BERKELEY -- Fall camp may be winding down for California, but there is still some unfinished business the Bears have to address: The winner of the Swagger Games.
“We’ve still got to settle one more deal. We’re going to do the home run derby tournament at some point,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “I don’t know quite when, yet, but we’ll get that settled. We may do it after practice one day. We’ll see.”
Quarterback Jared Goff has certainly stated his desire to continue on with the competition, and Cal will likely finish that off on Friday or Saturday.
One situation that seems to be fairly resolved is the place-kicking starter, which, after another special-teams heavy morning session on Thursday, appears to be James Langford.l
“I think, if we had to play today, James Langford would be our guy,” Dykes said. “I thought he had a good week. Much, much more consistent. He’s got a big leg, so I’ll be surprised if that’s not how it ends up.”
Consistency has been the one element holding Dykes back from officially naming a starting kicker, but Langford has had a solid week.
“The consistency has been the question with him, and it’s still going to be a little bit of a work in progress. He just hasn’t kicked at this level, so I think he’s just going to have to show that he can do it and handle it, and we think he can,” Dykes said. “He’s a mature kid, he’s been around a little bit, he’s got some maturity and he’s an older kid. You don’t know how any of them are going to react, so you try to test them in practice and put them in some pressure situations, which we did earlier today, and I thought he responded well, but it’s a lot different kicking here on Thursday with nobody in the stadium than with people in the stadium.”
Also gaining some clarity is the MIKE linebacker situation, which has seen Michael Barton, Hardy Nickerson and Devante Downs take first-team reps, though Barton has taken the lion’s share over the past week.
“I would say probably, if we had to play today. Hardy’s back healthy and doing some good things, and has done enough where we think he’s going to get in the mix, so we feel, between those two guys, that gives us some good depth, and you have Devante, who’s had an outstanding camp. We’re expecting big things out of him, so all he needs is reps to get better and just to get his feet wet. He’s a true freshman; you kind of forget about it, since he went through spring football, and just looking at him physically, he doesn’t look like a true freshman. He’s way ahead of schedule, and we like what we’re getting out of him, so that’s a position, as I said, if Hardy can come back and give us what we think he can give us, that can be a good position for us.”
Another linebacker who’s had a big camp? Ray Davison, who’s taking nearly all the first-team reps at WILL linebacker.
Dykes offered this evaluation of newcomer Jake Kearney, who was the No. 2 SAM linebacker behind Jalen Jefferson.
“He’s picked things up quickly,” Dykes said. “He’s athletic. He’s kind of what we saw on film. He’s got some length and he’s a good athlete, a really smart kid. We expect his role to increase as the season goes on. He’s going to have some opportunities on special teams to make a name for himself, and be a contributor. Hopefully, that’ll grow into a bigger role with the defense.”
Thursday’s afternoon practice was fairly light, with a lot of half-speed team work and very little 11-on-11, though cornerback Darius White was in a blue jersey, instead of a red one, which he’s worn since jamming his shoulder during the first week of camp.
“That was good to see. Of course, we weren’t doing much hitting today, but he’s going to get worked back in to it. We’ll just see what he can take and how he’s feeling, monitor his strength and see what we can get. I would expect to get something out of him on Saturday. I would expect him to play [against Northwestern], but we’ll see how it plays out.”
The light tenor of practice on Thursday was a response to the scrimmage from Wednesday, and the two full-pads days Cal will have next week in preparation for Northwestern.
“We went light today. Defensively, they got a bunch of work done,” Dykes said. “We ran a bunch of plays on offense, but it was kind of game simulations. They’d go run some plays, get over to the bench, talk about adjustments, do some things, run some more, kind of come back, and that was the idea, was to make it as game-like as we possibly could, without banging on each other. I think today was 21 practices or something like that, and we haven’t had many – just one – day off, so they needed a little bit of a break, and it made sense to do that today.”
With the team’s health markedly better than at this time last year, competition for positions and for one of the 73 seats on the plane to away games has been fierce, even for some of the most entrenched players, like wide receiver Chris Harper.
“I think he’s learning what it takes to work and to be successful in this offense,” Dykes said. “The thing about our offense is that you can’t just hope a guy makes a big play occasionally. He’s got to make the tough catches on third down, he’s got to block. He’s got to do all the little things right to play receiver in this offense. I think a lot of those things get overshadowed sometimes, so his biggest thing has been learning.”
The performance in camp of Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis has helped to motivate Harper, who started camp near the bottom of the “Buy-In Board,” in the weight room – a board that, Dykes said, is updated daily.
“I think Trevor having the success he’s had at that position pushes Chris, and I think they both make each other better,” Dykes said. “It’s kind of our belief that competition makes everybody better.”
Cal will pick team captains on Friday in a team meeting via player vote.
Dykes said that it would be unlikely that freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer -- now firmly the No. 2 behind Goff – would see time against Northwestern.
“I don’t know. I would probably say ‘No,’ but we’ll see how it plays out,” Dykes said, noting that he would not come in as a change-of-pace quarterback. “Probably not. I think Jared’s pretty established, so I would expect Jared to be our guy.”
If Goff goes down, that might change.
“We’ll see. That’s one game,” Dykes said. “We’ll see what presents itself, and if Jared stays healthy and all the different factors that are involved in that. But, no, I think right now, Jared’s our guy.”
Finally, when asked if the Bears are where he wants them to be, Dykes offered this chestnut:
“Oh, heck no. Not even close,” Dykes said. “We still have a busy week ahead of us, got to get a lot of things cleaned up, but I like where we’re headed. We’ve got a long way to go before we’re going to get there. Guys are working and paying attention, and we’re further along than we have been.”
FALL CAMP NOTEBOOK: Unfinished Business
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