Fall Camp Day 10: A Look at Special Teams

BERKELEY -- Who's taking the lead in the field goal and kickoff races? Does Cole Leininger have some competition in the punt game? We look at that, and some added depth in the secondary on Day 10 of fall camp.

BERKELEYCalifornia’s second double day of camp was similar to the first – special teams play dominated the bulk of the morning session, and offense-defense work the afternoon.

Still, though, 12 practices in, there is no more clarity to the kickoff/field goal situation than there was on Aug. 4.

“The kicking thing is still a little early in camp for that to sort itself out, because we just want to see who can do it over the long haul, but I’ve seen some good things,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “We’ve just got to be more consistent.”

Of Matt Anderson, James Langford and Noah Beito, no one kicker has distinguished himself quiet yet.

“They’ve all kind of had their moments where they’ve looked good, and, at times, haven’t looked as good,” Dykes said. “James Langford’s got the strongest leg of the bunch, but is kind of battling some consistency issues.”

Beito, though, has made some hay for himself behind the booming leg of Cole Leininger, who’s looked positively Bryan Anger-esque over the past several open practices.

“He’s doing some good things,” Dykes said. “Noah’s been doing some good things, too. We feel pretty good about the punting. We’ve just got to get the field goal kicking kind of up to par.”

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One thing that the Bears seemingly won’t have to worry about is lack of bodies in the return game. Given the talented corps of wide receivers, plus four viable running backs, there is plenty of speed to spare for kickoff and punt return, though Khalfani Muhammad has already received preseason plaudits as one of the conference’s top kickoff returners.

“I think on punt returns, we’ll use [Chris] Harper and [Bryce] Treggs, both, and kickoff returns, we’re still sorting through a little bit, but I would expect we see Trevor Davis and Khalfani. Then, we’ll see what happens behind those guys at this point. We’ve got some options, both places.”

Last season, the Bears ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in kickoff returns, averaging 18.6 yards per take-back. Cal was dead last in the league in punt returns, with an average of 2.7 yards.

Muhammad ranked sixth in the conference with an average of 21.9 yards per kick return.

Treggs returned 19 punts for just 39 yards, with a long of 13, while Harper took back two punts for nine yards. Treggs also took back seven kickoffs for 137 yards, with a long of 28 and an average of 19.6 The only returning players who took back at least one kickoff are receiver Maurice Harris (one for 13 yards), receiver Darius Powe (one for -1 yard) and tailback Daniel Lasco (one for 18 yards).

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Cal ranked sixth in the Pac-12 in kickoff coverage, with a net kickoff average of 40.2 yards and 20 touchbacks in 56 tries. The Bears were 10th in punt coverage, with a net average of 34.5 yards, despite Leininger ranking third in the league in punting average with a mark of 42.9 yards – just 0.5 yards short of the league lead.

The coverage units, Dykes said, are much improved, largely thanks to increased depth and experience.

“Our special teams are way ahead of where we were, and the biggest thing is just having depth, having more bodies to practice and get in work – bigger bodies, stronger bodies, more athletic, guys that can cover – so the special teams has been strong up to this point,” Dykes said. “It’s something that we’ve got to keep improving, but we feel that we’ve got a lot of guys that can give us some quality snaps on the teams.”

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Offensive tackle Steven Moore got back into the thick of things in 11-on-11 work on Wednesday, providing some stability on the left side after taking things easy over the past several days.

Dykes said that Moore was practicing “at full-go,” but the staff will “monitor him a little bit, rest him at times and just see how he’s feeling.”

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Veteran Jordan Rigsbee saw more action at right tackle on Wednesday in full 11-on-11 work, and has seen his workload increase as he continues to inch his way back from a knee injury suffered during the spring game. So far, he’s seen time both at right tackle and at right guard.

“He’s been bouncing around,” Dykes said. “He’s going to continue to do that, and we’ll see where he gets settled in.”

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There were no standouts on Wednesday, according to Dykes, who characterized Cal’s second double day as a “good, solid practice,” though the offense continued to bounce back from a rough weekend at the hands of the defense.

“I thought they looked sharp,” Dykes said. “I think that the execution is getting a little bit better. We lost our legs a little bit, and so, sometimes, it looks a little sloppy. We’re playing with a lot of different groups of receivers at times, and offensive line combinations. I thought they executed better today than we have, so that was encouraging.”

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The defensive backfield should get stronger as the second week of camp wears on, as safety Avery Sebastian and cornerback Cedric Dozier’s snaps continue to increase on a day-to-day basis.

Joel Willis is starting to kind of come back and get in the mix a little bit more, which is encouraging,” Dykes said. “Avery, I think, is starting to feel a bit better and getting in the mix more and more at safety. We’re starting to get some guys back.”

Junior safety Cormac Craigie is also starting to get mixed in after seeing limited action over the first week.

“Cormac Craigie will come back and start doing a little bit more as we progress this week,” Dykes said. “Some of the guys that we’ve been bringing along slowly are responding.”

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The guys being brought along slowly also include defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil, who is seeing more and more full-team action every day.

“Jalil is moving around, feels good,” Dykes said. “Austin Clark feels good. All those guys are bouncing back, and we’re progressing them right along and they’re responding well, so that part’s encouraging.”

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After practice, the Bears Bears were treated to a speech from football legend Herm Edwards during an evening team meeting.

“Herm has had a great football career both as a player and a coach,” Dykes said. “He’s a dynamic speaker and I thought he did a great job sharing some really important messages for our team. We were lucky to have. He played college football at Cal and really cares about this University and our program. We are really thankful to him for taking time out of his busy schedule to come talk to our players. His message was very well received and relevant.”

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Freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer closed out the second practice of the day with a 25-yard completion to Ray Hudson, followed by a 27-yard hookup with Patrick Worstell.

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Visitors at Wednesday’s second practice included Cal’s Interim Director of Athletics Mike Williams and Deputy Director of Athletics/COO Solly Fulp.


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