BERKELEY -- There were two big draws on the north end of Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium on Tuesday, the first day the Bears spent in full pads. One was the three-part mash between Mustafa Jalil and freshman offensive guard Semisi Uluave.
The other bout saw freshman offensive lineman Patrick Mekari and redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Tony Mekari go facemask to facemask, drawing a lot of noise from the assembled players, as the offensive line erupted when Patrick bested Tony, prompting Fred Tate to chirp, “go up in the stands and watch your brother practice.”
“I think it was good for the first time out in pads,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “I thought we tackled well. You could see our athleticism. I think it’s much improved. You can improve your tackling, but the easiest way to improve your tackling is in recruiting, quite frankly. We’ve become more athletic, and as a result, we’re tackling better.”
With the star of the first four days of camp, Damariay Drew, not in pads – but watching from the sidelines in a jersey and shorts, due to feeling under the weather – the big performer mantle in the secondary fell to cornerback Antoine Albert, who had three breakups during one-on-ones, including a would-be long touchdown from Jared Goff to Trevor Davis, and another in the end zone during red zone work.
“Antoine defended some passes well, and I think our corner play has improved,” Martin said. “I think they’re playing with more confidence, particularly our press stuff. We’re much better at being able to walk down and press the receivers than we have been, in the past, and I think our safeties are playing much better.”
When the full-team work began, first with third-down conversion, and then with full 11-on-11 drives, the defense once again continued to hold serve, and yes, Virginia, the Bears do have a pass rush.
“We’re getting better,” said Dykes. “Having an athlete like [James] Looney inside, and all those guys are improved. They’re just bigger, stronger, faster. [Kyle] Kragen’s been consistent, and I think, again the guy who’s really taken a big step forward the last two days has been DeVante Wilson.
The big defensive end out of Riverside Community College, who came to Berkeley this spring, was just plain explosive in one-on-one work, showing off a nifty inside swim move, and he carried that into the full-team periods. Wilson tallied two tackles for loss on back-to-back drives, dropping Khalfani Muhammad in the backfield and then putting big Vic Enwere on his back inside the offense’s 20-yard line.
“He was really impressive today, and that’s good to see him keep getting better,” Dykes said. “He’s much improved. He’s looked better every day. This spring was about him getting stronger, and learning, and learning technique and that type of thing. Now, it’s about him applying the technique, and he’s playing faster.
“He’s a guy that came in, had a good spring, didn’t show up much, but just got better and better and better and better, and since then, he’s lost some weight, and I think, as a result, he’s moving better. He’s much stronger. His weight room numbers were very much improved. I just think maturity, strength, technique and learning, [he’s] just being able to cut it loose and play, instead of think.”
Jonathan Johnson and Noah Westerfield also got quite a bit of pressure on the first-team offensive line (with Westerfield nearly coming up with an at-the-line interception, which he dropped – the third dropped pick of the day for the defense). When asked if he thought the defensive line – which, with 16 sacks, was out-sacked by two individual players last season – was better this year, or whether it was who they were facing, Jalil was quick to respond.
“I think, 100 percent, our pass rush is way better,” Jalil said. “The O-line’s all the same. They lost two guys – the center and a guard – which is big, but they’ve got Jordan [Rigsbee] at center now, and they’ve got [Dominic] Granado and Semisi at the other guard, so they’ve got some experience. You can see all the pressure’s getting to Jared, throwing a couple of interceptions now. I think that’s how it’s going to be like during the season.”
Dykes said that by no means are the tackle spots entirely settled. While Steven Moore (who was victimized by an inside swim move from Wilson during one-on-ones) and Brian Farley have taken almost all the snaps at left and right tackle, respectively, they have two tackles nipping at their heels.
“I think Farley’s been good, and the good thing about it is, Aaron Cochran’s really playing at a high level,” Dykes said. “Aaron and Vinnie [Johnson] are going to push to get some playing time. You’ve got four guys competing for two spots, and that makes everybody better. I think all those guys have to raise their game, because I think Aaron and Vinnie are right on Steven’s heels, and certainly on Farley’s heels, as well.”
In full 11s, the defense was stingy, allowing just three touchdowns – a 35-yarder and a 15-yarder to Lawler, and a seven-yard Tre Watson run – all with the first-team offense, guided by Goff. Another would-be Watson touchdown plunge was halted at the goal line by David Garner.
The offense did have several bright spots, coming from Jeffrey Coprich, Noa, Lawler and Lonny Powell.
During a drive by freshman quarterback Ross Bowers, Powell burst through the line with a head of steam and got the first down and then some, needing two defenders to bring him down after about 15 yards.
Soon after, with Powell still lingering in the minds of the defense, Bowers found Chad Hansen on the right side against freshman corner Malik Psalms. Hansen went up the ladder to snag the ball, came back down, cut inside and voided Psalms, then Rambo, Billy McCrary and Ray Davison for a 30-yard touchdown.
[READ MORE: Live Updates from Day Five]
Coprich turned in a 30-yard jiggle-juke-and-jive run up the middle during full 11-on-11 work, and also scored two touchdowns during seven-on-seven work, including one on a scramble-drill roll out where he shook free. He failed to find paydirt during the full team session, as he was stopped at the one-yard line by Barton.
Lawler caught a back-shoulder fade from Goff during seven-on-seven work for the first touchdown of the day for the offense, and on the first drive of 11s, hauled in another fade from 25 yards for a score. In one of the final drives of the day, Khalfani Muhammad also had a great backside block on Derron Brown that allowed Goff to find Lawler in the end zone on the front side.
Matthew Rockett flashed again on Tuesday, as he spun off of a charging Darius Allensworth on the sideline to gain 10 more yards on a pass from Goff.
Noa hauled in a pass from out of the slot, avoiding a tackle by Albert with a side-step and went all the way to the house for a 50-yard TD, competing with Hanson’s grab and Coprich’s run for play of the day honors.
“He’s been certainly the most consistent young receiver up to this point,” Dykes said of Noa. “He’s strong. I think that’s probably his advantage over the other young guys, in that he’s got a little more strength than they do. Those guys, when they start to get tired and they start to wear down, they don't have that same suddenness and pop that they had early. He’s been pretty consistent throughout. One thing about the kid: He’s incredibly coachable. He’s got great natural ball-catching ability. He’s got really good instincts.”
• Davis, Muhammad Bryce Treggs, Brandon Singleton, Coprich and Tre Watson worked on kickoff returns during early special teams work.
• While defensive back Khari Vanderbilt did plenty of big hitting on Monday, on Tuesday, he got trucked by Patrick Laird in kickoff coverage work.
• Freshman cornerback Jaylinn Hawkins -- who had a touchdown breakup during one-on-ones – jammed his shoulder and did not participate in full 11-on-11 work. Dykes said he may have a sprained shoulder.
• Former quarterback Luke Rubenzer showed up well at safety, making two big hits during full 11-on-11, as he continues to see reps with the first team, as Griffin Piatt and Stefan McClure are still on limited duty, and Drew spent the day on the sideline.
“I thought he did some good things,” Dykes said of Rubenzer, who even stopped hard-to-tackle Enwere cold in full 11-on-11 work. “I thought he showed up, and it was all positive. I think he’s going to be a good tackler.
“Evan Rambo did some good things. I thought Trey Turner did some good things in there as young guys. It was encouraging to see. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”
Turner triggered well on several passes, and looked to have a very good instinct when it came to sniffing out routes, and Dykes said that Rambo “will play for us,” this season. Dykes said that up to 20 freshmen could play this season.
As for the decision on whether Rubenzer will remain at safety or return to quarterback – likely as a wildcat option – that will be decided soon.
“We’ll let it play out, still, but we’ll have tomorrow’s practice, and that’ll be six practices, and we’ll take a look,” Dykes said. “We’ll have a personnel discussion tomorrow morning, and see where we’re at, start putting the depth chart together no special teams, and come up with some squad lists – who’s going to play where, special teams, who do we expect to play – that will all be in the discussion that we have tomorrow.”
• In punt return, Davis and Treggs were joined by freshmen Brandon Singleton and Kanawai Noa.
• Punter Dylan Klumph is inconsistent, but accurate. He’ll boot one over the stadium rim with a ton of hangtime on one boot, and then end-over-end with no hangtime another. But, he always gets it to the spot he needs to get it to. I don’t think Cole Leininger will have anything to worry about this year, though I think Cal may wind up using situational punters at times, as Harry Adolphus is the master of the rugby kick, and, as I said, Klumph can get it to a spot.
• As far as the kicking duties, Dykes said that he was “really liking” what he’s been seeing, particularly from Noah Beito.
“I’m very happy and optimistic about where that’s at,” Dykes said. “I thought that Noah Beito kicked about as well as any kicker we’ve had around here, so far. Again, we’re five practices in, and a lot of things can happen between now and then, but he has been very consistent.”
• Linebacker Jalen Jefferson had a standout day on defense, dropping Enwere with a wrap-up in full scrimmage work, and nearly coming up with a pick in full 11s on Goff, as Goff’s pass snuck over Jefferson’s leaping, outstretched hands and into the arms of a diving Kenny Lawler. Jefferson later had good pressure, along with Looney, to force a Goff incompletion.
The linebacking corps saw Nathan Broussard play a bit with the full 11s, but he was still in red. Michael Barton and Devante Downs each had strong days, and Hardy Nickerson continues to be brought along after a sprained foot slowed him this offseason.
“They’ve got a lot of experience,” Dykes said. “I thought Jalen Jefferson had one of his best practices today. I thought he showed up a bunch, I thought he flashed. He made a couple of instinctual plays during practice that I was impressed with, so it was good to see him doing that. There’s a lot of depth, and those guys are battling for those other spots. When Nate comes back and starts playing more, and Hardy gets more reps, it’s going to be a solid group for us.”
• Wednesday's practice has been moved from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm at Memorial Stadium. It is open to the public.
• Safety Quentin Tartabull is behind on his knee injury rehab, and that is why he has not been in camp. Maximo Espitia tore his ACL in the spring, and will not be able to play this season.