take it for what I'm really saying, and understand that they honestly have a chance? I think they feel that way, and they are working pretty hard, and they're going to have enough reps. It won't be one of those details where I didn't get a chance to prove myself. There's enough reps out there."
There were several highlights, including a near pick by Allensworth on quarterback Austin Hinder, an interception by walk-on David Garner, solid play by Caleb Coleman and the return of Vachel Samuels, heralded by a pick where he read the ball and undercut a route thrown by Hinder.
"For the most part, the biggest thing I like working on is the fundamentals and movement," said Burns, who drilled his backs on closing space and getting off blocks. "I try my best to make sure that they can transition better from backpedaling, planting and driving and those types of things."
One of the big surprises was former receiver Griffin Piatt, who missed last season with a knee injury.
"Piatt, in a weird way, he's a player that was playing receiver last year and moved over to safety, and I thought he did a pretty darn good job," Burns said. "Cameron Walker, he has dual roles. He came in as a corner, played safety last year and now, this year, we're getting him back at corner, and then also doing a little bit of nickel. I thought, for the things he has to do, I think he's picking it up pretty good. Then, Allensworth, I thought he did a good job, as well."
Burns sees Walker more as a corner at this point, but, he said, he'll be a "corner slash nickel," and said the same regarding Allensworth.
Walker was solid all day, but did get beat one notable time by receiver Bryce Treggs. Treggs abused Walker on a corner route touchdown, and then made an ankle-breaking stutter-step juke move on Walker to blow past him for a 45-yard score.
"I think that's a good move for Bryce," Dykes said of Treggs' move to inside receiver. "We moved Chris Harper in there last year, because we wanted to try and get Chris the ball, which, I think, in hindsight, it would probably have been better for us to move Bryce inside and keep Chris outside. Some guys just have a skill set that lends itself well to playing inside, and some guys have a skill set that lends well to playing outside. That's the thing that you've got to go through and figure out what guys can do, get it set and then evolve the offense to play to what their strengths are. We felt like Bryce is somebody who could go inside and get matched up on linebackers and safeties. He's a real precise route-runner, he's always on the same page with the quarterback, which is really important with the inside receiver to do."
Treggs – now bulked up to 190 pounds and still running 40s in the 4.3-second range – couldn't wait to get on the field. In the north tunnel, he was hopping and twitching as he got ready to take the field. He showed a lot of energy and quickness as he moved between the outside and inside, as did Harper, who was wearing red.
"We just feel like it's a move that makes a lot of sense, plus, we feel like we're pretty strong on the outside position," Dykes said. "I think having Trevor Davis is something that we're excited about. He's a kid that not many people know much about, and we think he's got a chance to be a really good player. The emergence of Kenny Lawler last year and obviously Chris Harper, at some point you have too many outside receivers, so we moved Bryce inside."
There were times when Treggs, Harper, Davis and Kenny Lawler were all lined up at receiver, showing off a new look for Tony Franklin's offense, which traditionally has had either a pair of big bodies on the inside or a big body and a burner.
Speaking of burners, James Grisom -- who last year caught 10 balls for 169 yards and three touchdowns – had a big day, slowing up on a Hinder pass to grab it on his hip at the five-yard line for a touchdown and making several other big grabs along the sideline.
Davis proved to be the most acrobatic receiver of the bunch, making several stretch grabs and mid-air catches, including a reach-behind diving grab during multi-QB 11s work.
"We saw Trevor really all year on the scout team, so it was good to see him come out and do it today, just because we saw it all year last year," Dykes said. "He's got a chance to be a good one, we think. I think he's going to do nothing but continue to get better, so I was pleased to see him come out and perform at a high level today."
• Devante Downs spent the day in red, but worked out with the linebackers, which is where he will start out for the Bears, at least this spring.
"That's the thing is, we want to teach him the basic stuff at linebacker and see how he picks that up, and then we'll proceed," said Dykes. "The thing about playing running back is, we can get him ready pretty quickly at that position. He won't know all the intricacies, but if we decide to use him at that spot, we can stick him back there and hand him the ball pretty quickly. He's done that his whole life, so we can keep it simple for him. The big thing is to get him ready to play linebacker and see how he can contribute."
• Downs was one of nine players in red jerseys, including Austin Clark, defensive end Sione Sina (sporting new long, blond hair), Harper, offensive lineman Chris Adcock, McClure, Sebastian, corner Joel Willis and linebacker Nathan Broussard.
"We're being careful with those guys. We don't want to bring them along too quickly," Dykes said. "He's kind of in the same boat with Broussard. We've got several of those guys – Piatt, Broussard, Downs. It was good to see Piatt out there, moving around today. I have really high expectations for him. I think he's got a chance to be a good player. He's long, he can run, he plays the ball well, so I'm anxious to see how he develops."
• Like much of the team, quarterback Jared Goff showed a bit of rust on his first day.
"I thought he was good at times. I thought, as a whole, we were sluggish early. We looked like – and I told the guys after practice – we looked like a team that had a good time at spring break," Dykes said. "It seemed like it took us about an hour to get the spring break out of us, and once we did that, I thought it was better. I thought Jared was kind of along the same lines. I thought he did some good things, and we'll take a look at it all. For the first day out, I thought he was OK."
• Kyle Boehm was back at quarterback following his one-season sojourn as an inside receiver.
• After last season's locker room incident, running back Fabiano Hale was one of two Bone backs on Monday, along with Lucus Gingold.
• Jeffrey Coprich was a step quicker at tailback than he was last season, and took first reps along with Daniel Lasco.
• Harrison Wilfley -- who was a senior last year -- got a redshirt, and was back with the team at defensive tackle.
"We're hoping [to get] a lot. He's got some length," Dykes said. "That's something we don't have a lot of on our front right now, is length. He's got length and he's a good athlete. He really is. I'm excited to see how he develops. We had high hopes for him going into last year, and he got a little dinged up in camp and had a hard time staying healthy, but he's a kid that I'm excited about. I'm excited to watch him develop, and I think he can be really good."
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