Swagger Games, Depth and Remembrance

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Sonny Dykes, Brennan Scarlett and Chris Adcock talk depth, remembering Ted Agu, new roster additions, who will surprise this season and who's stepped into leadership roles, and just what are the Swagger Games?

Fall Camp Schedule

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Last week, the California football injury report fit into a single tweet. “That’s probably the first time that that’s happened,” laughed head coach Sonny Dykes at Wednesday’s Bay Area College Football Media Day at Levi’s Stadium, where the Bears will face Oregon – the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 – on Fri., Oct. 24.

The one player to go down this spring – offensive lineman Jordan Rigsbee -- will be held back a bit to start fall camp – to which players report on Sunday – because he is still working his way back from a torn meniscus.

“Depending on what he can do from a health standpoint -- he’s coming off of that injury, so what can he handle load-wise?” Dykes said. “He’ll be a guy that we progress slowly, but we think is going to be fine. We’ve just got to monitor his volume.”

• Aside from Rigsbee, there were no other roster or injury changes of note, save for the formal addition of cornerback A.J. Greathouse, linebacker Arthur Wainwright and linebacker Jake Kearney to the roster.

“Wainwright and Greathouse have completed everything and are done,” Dykes said. “Kearney is completing a class. Arty has a verbal grade. We’ve just got to get a transcript.”

What can be expected out of the late additions?

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Dykes quipped. “We recruited them all because they’re very good athletes, so I know they’re good athletes. I know they can run fast. I know that, physically, they look good. I know they’ve been productive. How they fit and all that, and what kind of shape are they in, right now, those are unknowns. We’ll know a lot more Monday, but we’ll really know a lot more the following Monday. A couple of them will really jump off early, and some will kind of get overwhelmed and need to step back. It’s usually a week in, where you can say, ‘We can really get something out of this guy.’”

• It’s looking increasingly unlikely that Wake Forest defensive tackle transfer James Looney will get his waiver for immediate eligibility granted by the NCAA.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Dykes said. “I don’t think it’s going to work. He’d have to sit out a year due to transfer rules. He’s enrolled at school. I would expect him to redshirt this year, and then come back and play in 2015.”

Not having Looney to fill out a largely-untested middle of the defensive line will hurt, but defensive end Brennan Scarlett -- who was one of two players to attend, along with medical school-bound center Chris Adcock -- thinks that the unit could surprise.

“The biggest challenge right now is that there’s not much experience,” Scarlett said. “We have a lot of guys that are coming along. I think that, by the first game, they’ll be great assets to the team. Harrison Wilfley is a great guy with a lot of upside. Moose [Mustafa Jalil] coming back, will be great for us. Marcus Manley looks great, Austin Clark, TK [Trevor Kelley], we’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of upside. We’ve just got to get ready, get practices in.”

Jalil, in particular, could be a game breaker, if he stays healthy. At Pac-12 Media Day, Dykes recalled that Jalil was “unblockable” in the spring of 2013, when he was still healthy.

“Big Moose is going to be really good for us,” Scarlett said. “He’s looking good. He’ll be ready by that first game. Whenever Moose is on the field and healthy, he’s a force to be reckoned with.”

• Also due to surprise fans? Perhaps Scarlett, himself.

“I’d like to think that I can put some surprise on people’s faces out there, but I really think Nathan Broussard, I think he’ll be a big surprise for a lot of people, playing inside linebacker,” Scarlett said. “Not a lot of people have seen him play at that position, but I think that’s the best position for him, where he feels most comfortable at.”

• Linebacker looks to be a position of strength for the defense, with Broussard and sophomore Michael Barton taking leadership roles during summer workouts.

“Mike Barton has been huge,” Scarlett said. “Michael Lowe has had a lot of experience and he’s been great for us, Nathan Broussard, Stefan McClure – a lot of guys who are older now, who have the experience and are able to take up that role a little bit.”

• Cal will have Mondays off from practice this season, which will come in handy for Adcock, who has sent out his applications for medical school to “a bunch of the UC system med schools,” including UCLA and UCSF, as well as a clutch of medical schools in his home state of Texas, including UT-Houston, UT-Galveston, Texas Tech and Southwestern. He’s hoping that he’ll be able to attend his med school interviews during the days off, and plans on not missing any practice.

Adcock took 16 units last fall, and 19 last spring, during the heart of his rehab on his knee. He got enough work done that he'll have a reduced course load this fall.

Is there anything that could derail the 3.6-GPA student’s doctoral plans? Maybe the NFL.

“I’m definitely not counting that out,” said Adcock, who admitted that he’ll have to either keep his bright red Abe Lincoln beard trimmed, or hack it off, entirely, before he has to suit up for in-person interviews. “If the opportunity comes up, then I’m going to pursue it. I’m preparing like whenever our last game is, that’s my last game, but if another door opens, I’m obviously going to pursue that.”

• After last season’s spate of injuries, Dykes and his staff undertook a comprehensive study in order to learn just what they could do to prevent such a huge toll taken on the team’s health.

“We looked at every injury that occurred, why did it occur, how did it occur, what was the setting, was it on Astroturf or grass, was it the result of being rolled up or did it happen in a non-contact, was it a soft-tissue injury,” Dykes said. “The thing we found out was, very few soft-tissue injuries, which is typically a strength and conditioning issue, so we felt pretty good about that. A lot of unusual-type things. We had our first significant offensive line injury [in practice] in 20 years, where somebody fell on our center (Adcock) and rolled him up. There wasn’t much we could do about that, from a prevention standpoint. Other guys, a lot of them, Avery Sebastian, torn Achilles tendon, that just happens. It’s an unusual injury that sometimes happens. Some bone spurs, which can lead to that, at times, or there’s a correlation between the two.”

What did the study find?

“Fatigue, at times, we think plays a little bit of a factor in those injuries, so what we did in the spring was adjust our practice schedule accordingly, where we had less prolonged full-contact sessions, where we went above 80 plays,” Dykes said. “A lot of the scrimmage situations in football, we say, ‘We’re going to have three scrimmages,’ and they go 200 plays. We’ve found, through the years, that a lot of injuries happen at the end of those, when guys get fatigued. What we did was, we shortened those sessions. We had more of them. We had more live tackling this spring than we’ve ever had, but we had it in 25-40-play segments, instead. We had more of those. We had eight full-tackle practices, which was an unusually high number for us, where you might have two or three, normally.”

• Both Scarlett and Adcock echoed what will surely be the tagline for the game against the Ducks: Make Levi’s Stadium Bear Territory.

“I think the team’s excited about it,” Adcock said. “I think there’s a lot of fans out there who are excited, as well. We’re just looking forward to getting to play on Friday night, the keynote game, against a great Oregon team. I’m not worried about us losing any home field advantage. I know the Cal fans will be there.”

Scarlett certainly understands that some fans are wary due to the loss of home field advantage, but doesn’t think that will be the case.

“I think it’s not giving up too much of an advantage. We’ve been talking about turning Levi’s Stadium into Bear Territory. That’s the goal. We’re going to play like that,” Scarlett said. “I definitely understand where they’re coming from, because Memorial Stadium is a great place to play, but there’s the other viewpoint, also, that this is a great opportunity for us as players, for the program, for exposure. It’s a really cool opportunity. We’ll represent just like we’re playing at Memorial.”

Dykes didn’t go as far as San Francisco Bowl Game Association Executive Director Gary Cavali in calling the stadium the “greatest stadium on the face of the earth,” but he did give the San Francisco 49ers new yard plenty of plaudits.

“Our players are certainly excited to play in this facility – a world-class facility,” Dykes said. “I had a chance to tour it several weeks ago, and this place will just blow you away, as you have a chance to get around the stadium. It’s really remarkable, the job they’ve done here. Our guys are fired up about playing a great Oregon team on a Friday night.”

• Dykes said that there has been a continual increase in the rate of buy-in among players through spring, and throughout summer conditioning, and it’s shown in the level of competition in the Swagger Games. What are the Swagger Games, you ask? The team has been divided into sub-teams, which compete for points in various offseason activities.

“Just having those guys compete against each other in a lot of different scenarios. It’s a game deal that Damon Harrington, our strength and conditioning coach, started,” Dykes said. “It’s a competition that kind of encompasses weight lifting, academics (academics is a big part of it), consistency, effort and then obviously, competitive situations. It’s something that we did, really from February, really up until now. Our guys are still doing stuff. They’re divided into teams, and competed against each other. It’s just learning how to do that, and understanding that, if somebody doesn’t go to a class or somebody doesn’t do well on a test, that affects the group, and how important that is to be the best you can, all the time.”

The competition will extend into training camp, as, right now, there is a preliminary champion.

“They think they’ve won it right now, but we’ll find out in camp,” Dykes said. “We’ve got a couple of surprises for them. We’re keeping them on their toes a little bit.”

Keeping the Bears on their toes means having an increased emphasis on competition during camp and practices -- having clear winners and losers, with rewards for success and consequences for failures. “We’ll do a lot of things as we’re moving into camp, where we try to put them into situations where they have to compete; you have a winner and a loser in drills, and just the idea of consistent effort and learning to try and win one-on-one battles, which are so important in football,” Dykes said. “It’s the importance of winning those, and the importance of competing at a high level. We’ll continue to do things. It’s not always things on the field. Sometimes, it’s things in the weight room. A big part of it is always going to be academics, so we’ll have summer school grades, those will factor into this, as well, how guys did in the classroom, who missed class, who didn’t miss a class, all those type of things make a big difference.”

One of the biggest changes from last fall camp will be the addition of more live hitting.

“We’ll do a lot more full, live tackling this camp, than we did last year,” Dykes said. “But, it won’t be 80, 120 plays. It’s going to be more like it was in the spring – 25-50 plays [at a time].”

• Dykes, in his opening remarks, trumpeted the one-year APR score improvement from 923 in 2011-12 to 969 in 2012-2013, and added that Cal football posted its best summer GPA in years, just a shade under 3.0.

“That’s tremendous progress for our program, and we can’t wait for the days until it’s considerably over a 3.0,” Dykes said.

• Dykes, on multiple occasions throughout the day, referred to the team’s improved work ethic, something which, Scarlett and Adcock said, is directly attributable to the influence of defensive lineman Ted Agu, who passed away following his collapse on a training run on Feb. 7, as a result of a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

“That’s a very difficult hole to fill, replacing a man like Ted, but he’s still with us, as a defensive line,” Scarlett said. “We keep him in our prayers and our thoughts, and he’s looking over us. He’s going to help us from above. We use that as a huge motivation, his work ethic.”

Like Adcock, Agu was planning on applying to medical schools, a fact which the two had started to really bond over just before his passing.

“Everyone’s on-board with honoring him through the work ethic, because that’s what he’s known for, and that’s what he’s always going to be remembered for,” said Adcock.

Agu’s No. 35 jersey will lead the Bears onto the field every game, as they come out of the North Tunnel at home, and on the road, as well, Scarlett said.

“[His death] has brought us together more than I’ve ever seen before,” Scarlett said. “It’s crazy how that can happen, how something like that, a tragedy like that, can bring a team together, a group of people together, just because it’s hard to shoulder something like that, individually. You lean on each other to do it.”

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