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BERKELEY -- California head coach Sonny Dykes may not have been directly addressing the major dust-up that happened midway through practice on Tuesday when he referred to his team as “a little dysfunctional at times,” but the sentiment fit.
The brouhaha that started when Austin Clark threw Tre Watson to the ground during 11-on-11 and spun out several other sub-fights, though, ended as suddenly as it had began, and did so with hollering, carrying on and clapping, on both sidelines. The fight happened, it ended, and no hard feelings remained, even seconds after its conclusion.
The rest of practice saw the intensity level crank up a few notches, with the defensive backs showing up in a big way, led by Avery Sebastian (two breakups, plus one hit just as the ball arrived for a forced incompletion) and Cedric Dozier, who turned in a pick on a duck thrown by freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer and his second straight strong day against the Bears’ fathom-deep corps of wide receivers.
“I saw some guys starting to trigger the ball faster today,” said Dykes. “Stefan McClure, I thought, is starting to do some really good things at safety. Avery, I thought, triggered the ball, particularly late in practice, made a couple nice plays. It was good to see those guys do that.”
The fight – and the boost in intensity that followed -- was emblematic of what’s been apparent over the first two days of fall camp: There’s something different about this team.
“I think we’ve grown as a team,” Dykes said. “It’s just a different feel being around these guys. They’re more invested. They care about each other more. They’re more unselfish. They’re going to have some things, from time to time, that overheat. Hopefully, we’re not going to have too many of those. It’s really just a waste of time.”
[VIDEO: WATCH HIGHLIGHTS FROM DAY TWO]
The offensive line hasn’t wasted any time since the season ended against Stanford, and keeping with the theme of renewed vigor, the offensive front’s offseason regimen was geared towards making sure that Cal doesn’t have to play 12 different linemen over the course of the 2014 season.
“You’ve got to see what these guys did in the offseason,” said offensive line coach Zach Yenser. “What Damon [Harrington] did from January to the first of August with these guys, and the strength, with strength just comes more confidence, not thinking, ‘I need to get my head involved; I can use more technique.’ They’re in better shape. For them, this summer, what we were challenging them to do for the last six months, that’s what I told them in Sunday’s meeting: ‘You guys are head-over-heels stronger than you were when you ended the season last year against Stanford. You should have the confidence to play with great technique, head out, not lunging,’ and you really owe that to Damon.”
Center Chris Adcock has shown himself to be a calming presence in the middle of the line, and is progressing faster than expected, allowing freshmen Michael Trani, Addison Ooms and J.D. Hinnant to work in behind him without any pressure.
“It’s great to have Chris back,” Yenser said. “It’s just a whole different feeling. Chris is kind of the glue, and I think we knew that, last year. Just experience and his senior leadership is good to have back.”
Dominic Granado has emerged as a fixture on the first-team offensive line at right tackle, which will certainly make Jordan Rigsbee’s imminent return interesting as the Bears try to find a spot for their most dependable starter from 2013.
“He’s stepped it up, man,” Yenser said of Granado. “He’s everything that we saw on film. The kid has a great punch. He still has a lot to work on, but he’s a fighter. He’s a blue-collar-type kid, gets it done. He does what you ask him to do, and has pride in what he does, has pride in his work, and we’re going to win with guys like that.”
With Rigsbee still on light duty as he returns from meniscus surgery, the line has had to adjust, but it’s not something that came as a surprise.
“If there’s one thing this offensive line is used to, it’s adjustment, right? We’re used to the curveballs,” Yenser said. “We knew, going into fall, that Jordan was going to be a little limited early, just because of the knee, so there’s no reason to push it to get back. He’s done a heck of a job with working on the side with [Mike] Blasquez and getting him into shape.”
Offensive line-defensive line drills were spirited on Tuesday, with left tackles Steven Moore and Brian Farley standing out consistently. The Todd Barr-Matt Cochran battle was fun to watch, with each getting the best of the other on consecutive reps. Barr beat Cochran first with a rip move on the outside, and then Cochran was able to shove Barr to the outside on the next rep to keep his quarterback clean.
Another highlight was Michael Trani, who pulled off a strong redirect on Tony Mekari, controlling the redshirt freshman’s shoulders, keeping his feet moving and locking out. Bennett has shown a nasty streak so far in camp.
Kamryn Bennett also stood out.
“Our goal last year in the 2014 recruiting class was to go out and find the toughest, meanest, smartest guys we could find, and I think we found two guys – with him and Mike – that are what we’re looking for, up front,” Yenser said. “Kam’s a fighter. He has pride in what he does. He does everything you ask him to do. It bothers him to lose. He’s a tough kid. That’s just a recipe for success as an offensive lineman.”
[WATCH: One-on-One with Luke Rubenzer]
Just as the offensive line has improved, so has the defensive backfield, with Darius Allensworth and Dozier in particular standing out.
For Dozier, it’s partly a function of having been forced into service last year, and partly because he has to step his game up against Cal’s receivers.
“You’ve just got to compete, man,” Dozier said. “I love that our wide receivers are so good. You go down the list: Kenny Lawler, Bryce, Trev, Maurice Harris, and you keep going. They’re all worthy wide receivers. It’s not like no one’s a waste of my time. They’re not wasting my time. We’re helping each other get better.”
Freshman A.J. Greathouse keeps showing up in the notebook, and while there aren’t many highlight-reel breakups or interceptions to hang his hat on, he’s been disruptive, physical and always in the right place at the right time, and that showed up late in practice during 11-on-11 work against Chris Harper, when the late addition to the 2014 class waylaid a pass intended for Harper from freshman quarterback Chase Forrest.
After that, he weathered a vicious double move from Harris to recover and force an incompletion from sophomore starting quarterback Jared Goff.
And, speaking of double moves, Trevor Davis roasted Caleb Coleman on one during one-on-ones, and continues to be the most impressive player – on either side of the ball – in camp. There’s a reason why he and Dozier love facing one another.
In the latter half of practice, Davis out-reached Dozier in the end zone on a 40-yard bomb from Forrest.
“I’m competitive as hell, so any time I can compete in anything, I’m happy to, especially in football,” Dozier said. “Like Trev said, he has become one of my favorite wide receivers to guard, the most fun, because I know he’s going to give me a challenge. I’ve got to be disciplined and I’ve got to be able to compete.”
In skeleton work, Davis took a quick pass from Goff, stopped dead in his tracks to shake Allensworth, then came down with a leaping grab for 25 yards.
Goff had his second good day in a row, and was perfect on his first 7-on-7 drive, completing between seven and 10 straight passes, including a long touch-ball touchdown to Davis against Greathouse.
Goff’s midrange 15-yard back-shoulder balls were on the mark all day long, and he’s certainly shown a lot of advancement since the end of last season.
“I thought Jared had another very good day,” Dykes said. “Just his ability to kind of be on the same page as the receivers, I think, has really improved. He’s a lot more poised, a lot more confident, stronger, the ball’s coming out quicker, he’s making more decisive decisions and making decisive throws and doing it in a quick manner. He’s looked pretty sharp.”
Both Jack Austin and Ray Hudson have quietly had very solid first two days of camp.
Both have shown a lot of physicality and a verve for contact with defensive backs in one-on-one work. Neither shy away from the press, and have a knack for finding the open grass. During one seven-on drive, Rubenzer found Hudson three straight times, before Sebastian finally put the kibosh on the hook up with a leaping breakup.
Dykes was pleased with the developing depth along the defensive line, with Barr and Clark both having good days. Barr, notably, dropped Daniel Lasco for a loss in 11-on-11s, the first time that the Doak Walker Award Watch List member has been halted behind the line of scrimmage so far. Barr also came up with good pressure on Forrest several plays later. Clark turned in two punishing reps against Alex Crosthwaite during one-on-ones, getting good extension and really getting up under Crosthwaite’s pads.
Noah Westerfield was also impressive during footwork drills, showing very nimble and quick feet.
“We’ve got to stay healthy there, but we’ve got some bodies and guys are learning,” Dykes said. “They’re in shape and they’re strong. I’m happy with that group, so far. Now, we haven’t put the pads on, so we’ll know a lot more about both lines tomorrow, but just in terms of their ability to move in practice, I’m pleased with that group.”
Cornerback Darius White was back in practice without a sling on his left arm, after jamming his shoulder on Monday. He sat out one-on-ones and team periods, but he looked to otherwise be suffering no ill effects, other than soreness.
“He’s going to be fine,” Dykes said. “It’s just kind of sore. I think it’s going to be faster than we anticipated.”
Dykes said that nothing should be read into the fact that Harper is running with the second group of receivers.
Cal will start preparing for Northwestern after the 19th practice.
Quotes of the day come from Dykes and defensive line coach Fred Tate. During early drills, frustrated with the younger players’ inability to do one particular drill right, Tate bellowed: “Old guys, up front. If you can’t do it, don’t go yet.”
Dykes, when asked about the fight and football players’ tendency to strike fist-first at a facemask, offered the following:
“You know what? That’s a good question. That’s a very good question. There’s a lot of things in this great world of ours that I can’t explain, and that’s certainly one of them.”
Fall Camp Day 2: Brouhaha Bears
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