Cal Football Spring Game Primer
Spring Game Primer
When: 11 a.m.
Where: California Memorial Stadium
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Player to Watch: RB Vic Enwere; Enwere has perhaps made the biggest jump from the end of his freshman year to now. He’s running with lower pad level, following his blocks, is possessed of much more self-confidence and is one of the toughest runners to bring down. He’s more of a freight train and less of a running back. You won’t see him go down with just one tackle; it regularly will take 3 or more defenders to stop him in his tracks.
Match-Up to Watch: Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line
Kyle Kragen has held down the left side of the defensive line from start to finish this spring, and has been as big, as strong and as fast as we’ve seen him. He’s five pounds heavier than he was before dropping 20 pounds the second week of summer with mononucleosis, and he’s still improved his get-off time.
“I’m about five or six pounds bigger, more explosive, better technique,” Kragen says. “It’s the fact that it’s my second year in the system, so I knew all the calls coming into spring, knew what I was being asked to do, so I already had a step ahead in technique from where I was last year.”
Following his recovery from mono, he did what’s called “The Crusade” with the redshirts and players who don’t travel, and with strength coach Damon Harrington, lifting four days a week, waking up at 6 a.m. twice a week for an hour and a half of lifting.
“It really works,” says Kragen, who is now at 245 pounds, after sinking to 212 last summer.
Kragen has been asked to do a bit more, given the absence of rush end Brennan Scarlett, who transferred to Stanford for his fifth year of eligibility, but he’s been helped by a very, very deep defensive tackle unit that’s proven to be one of the more effective units on the defense, despite the fact that neither Todd Barr nor Mustafa Jalil have played a single snap this spring.
“I had heard rumors about it, but I didn’t know whether he was going to leave or not,” Kragen said. “It didn’t really change anything for me. I just kept doing the work that I need to do, and whoever’s out there is out there.”
The first week of last spring, Kragen says, was spent getting used to then-new coach Fred Tate. Now, though, there’s a shorthand, and the defensive line itself has matured.
“I’m just a lot more comfortable with him,” Kragen says. “I take coaching better. He’s got a unique coaching style, so we’re more used to that.”
That coaching style can best be described as improvisational creative cursing, but it’s certainly effective.
The biggest challenge that Kragen and the defensive line faces is an offensive line that has sustained not a single injury throughout spring. Only one personnel move was made – moving Vince Johnson to the right tackle spot over Dominic Granado midway through spring ball. The rest of the line has remained intact, and the interior, in particular, has displayed added toughness after the graduation of Chris Adcock, moving Matt Cochran to center, Jordan Rigsbee back to right guard and keeping junior Chris Borrayo at left guard.
“I definitely see them working harder, being coached harder,” Kragen says. “I see them doing up-downs off to the side, and I think they’ve gotten a lot better than they were last year, and working a lot harder than they were.”
Those up-downs, says Rigsbee, are not because of losing a one-on-one pass rush rep, but for not working certain techniques. It’s all about the details on that side of the ball, which is helped by the increased amount of blitzing that the front seven has been doing.
“Last year, the first two weeks was spent just getting base defense now, so now, already knowing base D, we know all the blitzes and can move that much further,” Kragen says. “We started blitzes on week one, versus week three, last year.”
Position Group to Watch: If you’re excited by offense, this bunch of receivers is going to be a pleasure to watch work, particularly going into their third year in the system, when head coach Sonny Dykes typically has seen the biggest gains at his previous stops. A largely veteran group – sans Stephen Anderson, who’s on the shelf with illness – will return almost entirely intact from last season. Bryce Treggs has turned it up another notch on the inside, while Trevor Davis has evolved into a true No. 1 downfield threat on the outside. Kenny Lawler is taking the place of Chris Harper on the outside, and he’s been as acrobatic as ever. Don’t sleep on Maurice Harris, who’s arguably the most improved receiver overall, and could quietly have a very productive season in 2015.
Spring Game Visitor List
April 5 Scrimmage
Parker Visits Cal Practice
Clark Breaks Down Commitment
THREE AND OUT: Spring Progress Report
VIDEO: Dancing Bears
Scrimmage Breakdown: Defense
Scrimmage Breakdown: Offense
Bears Get Physical on Eve of Scrimmage
Taylor-Yamanoha Recaps Cal Visit
Flyhalf Tries Foot at Kicking
Bears Return: Offensive Notebook, FILM
OL In-Depth Look with Jones
Curhan Talks Visit, Spring Plans
Spring Day 5: VIDEO and Notes
D-Line Shows Out
VIDEO: A Look at The Wide Receivers
Rubenzer Flips Sides, Scarlett Gone
After a 60-play scrimmage on Monday featuring the second- and third-team offense against the first- and second-team defense, the California football team will engage in a 100-play scrimmage on Saturday for the capper to spring ball, the annual Spring Experience. With all but the Spring Experience over with, BearTerritory reviewed the spring with head coach Sonny Dykes on Wednesday.
The unit that’s been the biggest surprise for Dykes thus far isn’t what you’d think. The defensive line – which came into spring without recent transfer Brennan Scarlett (who joins his brother at Stanford) and yet, still managed to exceed expectations based on last year’s dismal pass rush – was not the most surprising for Dykes. That honor goes to the quarterbacks.
“In a funny way, you’d say, almost quarterback, has been the biggest surprise, just because we had two young guys,” Dykes said, referring to redshirt freshman Chase Forrest and early-enrollee Ross Bowers. “We didn’t know what we were going to get with Ross, and he still ought to be in high school right now, and Chase is so young, as well, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised the way they’ve played.”
During Monday’s scrimmage, Forrest went 3-for-7, unofficially, for 82 yards, including an in-stride downfield strike to Kenny Portera for a 60-yard touchdown. Forrest has thrown just one interception all spring, but he missed his final three passing attempts against the first-string defense, leading to a 46-yard field goal by Noah Beito.
[READ MORE: First Scrimmage Breakdown: Offense]
Bowers went 10-for-17 unofficially on Monday, throwing for a near pick, but also piling up 159 yards, highlighted by a 46-yard strike up top to Jack Austin, in by far his most game-ready-looking outing of the spring.
There is a name conspicuously absent from the backup quarterback ranks, and that’s of course Luke Rubenzer, who’s switched sides to safety, and been thrown into the deep end by defensive backs coach Greg Burns, playing first-team reps. He got his first live action at quarterback on Monday, rushing for 43 yards – including a 23-yard touchdown – and completing 3-of-5 passes for 43 yards in his only drive of the spring.
Of course, the starting job of junior Jared Goff is far from in-doubt, and though he saw no scrimmage reps on Monday, he did show out quite well on Wednesday, completing eight straight passes in 7-on-7 work after two straight touchdown passes were dropped by receivers.
How much has Goff progressed in his fourth spring in Berkeley?
“I think the good thing he’s done is, he’s been pretty consistent,” said Dykes. “He’s done what we’ve wanted him to do. We kind of came in and said, ‘There’s two or three things we want you to work on,’ and I think he’s gotten better at those things, and a big part of it is just getting on the same page with the running backs.”
Having offensive coordinator Tony Franklin adding the running backs coach position to his duties has helped the running backs become more integrated into the overall offensive scheme, and has increased communication between them and the quarterbacks, leading to a fuller, more comprehensive knowledge of offensive concepts.
“I think it’s been a pretty seamless transition,” Dykes said. “It just makes a lot of sense. I think, from talking to those backs, I think they really like the arrangement. They have a better idea of the big picture, and I think it’s important for them to understand and see the big picture at that position, whether it’s protection, whether it’s what the quarterback’s looking at, whether it’s understanding the timing of the routes and when to get out, and be a guy that we can dump the ball down to. When you sit down and start looking at all of it, I think it’s made a lot of sense. I think those guys like it. I think they’re comfortable. I think the quarterbacks like having the running backs in there. I think the running backs like being in there.”
Franklin, a former running back himself, said that getting back into the swing of that position has been like riding a bike. Look for them to get involved more in the passing game, as well.
“We want to reduce our number of sacks, and the offensive line always gets credit for pass protection, when they block well, not giving up sacks. It gets blamed when they’re getting sacked, the quarterback’s got so much to do with that, as well. Does he get rid of the ball -- does he get the ball out when it needs to get out? – and then his relationship with the running backs. If his first two reads aren’t open, dumping it down to a back is pretty important, too.
“I’ve been really pleased with [Goff], and his development and growth, and just the understanding of the offense. He’s starting to look like a guy that’s started for two years, is going into his third year, and somebody who’s got a pretty good command of what we’re trying to do.”
The performance of the quarterbacks and receivers, though, has to be measured against a patchwork defensive backfield, the deficiencies of which are made all the more apparent in contrast to a veteran linebacker group and a solidified – and fathoms-deep – defensive line.
“Quarterbacks are smart, and they look up there and they find match-ups. When they see favorable match-ups, they’re going to try and go with those match-ups,” said Dykes. “The guys have done a good job of doing that, at times, in the spring. Our defense, at times, has played pretty well at 9 or 10 positions, but as a defense, you’ve got to play really good at all 11 positions. There’s been times where we haven’t done that, where we’ve had some match-ups that haven’t been favorable for the defense. Quarterbacks have done a good job of taking advantage of those. That obviously factors into their decision-making process when they see a match-up that they like, and the play call is right, all of the sudden, they end up taking a shot and make a big play, but that’s part of what happens during spring ball.”
Still a work in progress: The defensive backs
Earlier this spring, Dykes called the safety group “a mess,” and it hasn’t gotten much better, with Griffin Piatt, Stefan McClure, Quentin Tartabull and Patrick Worstell unavailable throughout the spring, a situation which in part forced Rubenzer’s move from quarterback to safety.
Darius Allensworth has improved significantly, but still remains a bit inconsistent at corner, though he’s a regular at the nickel back position. Cameron Walker, it must be said, has regressed, as he’s been moved back to safety following a sophomore season at his natural position of corner. He’s also been used at nickel.
We won’t know a lot about the defensive backfield, as it pertains to the 2015 season, until fall, when four-star Jaylinn Hawkins comes in as a cornerback (he was rated as a four-star wide receiver), along with cornerback DePriest Turner, safety Antoine Albert, safety Billy McCrary III, safety Evan Rambo and cornerback Malik Psalms.
“I think probably the group that you could say has improved the most has either been the offensive line or DBs,” Dykes said. “You look at the DBs, we still haven’t gotten as settled as I would have liked at the safety position, but I feel like we’ve made some tremendous strides at corner. I feel like Darius White and Darius Allensworth, both, are different players than they were a year ago. Cedric Dozier realizes he’s going to have to work really hard and compete to have a chance to get into the mix. I think he’s done that, and it’s been good to see.
“What you want to have is competition. Competition forces everybody to be better, and it makes those guys accountable, and so, we’ve got that right now at the corner spot. We’re looking forward to having more of it in the fall, and then I’m looking forward to getting all of our safeties in here and being able to line up a group of athletes who we think can compete at this level.”
The defensive backs are the unit that Dykes will be paying particular attention to on Saturday, because that’s where some of the biggest learning curves will be.
“I’m anxious to see if the game setting affects people, because we are going to have some guys that haven’t played much, that are going to have to play a lot on Saturday, for instance, Derron Brown and some people like that, who haven’t logged a lot of experience,” Dykes said of his JuCo DB transfer. “Darius Allensworth, as well, and really, Darius White. [White] played the second half of the year last year, and I’m anxious to see how those guys play in a game setting. Some guys will respond and play at a high level. Other guys will fade and not play at a high level. I think it’s important to figure that out, right now.”
Players who have helped themselves the most …
Dykes cited left tackle Brian Farley as one of the surprises of camp, as he took advantage of the injury to presumptive starter Steven Moore and held down the left side, wire to wire.
“He came in as a question mark, and to me, has rolled out of spring as one of our better offensive linemen,” Dykes said. “That’s been a real positive. Vic Enwere has made a big push. We’ve talked about it a lot, but Darius White is a different player. And, then, just to see the young linebackers getting better. You talk about all those guys – Aisea [Tongilava] is much improved, Devante [Downs] is much improved and Hamilton [Anoa’i] is much improved. All three of those guys are where you want them to be. I think they’ve all made a big move. I think Kyle Kragen has really opened some eyes this spring, as well. I think everybody’s been excited about him. I think Looney’s been about what we expected, so that’s been good. You can go through and say we feel good about a lot of guys, and then the receivers have been solid. I think we take them for granted, and Daniel Lasco, just because they’ve performed at a high level. They’ve come out here day after day and have really been consistent.”
Battle that’s still unresolved …
Placekicker. With James Langford graduated, the job has not been an easy fill, with Matt Anderson, Noah Beito, Robbie McInerny, Franklyn Cervenka and the newest entrant – rugby flyhalf Harry Adolphus.
Adolphus has some pop in the kickoff game and his left-footed punting is an intriguing option for Dykes, but he’s said he’ll leave the field goals and PATs to the veterans.
“Then, the kicking situation, you’d hoped to get a little more clarity with that,” said Dykes. “I feel good about it. I think we have some guys that are capable of getting the job done, but we don’t have a lot of clarity on that position yet. We’ll see how that develops over the summer.”
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