BERKELEY -- California finished its Wednesday practice with a team sing-along of Fight for California, accompanied by a contingent from the Cal Band, with the lyrics to the fight song up on the south video board. It’s certainly a different way to prepare for Saturday’s season opener with Northwestern, said starting right tackle Jordan Rigsbee.
“We’ve never done that,” smiled the redshirt junior. “It’s kind of a weird detail. I’ve known the fight song, but I’ve never known it, word-for-word, and been able to sing it. I think it’s important. Cal’s always had a lot of tradition, there’s a lot of things going on, and that’s something we’ve never done. I’m happy that coach [Sonny] Dykes has decided to bring that back, and bring a little bit more tradition back to the program.”
Speaking of tradition, the Bears will take in a little bit of Bay Area tradition, while on the road in Evanston, Ill., on Friday night after a light practice at Northwestern’s Ryan Field: They’ll bee seeing the movie based on Concord (Calif.) De La Salle’s football program, When the Game Stands Tall, which got an enthusiastic thumbs-up from former De La Salle strength coach and current head of Cal strength and conditioning, Mike Blasquez.
Cal will have another light practice on Thursday before high-tailing it to Chicago, after Wednesday’s helmets-only affair focused on some of the more nuanced aspects of the game.
“We covered all the special game situations that we need to cover, and we ‘ll do it again, tomorrow,” Dykes said. “Goal-line defense and third down, end-of-ballgame, two-minute offense, two-minute defense, third-and-long, substitutions from punt return to punt safe, all the different substitutions you’ve got to do for the kicking game, in terms of, are you going to kick it deep, will it be an onside kick, surprise onside kick, if they come out with two kickers how do you play two kickers, how do you play one kicker, how are you going to play the pop kick on an onside kick looks – we’ve got about 37 different things we cover.”
Health-wise, there are no new developments, though Dykes did say that both Avery Sebastian (quad) and Darius White (shoulder) will travel. Defensive backs coach Greg Burns said that backup safety and former wide receiver Patrick Worstell will also travel.
Cal will release its travel roster on Thursday morning, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
When asked if the Bears were ready for the opener, Dykes said, “Oh, no, not yet. There’s still some stuff we’ve got to get cleaned up and some meetings we’ve got to have. Not yet. Hopefully, we’ll walk off the field feeling better tomorrow than we did today, and then, we’ll get some stuff done on Friday.”
Linebacker Michael Barton said that he will alternate between the WILL linebacker position and the MIKE, as needed.
Barton played the MIKE in the spring, and played on the outside last year, so the learning curve was fairly steep.
If Hardy Nickerson comes in to play, Barton will switch to the WILL, but that will also depend on if the Bears are in nickel defense, which they are expected to be for a large portion of the game.
“We’re tired of hitting each other,” Barton said. “We’re ready to hit somebody else.”
Barton said the defense is “night and day” from a year ago. “We’re tuned in, and we know what we’re doing,” he continued.
“They like to run in between the A and B gaps, and they like to run inside,” Barton said of the Wildcats. “They’ll pop right into our D-line, and we’ve got some strong D-tackles, and our linebackers know how to fit, now, so I think we’re going to be able to stop the run and get them into passing situations.”
Speaking of those defensive tackles, Barton is excited to see what Mustafa Jalil can do.
“He’s just an animal,” Barton said of the redshirt junior who’s affectionately known as Moose. “He’s a beast. It’s fun playing behind him, with him playing in frong fo me and clearing all that stuff up.”
There’s nobody more anxious to see the new defense than its mastermind – defensive coordinator Art Kaufman.
“The biggest thing is, let’s go find out where we are, let’s try to play the game, let’s see how fast we’re going to play, what mistakes we’re going to make, tackling,” Kaufman said. “We’ve done a lot of work since spring ball, and it’s time to go play now.”
Kaufman said unequivocally that the first effort won’t be perfect.
“There’s going to be some mistakes, but we’ve worked a long time, and in the players’ minds, they’re saying, ‘We’ve worked a long time; let’s go play and see where we’re at,’” Kaufman said.
Without Venric Mark and Christian Jones in the Wildcats’ offense, the defense is focused on quarterback Trevor Siemian, who took over after the first series last season when Kain Colter exited with injury, and went 18-for-29 with two picks, one touchdown and 276 yards through the air. This year, Siemian will be protected by the same offensive line as last year, which allowed only one sack against the Bears.
“They’re a no-huddle team like everybody else, and the thing we do, going against our offense, I think that helps us prepare,” Kaufman said. “I think the big thing, there, is try to cover all the plays we think they are going to run, and then any ghost plays that maybe come up that happened in the past, that they’ve done or other people have done.
“The big thing is us taking care of our job, and playing against ourselves, more than anything else – playing against ourselves and the ability to adjust during the game, with the speed of the game.”
Kaufman, like Dykes on Tuesday, said that Northwestern’s hallmark is that they are very secure in their assignments, and they know who they are and what they do.
“To me, the biggest thing is that they take care of their assignments,” Kaufman said. “They’re an experienced football team, they have their plan, they’ve executed it for a whole year, and now, starting into year two or longer than that for some of those guys, and everything that they do, they understand their assignments. They don’t beat themselves. I think that’s the ultimate thing I can say about them.”
NOTEBOOK: Kaufman Talks NW, Rigsbee Sings
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