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BERKELEY -- California came in to fall camp with three big question marks: Would the Bears have enough depth at defensive tackle? Would they have enough depth at defensive back? Who would kick on field goals and kickoffs?
The unifying theme? Lack of experience.
Defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, it would seem, has an answer: Simplicity.
The first-year coordinator said on Wednesday – Cal’s first day in shoulder pads -- that he has been able to install more in the first three days of fall camp than he had at any of his previous stops, which included Texas Tech – where Kaufman turned the Red Raiders from the 114th-ranked defense in the nation to 38th – and Cincinnati – where Kaufman elevated the Bearcats from No. 54 in the country in total defense to No. 9.
“I think the one thing is, we put in what we did in spring ball, and then the kids were able to carry over things,” Kaufman said. “A lot of times, guys may not realize what happens at the end of April, you go May, June, July and you’re back, and they don’t retain it. These guys, I thought, did a nice job of retaining what we did, taking notes on their own, studying on their own.”
One man who has had plenty of time to study is sixth-year senior Austin Clark, who has been one of the top performers on the interior of the defensive line, and was strong again on Wednesday, recalling Brennan Scarlett’s first-day reps by reverse-pancaking his opponent in OL/DL one-on-ones.
“Austin Clark is not a real big guy, but wow. Powerful guy,” Kaufman said. “Surprise to me.”
After Clark’s rep, David Davis blew back his opponent, as well. Todd Barr has also looked to be much improved, with added strength and explosion as he took several first-team reps opposite of Scarlett at defensive end.
Barr nearly came up with a pick on a late-practice pass from quarterback Jared Goff, who patiently checked down to find Chris Harper for a big catch-and-run.
“I don’t know that we’re going to have a guy that’s an all-conference guy, that’s a guy who is just going to stalemate everybody, but, the one thing we’ve got is we’ve got some committee guys,” Kaufman said of his defensive line. “We can kind of roll them through there, and have some different guys to roll in.
“That’s one thing with the spread teams that you’re playing with and against: They play a lot of snaps. The big thing is, you’ve got to have quality depth, and I think that’s the thing: Right now, we’re building quality depth. I don’t want so much to know if we know it all; I’m really trying to find out if some of these younger guys – if they can play, and if we can get them taught what to do – I’m trying to find out if they can do it, right now.”
Scarlett had yet another big day, giving emergent right tackle Dominic Granado fits and breaking up a pass during the first team 11-on-11 period, nearly causing a turnover. Scarlett’s pressure allowed Darius Allensworth to jump the route and break up the ensuing pass.
Granado – who said he still has to prove himself to the coaches and other players even though he seems to have a stranglehold on the right tackle spot over the first three days – mentioned Scarlett as one of the reasons he’s had to up his game.
“Scarlett definitely stands out,” Granado smiled. “But, all the D-ends are giving me great looks. He comes off the ball fast, really quick, he’s got fast feet and he’s really strong. I’m just glad I get to go against him every day.”
Scarlett also laid the wood to running back Daniel Lasco, going out for a pass. Full pads on? Lasco would have had his bell rung.
Other standouts along the defensive front included Wake Forest transfer James Looney, who had several strong reps against the guards in one-on-ones, though Kamryn Bennett gave him some trouble.
Lasco was later dropped for a loss – his second of camp – by the trio of Trevor Kelly, Devante Downs and Tony Mekari, working in with the first-team defense.
“I thought our front was able to hold the point of attack a lot,” Kaufman said. “I think our second-level fits, we’ve still got some things to learn, and that’s just part of being in the scheme. There are some inexperienced guys, and the big thing I’m looking for is, do we know what we’re doing? That’s the thing we’re still working on, and it’s part of learning the scheme. We’ve probably installed more in the first three practices than anywhere I’ve been in, and that’s something that’s a testament to our kids. They’ve understood what we’re doing, and we’re still making mistakes, but they’ve got a grasp on it.”
Those second-level fits reared their head during the final 11-on-11 period, when running back Jeffrey Coprich exploded out of the backfield, turning the corner on the east sideline and racing 35 yards for the longest run in camp.
Freshman running backs Vic Enwere and Tre Watson showed what they could do on Wednesday, with Enwere showing the most improvement over the first two days, since he could finally play behind his pads. Enwere looked strong up the middle, and during offensive 11-on-shadow, he and fellow battering ram Lucus Gingold freight-trained their way through the right side of the line for a touchdown.
Enwere later turned in a long catch-and-run during 7on work, which would have been a touchdown in full pads.
Both Enwere and Watson caught passes out of the backfield, with Watson showing his trademark slither, along with a very aggressive running style.
“It’s hard to evaluate running backs. I saw those guys do some good things today, the young guys, especially. I was encouraged by what I saw out of them,” said head coach Sonny Dykes.
We’ll get to see more out of the young backs on Friday, Cal’s first day in full pads. On Saturday, Dykes said, the Bears will go more with live scrimmage situations.
The defensive backfield started out sluggish, but turned up the intensity later in practice, with Stefan McClure and Bryce Treggs going at it multiple times during one-on-ones. Early in one-on-ones, McClure gave up the completion from Goff, but stripped Treggs for the turnover.
Treggs got back at McClure, though, turning in a rumbling, bumbling, stumbling grab for the 40-yard TD.
McClure was consistently challenging for the ball after catches. He and Michael Lowe were easily the most PHYSICAL so far among the defensive backs.
While Avery Sebastian had the big day on Tuesday, Wednesday saw the other safeties get into the mix, with Griffin Piatt running with the second team, along with some new faces, including Hamilton Anoai, David Davis and A.J. Greathouse. Piatt in fact was one of the only folks able to get any kind of contact on sophomore speedster Khalfani Muhammad, tagging him with an arm tackle during 11-on-11s after a five-yard gain. Muhammad later broke off two big runs escaping just those kinds of tackles.
“Stefan McClure, I thought, showed up today, more than he’s shown up, so it was good to see him do that,” Dykes said. “Piatt’s getting better back there, as well. He’s a long, athletic guy, that we’re still waiting for him to kind of make a push. I think he will.”
Cornerback Darius White held the dubious distinction of being the first Bear this fall to show up in a red jersey, but he’s still doing more than expected with his jammed left shoulder. Cal, though, seems to have answered this first small test of defensive backfield depth. Cedric Dozier once again had a very strong day at corner, starting with the first-team opposite Cameron Walker.
Dozier came up with two pass break ups on Wednesday, and had two notable reps against Trevor Davis and Kenny Lawler, where his tight coverage and hand work forced two of the Bears’ top receivers to get creative and up their game, with Lawler manipulating Dozier’s hands away to open up a small window for Goff, who hit him for a 40-yard touchdown, and Davis making a juggling grab on the west sideline that was just one finger away from being an interception by Dozier.
“Darius did some stuff today, a little bit, so it was good to get him back in there,” Dykes said. “Cedric Dozier’s vastly improved. Cameron Walker’s probably been as consistent as anybody so far, these practices. On the back end, Michael Lowe, I thought, continues to move around well and to play well.”
With Walker (now a legit 180 pounds, whereas he has said himself that he was more like 160 last season playing free safety) and Dozier taking the first reps on the outside, and Darius Allensworth nipping at their heels, it’s allowed Kaufman and defensive backs coach Greg Burns to use McClure to bolster the depth at safety. Much like the situation the offensive line will have to deal with the return of starter Jordan Rigsbee in a matter of days – having to find a spot to put him – the defense has had to find a place for the savvy veteran McClure. Three days into camp, it’s a good problem to have, and certainly a 180-degree turn from last year, when linebackers and receivers were being repurposed into safeties and corners.
“We do [have more depth],” Dykes said. “And, like I said, I think they’re doing better. Allensworth has played well at times, Trey Cheek has played well at times, Caleb Coleman’s playing some nickel for us. We’re kind of experimenting with him a little bit at nickel, and we’re just trying to find the best five, to see how they all fit together. There’s a lot of moving parts going on right now, defensively, and a lot of it is just figuring out what these guys can do, try to get them enough reps where they can get good at it.”
Also proving to be a boon to the defensive backfield? Greathouse. The freshman corner got second reps on Wednesday.
“A.J. Greathouse is somebody who’s got some athleticism and is going to do some good things for us,” Dykes said.
Not much has been said about the linebacking corps, and that’s because of two reasons: First, it’s tough to see what the linebackers can really do when they can’t hurt things. Second, it’s probably the surest unit on the team, outside of the wide receivers.
It’s not exciting to say it, but Jalen Jefferson, Nathan Broussard and Michael Barton are steady, solid and consistent. Broussard has turned out to be so consistent, in fact, that Hardy Nickerson, Jr., has even seen a handful of reps on the outside.
Late addition Arthur Wainwright also flashed several times on Wednesday.
Both Edward Tandy and Ray Davison flashed at times on Wednesday, with Tandy scoring a breakup over the middle against Goff and Davison scoring a sack on Luke Rubenzer.
Center Chris Adcock has taken just about every single rep with the first team, proving that he’s more than ready to go after offseason knee surgery.
“Adcock’s been solid. He’s held up incredibly well,” said Dykes, who had planned on bringing the redshirt senior along slowly. “We were, and he just feels so good right now, that he just keeps going. That’s a conversation we’re probably going to have, talk about backing him off a little bit, just making sure that we’re not loading him up too much too early.”
When Adcock does get spelled, it’s by freshman Addison Ooms, who’s been a pleasant surprise thus far, with Rigsbee on the shelf and Matt Cochran moved out to tackle at times.
“Addison Ooms, freshman center, has done really good, and looked really good so far,” Dykes said. “He’s a walk-on kid who, it looks like, three practices in, he’s got a chance to play, which, to me, is a pretty dang good surprise.”
Both Matt Anderson and James Langford were money from all the way out to the 42-yard line on field goals on Wednesday, with Langford narrowly coming out on top, as the Bears continue to search for who will wind up as the primary kicker.
“James Langford, I think, has been pretty consistent,” Dykes said. “I’ve been pleased with him. He’s got a big leg. He hasn’t always been the most consistent guy, but it seems like, so far, his consistency has been where we want it to be. Matt Anderson’s stronger, and is making a little bit of a push, as well, so it’s encouraging to see. I think it’s going to be a good competition between those three guys.”
Fall Camp Day 3: Keeping it Simple
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