BERKELEY -- It’s been quite some time since the California defense has been ahead of the offense, but for the first four days of camp, that’s been exactly the case. While there were no interceptions on Monday for the first time in fall camp, coverage was once again strong, with Damariay Drew continuing his strong camp.
“That’s something that we’ve certainly hoped for,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “I knew the group would be improved, and I’m looking forward to getting some guys back that still aren’t practicing. That’s going to give us some more experience and more depth, particularly on the back end.”
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Linebacker Nathan Broussard was in red, as Cal tries to back him off a bit to make sure he stays healthy. Safety Stefan McClure, who was not in red over the first two days, and parts of the third, was in red, but did get first-team reps during early drives in 7-on-7 work, paired with Luke Rubenzer. It’s hard to think McClure and Drew won’t be starting against Grambling if both are healthy.
Drew was again the top marksman on the day, registering about five stops, including a big hit on Hudson to stop him short of the end zone. Drew also made three tackles during the first drive of third-down work.
“Damariay’s been pretty consistent so far,” Dykes said. “He’s been aggressive on the back end, he’s made a couple big plays in the run game, and he’s made some good plays in the passing game, as well.”
One of those plays saw Drew stop speedy Khalfani Muhammad short of the sticks in third-down work, preventing the conversion.
“He had an interception a couple days ago, and has looked good,” Dykes said. “He’s a guy that is a little bit lighter than he was two years ago, and I think he’s moving better as a result. He’s hungry. He’s a hungry football player who feels like he’s got a lot to prove. He’s been really focused, and I really like his approach.”
While Cal will not go in full pads until Tuesday, there were several big hits during Monday’s practice, mainly from a revived defensive backfield. During seven-on-seven work, JuCo transfer Khari Vanderbilt popped Bryce Treggs and stood up Ray Hudson, and was gently reminded not to take anyone to the ground.
“The good thing is, we’ll be in pads tomorrow, and we’ll do some live tackling,” said Dykes. “I think it’s time to do it. Some of it’s some of the new guys, who aren’t really accustomed to the different tempo of the practice – we’ve got ‘thud’ in this period, which means basically live, but don't take guys to the ground, and then we’ve got a tag that we do in skel[eton], so it’s a little bit different, and it takes some time for them to get used to it.”
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Tackling or no tackling, Daniel Lasco provided the big highlight of practice, bursting through the middle of the line for what would have been a 70-yard touchdown during full 11-on-11s.
Not to be outdone was freshman Kanawai Noa. In the second-to-last drive of full 11s, the speedy receiver out of Hawaii made a diving, sprawling, rolling one-handed snag in the back of the end zone from freshman Ross Bowers, alertly getting one foot down in-bounds for the score.
On Saturday, Dykes said that Noa was “ahead of everybody” as far as being able to play early.
“Brandon Singleton, I think, is going to be a good player, and Carlos [Strickland] is going to be a good player,” Dykes said. “We’ll see how that plays out, but I think Kanawai right now, is, of all the guys, the most ready to play. He’s just been well coached, has a real good feel for the game, and is one of those kids that has a lot of intangibles.”
Defensively, aside from the hits by Vanderbilt (one resulting in a fumble recovery by Jonathan Johnson) and Drew, defensive tackle James Looney showed off his athleticism on a screen to Jeffrey Coprich. Despite a very solid second-level block by Dominic Granado, Looney – who fired off the ball into the offensive line, recovered, and was able to drop into coverage and stop Coprich after 15 yards – a play that normally a linebacker would make.
“Adding new players, with Looney being in there and Kragen being back and then the numbers that we added in the back end, that’s gotten us where we need to be, in terms of our depth and our ability to come out and practice” Dykes said.
Kelly Dealing With Personal Issue
Though Cal has missed defensive tackle Trevor Kelly for the first four days of camp – due to a “personal deal that he’s working through,” Dykes said – the depth along the defensive front has also been robust. In fact, all throughout the defense, there is not just depth, but experienced depth, to the point where redshirt junior defensive end Todd Barr and redshirt senior Puka Lopa have taken reps with the third-team defense.
“What’s happened in the past is the starters would get six, eight reps, and we’d put somebody in who wasn’t game-ready, and give up a big play, and that happened to us at times last year, in ballgames,” Dykes said. “Now, we’ve got more game-ready players. We’ve got more experience.”
When Kelly does get back – and Dykes said that the Bears do expect to have him back – he’ll have to contend with Marcus Manley and David Davis, each of whom have gotten first-team reps as the Bears rest Mustafa Jalil during team period.
“The pass rush is better, and that’s where you can tell a pass rush. We’re getting push more on the inside. I think, if you asked us right now, four practices in, what’s the biggest surprise of fall camp, it may be David Davis,” Dykes said. “He’s been really effective in this camp, and is moving and playing very strong and very physical, so that’s impressive, and it’s good to see that.”
Once again, we saw Jalil rested during third-down situations, as the team continues to make sure he’s healthy by the opener. The staff isn’t risking Jalil – who’s been such a valuable run-stuffer, and a perfect complement to Looney -- getting hurt in camp.
Instead, the starting defensive line saw Kyle Kragen and a very strong DeVante Wilson on the outside at end, with Davis and Looney in the middle.
The depth at end is strong, with Noah Westerfield and Jonathan Johnson providing a lot of pressure off the edge on the second team.
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• Grffin Piatt was in red, as he’s a shade behind McClure as far as being a full-go to return.
• Freshman cornerback Jaylinn Hawkins scored two breakups in one-on-ones.
• While Darius White has been very good so far, I’m concerned about the fact that there are a lot of his plays that are going to get called for pass interference.
“Darius White’s made a big step, made a big step in spring football, and he’s carried it over to fall camp,” Dykes said. “We’ve got to get the question mark at that other [cornerback] spot answered. Darius Allensworth has been good, Antoine Albert has been good, some of the young guys have been good. There’s some depth that’s starting to develop at corner. Then, we’ve got so many more bodies at safety, length, athleticism – things that we need.”
Allensworth had a breakup in the end zone during 11-on-11s, and has been much more consistent, at least over the first four days.
• While Albert doesn’t always make the play, he’s always around the ball. The JuCo transfer gets in on tackles, sniffs out where the ball is going in the air and frankly, his name is all over my notebook when charting plays.
One play in particular stood out, during one of Jared Goff’s 11-on-11 drives, when Goff went deep down the far sideline to Kenny Lawler, but the veteran wide out was faced with blanket coverage by Albert, who broke up the pass at the two-yard line. He can certainly turn and run with speedy receivers, and he’s physical enough to do something about it when the ball’s in his vicinity.
• Dykes said that the defensive backfield at this point is a “moving target,” with nickel and dime positions still yet to be determined. De’Zhon Grace has gotten a lot of run with the first team, but so have Albert and Allensworth. Cameron Walker seems to be the favorite right now at the nickel. Evan Rambo, Hawkins and Malik Psalms are also standing out.
“The good thing is,” Dykes said, “we have players to choose from.”
Dykes also said that he expects all of the first-year defensive backs to play in some form or another.
The Kicker Who Lived
• Harry Adolphus has a huge leg. Gets great hangtime, and even on balls that don’t spiral, he just gets a ton of power into them, and they just carry. He’s also very fast for a punter, obviously owing to his more athletic roots as a rugby player.
• Patrick Worstell, who played safety last year, is back at wide receiver. Worstell had a leaping, curling grab for a touchdown in the back of the end zone on a rifle shot from Ross Bowers during 7-on-7 work.
Bears Closing in on Starting Line
• The first-team offensive line was, for the bulk of the day, Steven Moore at left tackle, Chris Borrayo at left guard, Jordan Rigsbee at center, Dominic Granado at right guard and Brian Farley at right tackle. During pre-practice, though, Addison Ooms worked with the first-team left guard and left tackle while snapping. Just some mixing and matching going on up front, but not a ton.
I think you’ll see that formulation, as well as one with Semisi Uluave or Granado at guard, Ooms at center or guard and either Vince Johnson or Aaron Cochran as the swing tackle. Those are your top eight linemen.
The third (read: emergency) center is Michael Trani, who took snaps with the third team. Kamryn Bennett has seen time with the second-team at left guard.
“We feel like we’ve got seven, eight guys that are pretty good, and we’re looking for 10,” Dykes said. “We’ve had some guys that have stepped up and improved, but they’re not where we need them to be, quiet yet. It’s just about being consistent on a day-in, day-out basis. Still early in camp. A lot of things still have to work out, but we feel pretty good about where we are.”
What hasn’t changed, at least in full 11-on-11s, has been Rigsbee at center.
“What I like about [Rigsbee] is that he’s got some toughness, and experience, and leadership,” Dykes said. “He’s been working hard on getting his snaps down, and we trust him to make the line calls and make those decisions. It’s good to have an experienced guy in there, somebody that everybody counts on and believes in, and somebody who’s played a lot of snaps. That part of it is good.”
Rigsbee started the majority of his redshirt sophomore year at center, after Chris Adcock went down with injury, and did not snap at all last year with Adcock healthy and starting.
“Everything’s different,” Dykes said, comparing Rigsbee then to Rigsbee now. “I think he’s bigger, he’s stronger and in better shape. I think he’s had a renewed sense of commitment to the program and offseason conditioning. I think that he’s much more focused and mature, and I think it’s going to result in him playing at a lot higher level, and he’s got more experience playing the position now.”
• Lots more wiggle to sophomore receiver Matthew Rockett. His route-running and double-moves have been impressive over the last three days, including one during one-on-ones again on Monday. He’s definitely shifty, and I can see him being used as the next inside guy behind Treggs and Darius Powe.
Dead Legs and Wide Receivers
• The coverage continues to impress. Though there were no picks during 7-on or third-down work, Goff had quite a bit of trouble finding windows. By our count, he had about 10 errant throws during 7on work. Definitely not what we expect from him, but every star player is entitled to have an off day.
“I think it’s probably a byproduct of us losing our legs a little bit on offense,” Dykes said. “I think the receivers start to lose their legs and wear down. They’re not where they were a few days ago. That’s what happens in fall camp. Guys start to wear down, and balls start to be overthrown a little bit more, and it’s not on the quarterback as it is on guys who are wearing down and not playing at the same speed.”
Dykes admonished Singleton -- who’s shown off a very advanced set of tools, from route-running to speed to strength over the course of the first four days – for not using his technique to get separation, and instead depending on a push-off.
59 white: Brian Farley
13 blue: Kyle Kragen
66 white: Chris Borrayo
97 blue: Tony Mekari
75 blue: Puka Lopa
64 white: Steven Moore
75 white: Aaron Cochran
95 blue: DeVante Wilson
55 white: Dominic Granado
52 blue: David Davis
78 white: Vince Johnson
11 blue: Jonathan Johnson
58 white: Uluave
93 blue: Luc Bequette
57 white: Addison Ooms
99 blue: Malik McMorris
92 blue: Marcus Manley