CAL SPRING GAME: Recap

BERKELEY -- Catches by Jack Austin and Maurice Harris highlight a largely defense-dominated scrimmage to close out spring practice for the California Golden Bears.

BERKELEY -- Spring ball concluded in Berkeley today with California Spring Football Experience. In case you were wondering what a Spring Football Experience is, try a glorified open practice complete with fan field goal, TD dance and bear growl contests.

“It was very weird,” said running back Daniel Lasco of the day’s agenda. “It was kind of like ‘we’re just going to put the ball here and start playing, impress the fans’. We wanted everyone to come out so it was fun.”

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It’s hard to take away too much from Saturday, as 11 on 11’s were sandwiched between skeleton drills and situationals, but clearly Jared Goff has the keys to the 2015 season, and any improvement to the Golden Bear’s 5-7 mark last year will require nothing less than the stellar play expected of him.

The junior signal caller trudged through an admittedly sleepy practice event but not without showing us a glimpse of the various throws he has in his arsenal. There were several displays of buttery soft placement on his deep sideline targets, none better the 30-yard TD to Kenny Lawler during skeletons. When needed, Goff showed more than capable of putting mustard on the ball to get it to his receivers quickly. This isn’t the guy we need be too concerned with moving forward.

The receiving core continues to dazzle with heroic grabs. Jack Austin made the play of the day, fully extending with his left hand to tip and gather a diving 30-yarder on the sideline. It wasn’t the only circus catch of the day, as Maurice Harris stuck an absolute bullet in full extension from Goff.

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For all the spectacular throws and grabs that were showcased in day, the ends for the most part were unable to gain much separation from their defenders. The offense in general didn’t inspire much from the maybe 1,000 in attendance for the Spring Experience. The continual debate in the press box was regarding to just how sluggish the offense was versus how well the defensive unit played.

Some of that for sure needs to be attributed to the defensive effort, where a questionable secondary is showing strides from the unit that has been picked apart at will during the Sonny Dykes era. Let’s get one thing clear: Darius White is an absolute stud. After not allowing a single target in the spring scrimmage earlier this month, White headlined a solid effort from the cornerbacks that included several defended passes, one of which saved a breakaway score. Goff lauded White’s spring camp after the game, saying, “I think he’s gotten a lot better. I think he’s starting to compete every day. He’s going toe-to-toe with Kenny and Maurice and those guys - he’s doing really well.”

Cornerback Cedric Dozier looked particularly tight in coverage early on and made an impressive swat down against the 2nd unit. Cameron Walker made the start at nickel back, with White also seeing time there. Again, most of what the secondary was allowing were spectacular throws and catch and the occasional dump off to soft spots in the zone.

There wasn’t too much action upfront throughout the day, though defensive endKyle Kragen scored an early sack on the second drive of the day against the second unit, and defensive tackle Marcus Manley picked up another during red zone situations. Other than that and a fumble pick up by Hamilton Anoa’i, most of the action of the day was going on downfield.

The Luke Rubenzer-as-safety experiment continues to intrigue as he once again saw first team reps at safety, as he has throughout the spring. Despite concerns of his speed, the Scottsdale, Ariz., sophomore made an impact early, forcing a near pick from Goff on an safety blitz and picking one off one of his own against Chase Forrest during skeletons. With incoming talent arriving and the safety unit being most unclear on Cal’s roster, whether or not Luke stays at linebacker will be a big storyline heading into the fall. Dykes indicated after the game that Rubenzer will start fall at the safety position, adding, “If he can make 20 plays, then he will stay there.” Rubenzer didn’t take any reps at QB on Saturday.

There’s no question Cal will be an improved team from a year ago, but how many wins better will depend on clarity at the safety position and for White and the rest of the corners to continue to give efforts like that of Saturday. For now, as the PA announcer said to close off the event, “Bears Win.”

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