BERKELEY -- After a day off for summer school finals, California hit the field again in full pads on Friday, but the big story of the first four days of camp -- Damariay Drew -- was not in attendance, still feeling under the weather. Head coach Sonny Dykes said that Drew should be back on Sunday.
While he was dressed in pads, tailback Daniel Lasco was rested for the third straight practice due to a strained back.
“The big thing we’ve got to do with him is get him better, get him improving, and we don’t want to get a bunch of hits on him and wear him out,” Dykes said. “We were intentionally light with him, and it will probably be the same through camp.”
The big story on Friday, though, had nothing to do with the big storylines of camp thus far – the pass rush and the defensive backfield – but rather the offensive line.
Tackles Steven Moore and Brian Farley were flipped during team work, with Farley taking left tackle and Moore taking the right side. While he didn’t get any first-team reps, the move may have been made to make some room for redshirt sophomore Aaron Cochran, reading between the lines of Dykes’s comments.
[MEMBERS: Fall Camp Day 7 Live Thread]
“We’re working different combinations to see where guys are comfortable,” Dykes said. “I thought, at first, it looked OK. It’s something we could continue to do a little bit. Part of that reason is that Aaron Cochran is kind of pushing for playing time, and he’s more comfortable on the left. Steven can kind of play both sides. So, we just wanted to check the different combinations to see what we thought was the best one.”
Dykes said on Wednesday that Cochran was one of the surprises of camp, along with receiver Jack Austin.
“Aaron’s looked really good at the tackle spot, so I’ve been pleased with his improvement,” Dykes said earlier this week. “Aaron Cochran is really playing at a high level. Aaron and Vinnie [Johnson] are going to push to get some playing time. When you’ve got four guys competing for two spots, that makes everybody better. I think all those guys have to raise their game, because Aaron and Vinnie are right on Steven’s heels and certainly on Farley’s heels.”
Cochran is as light as he’s been since he got to Berkeley. Thanks to a knee injury, Cochran ballooned his senior year to over 380 pounds. Now, he’s down to just over 336, and has the triangular body shape that’s ideal in an offensive tackle. He’s certainly bigger up top, and narrower through the waist, thanks to, he says “a lot of running. A lot of running.”
“I just got reps with the one’s for one day, so I wouldn’t say I’m a first-team player,” Cochran demurred. “I would say the biggest difference has been coaching. Coach [Brandon] Jones pushes us more than probably I’ve ever been pushed in my life. That’s the huge part of it. I still have a long way to go with consistency, and technique-wise.”
[TICKETMONSTER OFFER: Join or Upgrade, Get $30 Off Cal Tickets!]
Cochran looks more flexible than he’s been in the past – and though he can’t quite do the Alex Mack splits (he tried, and couldn’t quite get all the way down), he’s getting up to the second level much faster, thanks to the changes in his body.
“The goal is 320, 315,” Cochran said. “Hopefully, by the end of camp, I’ll be closer to 320. I’m not dragging a small child on me anymore, like when I first got here and I was 370.”
As he has for about half of camp, freshman Semisi Uluave was once again running with the first team at right guard, and during one-on-one pass rush drills, stoned vaunted defensive tackle James Looney, before Moore put defensive end Kyle Kragen on his back.
“I think he and Dom (Dominic Granado) are kind of bouncing back and forth,” Dykes said of the right guard spot. “They will be, for a while.”
With Drew on the shelf, Derron Brown moved up to first-team safety with Luke Rubenzer, meaning that freshman safety Evan Rambo and DePriest Turner took the second-team safety snaps. Turner picked off Chase Forrest at the end of full team 11-on-11 work on a 25-yard pass intended for Bug Rivera.
“Those guys got work,” Dykes said. “Trey (Turner) is kind of making a push,” Dykes said. “He’s a little bit behind, adjusting to anew position, being a high school quarterback, adjusting to safety. Safety’s a really complicated position, in today’s game. There’s a lot on those guys, and he’s starting to pick things up a little bit better, and as a result, I think he’s been playing better and being more productive.”
Rubenzer – who could still be moved back to quarterback (that decision will be made in about a week) had a very physical breakup in the end zone of a pass from quarterback Jared Goff to Ray Hudson during seven-on-seven work, but did get stiff-armed by Darius Powe during full 11-on-11s, a drive that ended with a leaping, juggling, one-handed touchdown grab by Kenny Lawler in the back of the end zone.
Lawler's grab was one of three 11-on-11 touchdowns, including a 20-yard cut-back rumble by Jeffrey Coprich and a short pass from Goff to Ray Hudson. Goff also hit Maurice Harris up the seam between two defenders -- Cameron Walker and Hamilton Anoa'i -- for a 40-yard scoring strike during seven-on-seven work.
Dykes said that he’s been impressed with Rubenzer’s work at safety, after spending his freshman season as a quarterback.
“He still needs reps,” Dykes said. “He’s not as smooth in some of the little technical things we want him to get smoother in – backpedalling, transitioning in and out – but he sees things well and he’s got good instincts. He’s physical, and that’s the thing we wanted to see.”
The returns of Stefan McClure and Griffin Piatt will likely impact how much time Rubenzer sees. McClure worked in with the first team (though still in red) during seven-on-seven work. Piatt has yet to see time in anything other than individual work.
“McClure’s starting to get integrated a little bit more, and we’ll continue to do so,” Dykes said. “You’ll see him in team probably the first part of next week. He’s doing a little more every single day. His rep total has improved every single practice.”
Linebacker Nathan Broussard once again saw reps during seven-on-seven, and during full 11-on-11 work, despite wearing the red jersey again.
“I think we’ll bring him back slowly, give him a little bit more and a little bit more,” Dykes said.
Michael Barton ran with both the first- and second-team defense, and tallied one sack and a tackle for loss on the day, stealing some of the spotlight from the defensive backfield, which saw an interception by Darius Allensworth and two breakups by linebacker/safety Caleb Coleman.
“I’m just so confident that any of us could go out there and play, and there wouldn’t be any drop-off,” Barton said of the linebacking corps. “The biggest thing, I think, this fall camp, is that, at every position, there’s the most competition I’ve seen since I’ve been here. We don’t know who the starters are really going to be.
“With the fast-paced style we play every week, there were games last year – Arizona, we played 110 plays, we played 115 against Colorado, Washington, we were up in the 90s. You’ve got to have guys who can cycle in, so we have a fresh defense.”
[What Do You Get With a Membership? Find Out Here!]
The linebackers haven’t been mentioned much, mainly because they’ve been so steady and consistent, with lots of veteran depth.
“I think those linebackers, as a group, are improving,” Dykes said. “Devante Downs is doing well. It’s good to see Hardy back there getting reps coming off a sprained foot. It’s been encouraging. I think Ray Davison’s a guy that’s getting better, as well.”
Of the healthy linebackers (not including Coleman or Jake Kearney, who’s not been in on team work since the first day), the linebacking corps has 62 starts under its belt, led by Hardy Nickerson, Jr., Broussard and Jalen Jefferson.
“I think the mindset in the room is, we just put our hard hats on and we get to work,” Barton said. “We just let what we do on the field speak for itself. We’re not going to be the flashiest guys like the DBs, we’re not going to be the loudest guys like the D-line; we’re just going to come out here and do what we have to do.”
Anoa'i was the target of linebacker coach Garret Chachere’s ire midway through practice, and he was replaced on the second team by Davison, who almost immediately tallied a stop on Coprich.
“Coach Chachere was on one today,” Barton said. “Coach Chachere will tell you, one time, calmly, but if you mess it up again, he’s on your head. One thing coach Chachere does really well is, he coaches us up in the film room, more than anything. What he expects us to do, more than anything, is learn from that. We take a lot of notes, and he expects us to translate that film room work to the field. He demands excellence, without a doubt, and I wouldn’t want it any other way, because that’s the only way we’re going to be great. I want to be one of the best linebacking corps in the country. That’s what Hardy wants, that’s what Jalen wants, that’s what Nate wants – that’s what everybody in the room wants.”
The loudest group, in Barton’s words – the defensive line – continued to show up on Saturday, with Todd Barr moving up to the second team and providing pressure on Goff during full 11-on-11 work.
“He’s done a good job so far,” Dykes said. “I think he’s in the best shape he’s ever been in. I think he’s probably a little lighter than he was last year, and he’s probably a little bit better, as a result. It’s good to see him playing well.”
At the moment, Kragen -- who came free off the edge, and hurried a throw from Goff to Austin during full 11-on-11 work – and DeVante Wilson -- Wilson who showed off a double spin move, once to the outside, then back inside, to beat Cochran during one-on-ones – have the first-team defensive end spots locked down.
“If we played today, yeah,” Dykes said. “There will be some committee involved. Puka [Lopa]’s done some good things. [Noah] Westerfield’s done some good things.”
Lopa was slowed by a left foot on Saturday, but Dykes said it was nothing major, and that he will “definitely be in the mix, for sure.”
The place-kicking duties, which, before camp started, were very much up-in-the-air, and a question mark, now may be a position of strength, as both Matt Anderson and Noah Beito have kicked well – with Anderson hitting field goals over 40 yards fairly consistently, and Beito hitting the closer shots at an almost automatic pace – and behind incumbent Cole Leininger (who won’t be losing his starting punting job any time soon), there have been encouraging signs both from rugby fly-half-turned-kicker Harry Adolphus and JuCo transfer Dylan Klumph.
Klumph certainly has the biggest leg, and when he connects cleanly, his ball has a lot of explosion, but he’s been inconsistent. Adolphus – with his rugby background – gives a different look when he’s back to punt, and he’s also worked on kickoffs, as well, giving Cal a true 11-on-11 match-up in the kickoff coverage game, since he’s more than able to tackle.
“I thought they kicked OK today, probably not as good a day today as they have had,” Dykes said. “I think Noah Beito, at this point, probably has a leg up on the competition. Matt’s not going to just give it to him. Matt’s improving, and I feel pretty good about those guys.”
The Bears, though, won’t travel with four legs.
“We could have, in the past, when we were looking for 70 healthy bodies,” Dykes said. “We could have traveled with 15 kickers. Klumph would have played safety for us, last year.”