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BERKELEY -- After the offense had the run of the place for much of the first six days of fall camp, the defense showed up in a big way on Sunday, with four interceptions.
One of those interceptions came at the expense of sophomore quarterback Jared Goff -- just his second of camp – thanks to an alert play by linebacker Jalen Jefferson, who jumped a route by running back Daniel Lasco, and also provided a lot of pressure that led to stops and forced passes.
Goff said that the coverage windows are looking a lot like what he faced during games last season.
“Yeah, they’re doing a lot better,” Goff said. “They’re mixing up coverages. It’s never the same defense every play. They mix it up every play, and they’re doing a great job disguising it, as well. On one that they were disguising, they got me. Two days in a row now.”
Other interceptions came from Griffin Piatt (who’s been making a big push over the last four days at safety), Darius Allensworth (at the expense of Austin Hinder, as was Piatt’s) and Trevellous Cheek, who had a very strong day.
Allensworth also downed receiver Chris Harper for a loss on a pass behind the line of scrimmage.
So, the eternal question of fall camp: Is the offense getting worse, or is the defense
“You know, I don’t know,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “I thought the defense is really starting to run around. The guys are playing a lot faster. It’s funny, when they don’t have to tackle the backs, the offense always has a hard time moving, and when people do tackle the backs, it’s different. I thought they did a good job. I thought, defensively, we’re starting to play a lot faster. We’ve still got to get a lot of little things fixed – alignments and things like that – but those guys are starting to pick things up and play aggressively up front.”
The biggest difference in the secondary is not only a year of experience for some of the younger players – like Cameron Walker -- but much tighter coverage, both in one-on-ones and team drills.
“I didn’t think they (the quarterbacks) were as sharp as they have been. I think a lot it has to do with the fact that the coverage is so much tighter. I think, defensively, we’re playing a lot better,” Dykes said.
The secondary was able to play much faster on the back end thanks to a lot of pressure up front. Todd Barr notched a sack, and was a constant presence off the edge.
Michael Barton tallied a sack and a half (sharing one with Barr) and provided a lot of pressure from outside linebacker.
Jonathan Johnson also notched a sack on Goff off of left tackle. Much of the outside pressure came on the left side, against tackle Brian Farley, playing in place of starter Steven Moore, who’s been given the last two days off from team work.
“They blitzed a bunch,” said Dykes. “We’ll go and see what exactly happened. We had some free guys that we’ve got to get on a little quicker and do some stuff like that.”
It was on one of those blitzes that Luke Rubenzer, trying to find Bryce McGovern, forced a pass right into the hands of Cheek. Cheek also broke up a pass from Rubenzer to Erik Brown in the final 11-on-11 period, rushed by pressure from Kyle Kragen and Noah Westerfield. Several plays later, Westerfield brought down running back Tre Watson for a loss.
Cedric Dozier has been an interception machine thus far in camp, but didn’t come down with one on Sunday. He had to settle for breaking up a deep pass from Goff to Kenny Lawler in the end zone.
“Cedric Dozier is much better from practice one to right now, and Cedric’s done nothing but get better. He was a lot better this spring than he was last fall, and he just keeps getting better and better,” Dykes said. “Cam Walker, I think, is getting better and better. Darius Allensworth is getting better and better. Trey Cheek is getting better and better. All those guys have held up pretty well, and when those guys hold up, we can get a lot of people involved in stopping the run game, and holding up in one-on-one coverage.”
“I thought the defensive mentality was a lot better than the offense today, and I think it showed up,” Dykes said. “They’ve played a lot of guys. They got a lot of depth. The guys aren’t wearing down, so, as a result, they’re starting to figure out what to do, they’re starting to see things, starting to trigger quickly, and the speed of the game is starting to happen at a much faster rate. I think the big thing, too, is we’re starting to play well on the back end. The corners, to me, are really improved.
“I think the mentality the defense had was certainly better than what the offense had today, but that’s what you want. Good football teams, the offense does well one day, the defense does well one day, and that’s when you know you have a good football team, so hopefully, that’s where we’re headed.”
Offensive lineman Jordan Rigsbee got his first team reps in on Sunday for the first time this camp, albeit with the Bears in uppers and shorts. He’s seen time now at right guard and right tackle.
“There’s just a lot of competition going on right now for all of the spots,” Dykes said. “It’s been good. Dominic Granado’s played so well at tackle that it’s allowed us to stick Rigsbee in there at guard, where he’s played a lot more, and he’s been more comfortable. Farley’s done a good job at tackle, as well, so that’s given us some options as far as moving people around, with Matt [Cochran] being able to flip-flop and do some different things. Then, I think it allows Rigsbee to get back in there and compete for a job. That’s what you want.
“We’ll be a better football team when we have guys competing for starting spots, and that’s what’s starting to happen. Guys who just assumed they were going to be starters realize now that they’d better perform at a high level or somebody else is going to have their job.”
The defense’s big day wasn’t completely a surprise, as the secondary had been performing well throughout camp.
“I think they’ve shown some signs. I think they’ve shown some signs of improvement, and I thought, today, they’ve really played well,” Dykes said. “I thought the pass rush was a lot better than it’s been, coverage was tighter than it’s been. We just played faster. You can see the progress. We talked a little bit about that yesterday as a staff, about those guys were getting close. Art [Kaufman] felt like they were starting to figure it out a little bit, but as we said earlier, there’s a lot of little details we’ve got to get straightened out, in terms of recognizing things and getting checks made and things like that. We’ve got to get better at those things.”
Safety Avery Sebastian was limited on Sunday as he continues to work back from an Achilles injury. Darius White and DeZhon Grace were both in red, but still had their shoulder pads on and participated in individual work.
Defensive lineman Puka Lopa was in blue, but was held out of team work.
“I think Puka will do a little bit more tomorrow, Avery will do a little bit more tomorrow,” Dykes said. “We’re just bringing them back along slowly. I think those guys, you’ll start to see those guys get mixed in more and more, same thing with Darius. I think you’ll start to see him more and more as we progress.”
Dykes announced that Jason Gibson will take a medical retirement.
Cal got a commitment on Sunday from three-star defender Trevor Howard out of Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian.
EXPERT OPINION: Biggins Scouts Howard
BEYOND THE COMMITMENT: Howard Talks NFL Mentor
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