BERKELEY -- California finished the first portion of its spring practices on Friday, with friends and family – including the fathers of Bryce Treggs and Trevor Davis -- sitting in the stands, as the Bears readied to escape Berkeley for spring break. But, there was work to do first.
The full-pads practice saw Cal work on the two-minute and four-minute offense during full-contact periods, as well as cornerbacks jamming receivers at the line during the usually-laid-back warm-up session before the actual festivities got underway.
“I think we went right around 50 of full-contact. We ended getting about 27 the first go-around, and probably 22 or 23 the last go-around,” said head coach Sonny Dykes.
The first go-around for the offense in the four-minute offense saw a chunk run by Daniel Lasco, followed by a nine-yard tackle for loss on Lasco by defensive end Kyle Kragen, as the first-string defense (as it is) stoned the first-string offense on a three-and-out.
Trevor Kelly came up with a five-yard tackle for loss on Tre Watson with the second-team offense going in the four-minute drill, though Watson earlier got the better of safety David Garner on third down up the far sideline.
That drive – led by redshirt freshman Chase Forrest -- started with a forced fumble by Marcus Manley, who worked the middle with Kelly, while Noah Westerfield and DeVante Wilson worked the ends.
Then Vic Enwere took over.
The sophomore running back followed up a short run by Lasco with a surge up the middle for a first down, carrying six defenders with him, and then ran for another 10 yards on his next carry, powering through a leg tackle by safety Cameron Walker for the first down.
Three plays later, Enwere spun away from a tackler in the middle, made four other defenders missed and showed something he didn’t all last year – breakaway speed. Enwere ripped off a 33-yard touchdown rumble, and the Cal offense was off to the races.
The biggest difference Enwere sees in himself, though, is his confidence level, but size and speed aren’t far behind.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” said Enwere. “I’ve put on a little bit of weight, but I feel like my explosion and strength has come along with the training I’ve been given. It’s helped a lot.”
Enwere’s squat “stayed around the same” after an offseason of training, at 525 pounds, but his bench press went up by 20 pounds and his power clean went up by 45 pounds.
“The biggest gain is just the explosiveness, the drive and the health has improved a lot,” Enwere said. “That’s where the biggest gains have come, being in feel, speed and explosion. During the season I had a hamstring injury that I was working through, but I feel a lot healthier. I feel a lot more mobile. I feel like my hips are a lot looser. I’m feeling a lot better than the season.”
After the seven-play, 65-yard drive capped by Enwere’s big burst, the defense held strong on the next drive, with a three-yard tackle for loss on Lasco by Darius Allensworth, who then sniffed out a screen to Lasco, and stopped it in the backfield. Next, James Looney delivered a seven-yard sack, with an assist from Kragen.
“I’ve been pleased with him so far,” Dykes said of Allensworth. “He gave up the big play for the touchdown in two-minute, I believe, but he made a nice play on the ball, just didn’t quite get there. He’s been playing at a high level. He’s been competing harder, and I think he’s really improved.”
That play came on one of the later drives, when Jared Goff found Jack Austin on a second-and-six pass just over a leaping Allensworth. Had he launched himself a beat earlier, he would have come up with a pick-six.
Instead, that play went for a 41-yard touchdown for Austin up the far sideline.
That pass was one of four eye-opening grabs on the day by Cal receivers. The very next drive in the two-minute offense period saw a pass from Forrest to big tight end/fullback Kyle Wells for seven yards, and then a 61-yard touchdown up the seam to Patrick Laird for a touchdown.
During the first two-minute drive, on third-and-forever from his own 21, Goff got extra time from his offensive line under heavy pressure from a blitz and found a leaping Davis over Luke Rubenzer. Davis then shook Rubenzer badly en route to a 50-yard reception. Goff then delivered a 20-yard pass to Treggs, and then got some help from Maurice Harris, who made a one-handed grab around Darius White -- who hooked Harris’s other arm – for a touchdown in the near corner of the south end zone.
“We had a couple big plays on the offense,” Dykes said. “I thought our defense, we practiced the four-minute – that’s been something we’ve got to get better at, offensively, being able to finish off at the end of the game, and defensively, getting a stop to give our offense a chance to get on the field. So, we did some four-minute stuff today. I thought our first-team defense did a great job the first time, stopping the offense, three-and-out. Then, I thought those guys made some plays. The offense came back in the second time, put together a scoring drive and Vic busted the long run there at the end. That was encouraging to see them come back, and so, it’s about what you want to see: A little bit of good, a little bit of bad.
“Two-minute was kind of the same way. The offense drove down and scored, and then the defense held them to a field goal the next time. A couple big plays during that session, and a bunch of things we can learn. That was the important thing, is we’ve got a lot of plays where we can talk to guys about situational football, and have an opportunity to learn and teach from, so I thought it was a good day.”
The first defense stepped onto the field saw Kragen and Jonathan Johnson at defensive end, and Tony Mekari and Looney (who Fred Tate said is “really twitchy,” something the Bears have not had at defensive tackle) in the middle. Linebackers consisted of Jake Kearney and Michael Barton on the outside, with Hardy Nickerson, Jr. in the middle.
Defensive back was a bit of a crapshoot for most of the practice, with several different combinations seeing action and no clear pecking order, save for Cedric Dozier and White as the first two corners, with Allensworth as the nickel back. Caleb Coleman also got a lot of first- and second-team action.
“We’re always going to try to run the guys through,” Dykes said. “That’s what we want to be able to do, defensively. The way offense’s played now, people are going fast, and running a lot of plays, so you’ve got to play a lot of people on defense. We’re going to practice that way, and start developing guys, where they’re used to rotating in and out and they’re used to playing a lot of people. We’ll do that through spring, and do that through fall camp. We need to find six or eight DBs that we can count on, and probably two-deep at linebacker, same thing with the front. The way the game’s played now, you’ve got to have a lot of depth on defense, and we’re trying to develop that.”
Cal will get one man stronger at linebacker once the Bears return to practice on April 1, with Jalen Jefferson returning to the rotation.
“We expect to have him back Wednesday when we come back. He’s got a little bit of a hamstring, but he’ll be back,” Dykes said. “I think the linebackers have been pretty consistent. Hardy, I thought, has had a good spring so far. Mike Barton has done some good things. I’ve been pleased, overall, with that group, and the good thing is those young guys are playing some, and really starting to get better. You see Aisea Tongilava playing with more confidence and playing faster, Hamilton Anoa’i doing the same thing. I like our depth at linebacker. I think there’s a lot of guys that can play.”
Barton has been playing in Jefferson’s stead, and is likely to wind up with one of the two outside backer jobs come fall, due to his speed. Maximo Espitia has also been seeing time at second-team MIKE, and Devante Downs has seen time with both the first and second team at outside linebacker.
“It’s good to see Max out there. It seems like Espitia gets better and better, the more reps that he gets, so we’re starting to develop a little bit of depth there, but we’ve got to keep getting those guys reps and keep getting them better,” Dykes said.
Espitia missed a portion of last season due to a suspension, and once he returned to the team, did not see any action.
“He just hasn’t played a lot of football, so he’s got to get caught up a bit,” Dykes said. “He’s obviously got some rust, and he’s just got to get a lot of reps, and he’s getting some.”
As for Downs, who tallied 34 tackles and 5.0 tackles for loss last season, he’s only gotten better, and could challenge for one of the outside spots come fall camp.
“He’s been good, too. He’s a guy that, obviously, has got a lot of talent,” Dykes said. “He’s a big, strong guy that plays physical and can play downhill and moves pretty well. He’s just a young guy that’s developing. Linebacker’s still new for him. He played defensive end some, and kind of rush – basically rushed when he was in high school – and now he got some reps last year, which helped his growth, and I think he’s still developing. He’s a guy that I think has a chance to be a really good player, but he’s just got to keep working.”
The offensive line got a bit of a shake-up on Friday, with Vince Johnson taking first-team reps at left tackle, and Brian Farley moving from left tackle to right, bumping Dominic Granado down to second-team, though, Dykes says, that move was not based on Granado’s play.
“We’re just moving some guys around,” Dykes said. “I think we wanted to see Farley at the right side, and Vinnie’s playing good, so we want to see him at the left side. We’re just kind of playing with all those positions, to see what’s our best lineup.”
The middle of the offensive line – with Jordan Rigsbee at right guard and Chris Borrayo at left guard – is likely to remain the same, as Matt Cochran continued to take all first-team reps at center.
“I think so. I think those guys are getting better and playing pretty well, and we still need to develop some of those young players, and need for some of those young guys to come up and start pushing, but we’re starting to develop a little depth,” Dykes said. “The good thing about Matt is that he gives you a lot of options. He’s probably athletic enough. He’s certainly athletic enough play guard, and he’s played it, and maybe athletic enough to play tackle, so he gives you options. The thing with him, we want to leave him someplace and let him develop. That’s the ideal goal, so he’s competing for that center spot.”
In one-on-ones, walk-on defensive back De'Zhon Grace -- who’s gotten first-team action – showed up well, ripping a pass out of Erik Brown’s hands, as did Trey Cheek, at times. Goff started the session strong, connecting on five straight touchdowns from the red zone, and going 6-of-8 overall, with the two blemishes coming on a dropped pass by Ray Hudson -- who played some at fullback – and a breakup by Allensworth.
Ross Bowers did not take any reps during the full-11s segments of practice.