BERKELEY -- Last season, then-defensive coordinator Andy Buh's scheme was derided as overly simplistic. With Art Kaufman now running the show for California on the defensive side of the ball, things are even simpler, and it's paying off.
"We can play faster," said linebacker Jalen Jefferson "Everyone gets on the same page. Literally, our calls are two words: One call is for the D-line, the other is for the linebackers and DBs. I feel like that's going to help us a lot this year."
Head coach Sonny Dykes has seen a difference through the first five practices of spring ball.
"I think that the guys, I like what they're doing. They're lining up correctly," Dykes said. "They're doing a lot of fundamental things correctly. Our position on the ball is much improved. We're leveraging the ball correctly. We're still, I think, learning how to run to the football. I don't think we're there yet, but I think we're learning how to do that. I've been really pleased with what I've seen. I think the guys have picked it up. I think that they're playing faster as a result of certainty, and I like where we're headed."
Part of the simplicity is the fact that it's only one-third of the way through spring practice, to be fair, but overall, Kaufman's simplification of the defense has one of his most veteran linebackers raving.
"To be honest, it's way more simplified than last year," Jefferson said. "Everyone thought that last year's defense was simplified, but this year, it's way more simplified. You line up, and you play. You don't have to think twice about what you're doing, which is the greatest thing about this defense. You think, and you can't react as fast, and you can't play fast."
It's true in baseball, and it's true for linebackers: Don't think; just hit.
"We're not doing much right now, scheme-wise. I think that allows the guys to get comfortable, and I think that the thing about Art and all these guys, honestly, is that they've seen a lot and they've been a lot of places, and they've been around. Art's got a real good feel for making adjustments," Dykes said. "One thing that I always liked that he does is, he's always trying to stay ahead, as far as his teaching goes, and never misses an opportunity to talk about something that could happen in a football game and have an answer for it. I like that part for it."
During Wednesday's open practice, Cal will run about what it did on Saturday last – roughly live 40 plays, complete with hitting in full pads.
"We'll just go through practice and then mix in some team at the end that's live," Dykes said. "How many plays? We'll see where we are, injury-wise, and adjust. We might cut a little bit of practice, preceding that, so we can go a little bit more live team. We'll see how it comes out."
Injuries have been taking a bit of a toll on the Bears this spring, with defensive back Darius Allensworth exiting late on Monday due to falling on his left shoulder.
"I don't think it's anything major. We'll get an evaluation on it," Dykes said.
Defensive backs Stefan McClure and Avery Sebastian are "getting better and better, every day," Dykes said.
Former H-back/tight end Maximo Espitia will serve as an outside linebacker and nickel, Dykes said. He's also making some moves on the depth chart, as is Ray Davison, who moved to outside linebacker during the offseason thanks to depth issues.
"I've got to be honest with you: He's surpassed my expectations at this point," Dykes said of Espitia. "That's a tough move, sometimes. He's played a lot of different positions. He was a receiver then he was a safety, now he's playing outside linebacker. The good thing is, he's got the body to do it. He can carry weight, he's long. I had concerns about how physical he was going to be, and he's answered those concerns so far. He's been more physical, he's done a good job getting off blocks and tackling pretty well.
"He's not ready to go, by any stretch of the imagination, but he's making progress, and I think ahead of schedule."
The move back to linebacker for Jason Gibson will take a bit longer than planned, since he's still recovering from injury, and is not as big as he wants to be, at 212-215 pounds.
On offense, Bryce Treggs was limited after feeling his hamstring grab on Friday, and did not participate in team work as Cal worked in shoulder pads.
"Treggs just did a little bit of stuff individually, but no team stuff. He'll probably be [full go] later in the week," Dykes said.
The running back corps was also depleted, with Daniel Lasco just dipping his toe into team drills on Monday and Khalfani Muhammad absent due to track practice.
"We are a little thin in some spots, running back, in particular. Khalfani wasn't there today. He's doing his track thing, so with Lasco out, we've had to use some other guys," Dykes said. "Some guys have come in and helped us. Kenny Portera got in there and carried the ball some, and just some different guys that haven't done a lot. Austin Harper has done some good things, so obviously we're a little thin there, and we understand that."
Wide receiver Chris Harper is still a no-go as far as any contact drills, due to a clean-up procedure performed on his shoulder. It's very unlikely he'll be available for the spring game.
"We're going to hopefully progress him back in to skelly and some things a little bit more, get him in a red jersey and get him out there," Dykes said. "We're just trying to get him strong off the surgery, and feeling good."
As we reported on Thursday, offensive lineman Chris Adcock won't be fully cleared until the summer, but he is "ahead of schedule," Dykes said on Monday, and will probably be cleared in June.
Spring Practice 5: Keep it Simple
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