NOTEBOOK: Espitia Returns to Practice

BERKELEY -- California got deeper at the linebacker position on Tuesday, with suspended junior Maximo Espitia returning from what was supposed to be a season-long suspension.

BERKELEYCalifornia’s practiced looked a lot different on Tuesday than it had in recent weeks, but not because of what the Bears were doing. Instead, Cal saw the return to full practice of safety Avery Sebastian, running back Jeffrey Coprich and Maximo Espitia, who was suspended for a year for violating team rules at the start of the season.

Espitia worked with the linebackers and the second-team punt rush unit, as well as the second-team defense in seven-on-seven, really breaking well on the ball alongside Hardy Nickerson and Ray Davison. David Garner, Patrick Worstell, Cedric Dozier and A.J. Greathouse were the defensive backs for the second team, while Sebastian got time with the first-team defense alongside Griffin Piatt, as Michael Lowe took a rest.

Head coach Sonny Dykes said in his Tuesday press conference that he would try to rest some of the older, more veteran players on Tuesday, following a three-week stretch where the Bears’ defense had faced 311 total plays. Along with Lowe, defensive end Brennan Scarlett took the day off and didn’t even put on pads or a jersey. Wide receiver Darius Powe, on the other hand, put on full pads and, though he wore a red jersey, his shoulder looked to be in very good shape following a three-week layoff.

“Should get him back this week,” said Dykes.

Powe participated in work against the scout team, catching passes and blocking, though it was clear he wasn’t completely, entirely 100%. He did, however, play against the back seven first-string defense, and made a seven-yard grab in traffic during mid-practice seven-on work.

Safety Stefan McClure -- who’s been hurt two straight pregame warmups and has missed three games – was dressed in full pads, and led the team warm-up.

“Two weeks, he was injured in pregame, so we’re hoping he can make it through pregame this week,” Dykes joked. “I anticipate Stef being back and helping us. He was dressed and ready to play both against Sac State and Arizona. I thought he was going to play, he did too. It just didn’t work that way.”

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There was a continued emphasis on the pass on Tuesday, despite facing run-heavy Washington, as alluded to in Tuesday’s presser by linebacker Michael Barton.

“Rush defense is great, but if I’m Washington, and I’m looking at our film, they’re going to want to throw the ball,” he said.

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As for Cal’s rushing defense, the Bears are going to face an offensive line that averages over 320 pounds, anchored by four seniors and one junior.

Cal linebackers and defensive linemen focused on run fits during the middle portion of practice, more than normal, and changed the orientation of the drills from north-south to east-west, along the yard lines, to create a compact, short field for the defense.

The Bears linebackers also worked heavily against tight end sets that they’ll likely see on Saturday, sets designed to bolster the already-hefty offensive line and run blocking schemes.

“They’re going to try and establish a run game and run it a lot,” Dykes said. “They’re really big up front. You put the film on, their offensive line, the biggest thing that stands out is just size. The guys are huge. They’re good players, play physical, and they have a bunch of different tight end type bodies that they can do some creative things with.”

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Late in practice, during a special teams period, running back Vic Enwere and Chibuzo Nwokocha mixed things up a bit on a punt return, but were separated before anything happened. On the next return, Enwere leveled Nwokocha with an enormous block, taking him to the ground, and immediately, both sidelines emptied to break up what was a tense ground-and-pound affair on the turf. The combatants were separated after a moment, with both offense and defense shouting, “Same team!”


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