BERKELEY -- California returned to spring practice on Wednesday after 12 days off, and the offense showed a bit of signs of rust, early on, while the defense was particularly stout in 11-on-11 periods in uppers.
"You could tell we had 12 days off, but we were into it, mentally, and I thought we had great effort," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "Really, for the first day in 12 days, it was a little bit better than I had anticipated. Obviously, we've got to get a lot better Friday, and have a good day Friday and Saturday, but I thought we got a lot of work done today."
The defensive backfield, though, was very strong, particularly in one-on-ones with the vaunted corps of Cal receivers.
"We took a pretty big blow, losing Chris [Harper]," says senior receiver Bryce Treggs, "but, I think Trevor Davis will hold down that spot at the X, and we have Chad Hansen now, who's going to be a good guy for us. I would say we're the same, if not better than last year. Everybody's more mature and has more experience."
Though the back end of the Bears defense is still a work in progress, according to head coach Sonny Dykes, the Cal defensive backs were aggressive, physical and tenacious as both they and the receivers challenged one another.
"We still have some questions that need to be answered in the back end," Dykes said. "That's going to be the area, right now, that we've got t continue to get better at, and get those questions answered."
It's certainly a sight better than one of the worst passing defenses in the nation, which the Bears fielded last season.
"It's definitely encouraging, when we see the DBs break up a pass," Treggs says. "When we had Steve Williams my freshman year, Marc Anthony, they were breaking up passes all the time. So, it's like, 'Damn, they're breaking up passes,' and now, when we see them breaking up passes, we're clapping, like, 'Here we go, D-White (Darius White)!' trying to encourage those guys, so they continue to get better."
The receivers as a whole have looked bigger, stronger and faster than last season, and Treggs agrees.
"A lot of our wide receivers put on weight, went up in their maxes, so we're definitely stronger, and when we tested 40s, everybody ran faster," Treggs says. "It's just a collection of our strength staff, and us putting in a little bit of extra work, and that's what the difference is, this spring."
At the end of the first half of spring ball, Dykes said that he wanted his Bears to be more physical to close out the spring session. That showed on Wednesday. Lonny Powell, in particular, ran very hard, breaking through the line for what would have been a 90-yard touchdown in full 11-on-11 work. The play was blown dead as he crossed the 50, with not a defender in sight as he pulled away.
"Today, it's the first day back, and guys have got to stay up," said Dykes. "We went no pants today, and we're not quite sure what we're going to do between Friday and Saturday. We'll probably be in uppers on Friday, because we have a quick turnaround on Saturday, and the following week, we'll grind on them pretty good. We'll get them back in a little bit slower this week, try to take care of them a little bit on Friday and then really throw the ball out and go play on Saturday."
Inside receiver Ray Hudson sported a red jersey on Wednesday, and Dykes said that he should be good to go on Friday, as Cal preps for its first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday morning.
"Just a little nicked up," Dykes said.
Saturday's scrimmage will go from 10 a.m., to noon.
"We'll have a practice similar to today on Friday," Dykes said. "We'll kind of mix it up on Saturday. We're still talking about how to decide what we're going to do Saturday. We'll do a lot of situational football, and it'll be something that we'll definitely address, but we'll see."
••••• The Cal offensive line remained largely the same as it was when the Bears broke for spring, with Vince Johnson at the left tackle spot and Brian Farley on the right side, as Dominic Granado continued to rep with the second-team line.
"Vinnie's been practicing well," Dykes said. "I've been really pleased with Brian Farley, and I think that Farley, if you said right now, who's playing as well as anybody on the offensive line, Farley's the name that keeps coming up. He's been very consistent, just really playing at a high level. As a result of that, it's allowed some guys to bounce around a little bit. We've got Vinnie some looks with that first group at left tackle, and we like what he's doing. We'll keep competing and mixing those tackles around and see what he gives us, but right now, Vinnie's starting to make a move, which is good to see."
The tackles are "still battling," Dykes said, with Steven Moore -- who started in all 12 games last season -- still sidelined with injury.
"We'll see, we'll put him in the mix and find out who the best two are, stick one of them at left, one of them at right, and then try to get the third best guy hopefully ready to play both," Dykes said. "If you have two, that's great, because you can leave them on the left and the right, and that helps them develop a little bit faster. If you have one of them that's the best third by a long way, then you can rep him in both spots."