First-Years Make Mark, Damariay Drew Returns
BERKELEY -- The theme of the first two days of California football fall camp has been the emergence of the newest crop of Bears – the 2015 recruiting class.
Four-star Semisi Uluave (No. 58) continues to take all the first-team snaps at right guard, helping hold the line for quarterback Jared Goff, who turned in several big plays leading the offense on a day where the defense was most certainly the top unit, led by a sack and a fumble recovery in the early goings by James Looney, and strong play from Antoine Albert and the rest of the secondary. Albert and running back Vic Enwere got into a scuffle during team work for the second straight day, but the two were separated and there were no further extra-curriculars.
[FALL CAMP LIVE: Day 2 Live Thread]
“The O-line never looks good without pads on,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “It looks kind of ugly. We want to make sure that, before we get a real strong evaluation on those guys, we’ll get them in pads, and that’ll give us an idea.”
Though Enwere had a long scoring rumble up the sideline, the rubber will meet the road on Monday, when Cal goes in full pads for the first time. The Bears will go in shells on Sunday.
There were some offensive highlights, though. Late in team work, Goff hit Bryce Treggs on a deep post up the seam, putting the ball out of reach of the three defensive backs guarding the team’s active leader in receiving yards, where only Treggs – and almost, not even him – could get it, for a 40-yard touchdown.
Freshman receiver Carlos Strickland (No. 6) was thought to be limited in camp because of hip issues, but he’s played much more than anticipated, participating for the first time fully in one-on-ones on Tuesday.
“He’s doing much more than I thought he would,” Dykes said. “He’s doing a lot, and he actually feels pretty good. He made a big jump today from yesterday. He looked uncertain yesterday, and he’s got to get his lower body stronger. He’s not in great shape yet. He’s probably apt to wear down a little bit, just because he’s not real strong in his lower body, but he’s just got to keep working. I like what I saw today.”
Strickland, though, isn’t the freshman receiver who’s been most impressive thus far, despite his credentials as a former four-star. Kanawai Noa (No. 81)-- a high school teammate of Uluave’s at Honolulu (HI) Punahou – has shown speed and very crisp route running, as has Brandon Singleton (No. 19)
Other offensive highlights included a double-move crease catch by Matt Rockett during one-on-ones, as well as another up-the-seam grab from Goff, as he accelerated at the end of the route to snag a liner from the junior signal-caller.
The defense, though, was the highlight, as freshman Evan Rambo turned in an interception in full-team periods for the second straight day (on a crossing route from Chase Forrest).
Rambo – who helped the freshman class through the dog says of summer workouts and conditioning, his classmates said – gets his work ethic from his father. When a young Rambo first complained about conditioning on the first day of Pop Warner football, his father told him that, if he was going on that field, he would have to go 100% all the time, and, to drive the point home, he said, “Rambo’s never quit.”
“I have to live up to the name, right?” Rambo said.
“He’s a big, good looking kid, who’s got some maturity,” Dykes said. “That’s the great thing about him. He’s physically mature, but he’s also mentally mature and has got some toughness and likes to compete. We’re excited about what he’s doing, and we’ll see what happens.”
The defensive backs as a whole forced drops and breakups during one-on-ones, prompting offensive coordinator Tony Franklin to squawk at the offense that they weren’t going home until those drops were fixed. At one point during practice, Dykes, who’s now coaching the outside receivers, exhorted loudly that the defense was “kicking our ass.”
“We’re just a bigger, stronger, different looking football team than we have been,” Dykes said. “We’ve just got some older guys that have played in some games, and have been battle tested, and understand what it takes to be competitive at this level. We just look different. The good thing is, you put those freshmen in there with big frames, and those guys are strong as well. The freshman class is really pretty impressive. That’s an impressive group of bodies and athletes. They’re learning. They’ve got a long way to go, but they’re starting with some pretty good things.”
Is this defense different from the one that’s ranked dead last in the Bowl Championship Subdivision two straight years in passing defense?
“You guys watch practice. What do you all think?” Dykes asked the media after practice. “I think it does, but it’s early. It’s early. We’ve got to stay with it and keep it up. We’ve looked good at times, and we’ve just got to do it consistently. We’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s good to see. We have depth. We have some strength and size up front. Those guys are holding up pretty good, and we’ve got enough guys that are athletes on the back end that are making some plays. It’s good to see those guys trigger balls.”
Those guys up front include defensive tackle Looney – eligible after sitting out a year following a transfer from Wake Forrest -- who scored a sack and a fumble recovery on back-to-back plays in third-down, full 11-on-11 work.
After the Enwere-Albert tussle, JuCo transfer Derron Brown stood up for the DBs, breaking up a pass from Goff to Stephen Anderson on the next play.
Malik Psalms and Jaylinn Hawkins continued to prove to be two of the best cornerbacks on the roster, in just their second day of camp. Billy McCrary had two pass breakups in drills and nearly came down with an interception in full 11-on-11 work. During 7-on-7 work, one of McCrary's breakups resulted in a pick by fellow freshman DePriest Turner.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve played, so that makes a lot of difference for us,” said defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, who’s seen safety Stefan McClure play some snaps in seven-on-seven work – more than the staff thought he’d be able to give at this point, recovering from injury – as well as the return of Joel Willis to the one-on-one fold, and the imminent return of Griffin Piatt, who’s done individual work, but no skeleton or team work quite yet.
“The biggest thing is the carry-over of what we’re asking them to do,” Kaufman said. “Now, the guys have got a chance to work on technique, rather than trying to spend their time learning what to do. Some of the young kids, the freshmen, they’ll show flashes for a play and then off two plays, so don’t really have a good evaluation of the incoming guys yet. We’re watching and letting them develop, but I like their effort. I like the job that the young guys are doing, and I like where our old guys are at this point.”
Jalen Jefferson and Nathan Broussard -- both of whom were held out of spring with injury (Broussard recovering from his second straight season-ending camp knee injury) – have been mainstays in the first-team linebacking corps, much sooner than was anticipated, though Kaufman said that those two will get some lighter duty as camp progresses, to manage their health.
In other first-year player news, during the 11-on-11 periods, freshman quarterback Ross Bowers hooked up with Singleton for a 43-yard gain, several drives after Bowers hit Chad Hansen in the back of the end zone on a 40-yard fade evocative of one of Goff’s specialty throws.
Though he’s not a first-year player, Damariay Drew has returned to the team with renewed vigor, and on the first play of team work on Saturday, picked off Jared Goff for what would have been a pick-six.
“The first play of team, it was great to see Damariay get an interception, and probably would have been a touchdown. It’s great to see guys breaking on the ball and making competitive plays. Those are things we haven’t seen a whole lot of, before.”
Drew – who spent last season with Butte Community College after legal troubles forced his departure from Berkeley and the team – made a point of wanting to return to the field for the Bears this season.
“We told him he needed to go through what every normal student would go through,” Dykes said. “He had to get his situation handled with student conduct, and get it handled with them. Then, he had to go through the process of getting re-admitted to the University, and had to come back as a walk-on player. It wasn’t easy for him, and we wanted to see how badly he wanted to do it. I think he’s proved that he wants to be part of this team. It means a lot to him, and he’s like a lot of young people – he’s got a second chance, and he wants to make the most of it.”
There were several schools who offered Drew the chance to get back on scholarship, and recruited him out of Butte, but Drew wanted to finish what he started at Cal.
“To his credit, he wanted to come back,” Dykes said. “he wanted to come back and be a part of this. He was getting recruited by other people and came back here to walk on.”
Kaufman said that Drew – who’s taken the vast majority of first-team safety reps – has been a welcome addition to the secondary.
“He’s getting snaps right now, and I’ll tell you what: Damariay has been a little bit of a pleasant surprise,” Kaufman said. “He went through spring with us in 2014, probably got his feet wet, learning the system, but not really knowing it all, but he’s probably ahead of where he was when he left the field in ’14, so I’m pleased with some of the things he’s been able to do. He’s still got a lot of work to do, but he’s ahead of where he was when he left here. I think his weight is probably down a little bit, he’s moving a little bit better, he’s a year older, he’s stronger, more explosive.”
No. 23 Malik Psalms
No. 15 Antoine Albert
No. 20 Jaylinn Hawkins
No. 5 DePriest Turner
No. 4 Derron Brown
No. 58 Semisi Uluave
No. 24 Billy McCrary
No. 32 Evan Rambo
No. 17 Austin Aaron
No. 19 Brandon Singleton
No. 81 Kanawai Noa
No. 51 Cameron Saffle
No. 29 Khari Vanderbilt
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