BERKELEY -- The depth chart is still fluid, California head coach Sonny Dykes said on Wednesday, but in the Bears’ afternoon fall camp practice at California Memorial Stadium – after a morning session at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle – things looked fairly settled.
For the fourth day in a row, redshirt sophomore Aaron Cochran manned the first-team left tackle spot on the offensive line, and also got reps with the second-team as Cal focused mainly on game scripting and situational walkthroughs.
As he’s been the previous two days, presumptive starting tackle Steven Moore has been rested, though Dykes says that he’s stronger than he’s ever been, despite undergoing two shoulder surgeries.
[MORE FROM DAY 12: Depth Chart Thoughts]
“I think Aaron Cochran, as a result, has practiced with the one’s the last two days, and has looked very good,” Dykes said. “I’ve felt like probably our offensive line, the last two practices, we’ve looked as good as we have at any point. That was without Steven out there practicing. That shows that we’re starting to develop some depth, and it’s good to see Aaron out there playing. We’re going to need him to play, and we want him to play, because he can do some things to help us win.”
During the morning practice at De La Salle, fullback/defensive tackle Malik McMorris -- whose full, heart-wrenching story you can read here -- caught a five-yard touchdown pass. He’s been working as a blocking back, and with the receivers catching passes, for the past five days. During the first week, he split time with the defense and the offense.
“He’s going to be a weapon for us,” Dykes said. “He’s one of those kids you root for. The more you get to know him, the more you get to root for him. He’s clearly an explosive athlete – a great shot putter, a great discus thrower – and a really good football player.”
Dykes said, when asked how McMorris is shaping up, that he still needs to shape up and lose some pounds, but with the feet of an athlete who came within inches -- two years running -- of being a state champion discus and shot put thrower, he's got a lot of explosiveness, and is much more athletic than he appears at first glance.
We’ll have more on McMorris later this week.
Also seeing double duty was safety Luke Rubenzer, the erstwhile quarterback who’s seen all of his time spent with the defense thus far in fall camp. Rubenzer saw time with both the first- and second-team secondary, at times pairing with Stefan McClure, who continues to be brought back slowly.
“We just want him to get reps,” Dykes said. “All those safeties are kind of rolling, right now. We’ve got different combinations that we’re working with, depending on where we are and what the situation is and how much somebody’s played. We’re trying to get five or six guys ready back there, and Luke’s certainly in the mix to be somebody who can help us win.”
The majority of the first-team safety reps, though, went to McClure and Damariay Drew, with the second-team consisting of Rubenzer and Khari Vanderbilt.
“Getting Damariay back, feeling better was a good thing, and it was good to see him back out there today,” Dykes said of Drew, who’d missed the past several days because of an unspecified malady. “Those guys are all getting experience, all improving and all battling for reps in practice. That’s good. That’s what you want.”
The cornerback rotation was a bit more fluid. First-team reps went to Darius Allensworth and Darius White, who have clearly separated themselves.
“Really, I’ve improved my focus,” White said. “I’m grinding hard on my technique, working hard to be the best that I can be, and that’s why I feel like I’ve gotten better. Also, my comfort has skyrocketed. I took in all that, and I’m working hard every day.”
White missed much of last fall camp with a shoulder injury, and by the time he was healthy, he was thrown into the fire immediately as McClure, Griffin Piatt and just about every other experienced safety the Bears had went down with injury. He was predictably shaky at times, but this camp, Dykes has said he’s made one of the biggest jumps.
(Piatt, incidentally, worked without a red jersey, but it was just a helmets-only practice in the afternoon on Wednesday)
“You could say it threw me off at the beginning, because I didn’t have time to get Division I reps,” White said. “I didn’t have any Division I practices until the fourth game. Everybody else got spring and fall, and I didn’t. I’ve got the experience now, so I’m here.”
White is also one of the loudest. During team stretch, when certain players bark out a role call of team leaders, his name was crowed: “Where D-White at? Hey! D-White! What day’s today?” The sharp rapport back: “It’s work day!”
“We’ve got a big chip on our shoulder, a big chip,” White said of the defensive backs.
Before double-day practices, White can be heard yelling, “IDGT! IDGT!”
“I don’t get tired,” White explained, during one of the Bears’ hotter practices earlier this week. “With this heat, that’s what you’ve got to say, because it’s a mental thing. If you think it’s hot, it’s going to be hot. If you think it’s cold, it’s going to be cold. If you think it’s hard, it’s going to be hard. IDGT – I don’t get tired – it’s a phrase we use to get through the day. I don’t get tired – even though it’s hot outside, I don’t get tired.”
White said that he brought that sentiment from the South, all the way from Mississippi, to help Cal during double days.
“It’s a Southern thing, and I took it to the field for a positive,” White said.
After White and Allensworth, the cornerback situation looks to shake out with Antoine Albert and De’Zhon Grace, though we could see DePriest Turner, Jaylinn Hawkins and Malik Psalms sneak in there, as well, particularly once Hawkins gets fully healthy. He practiced again on Wednesday.
The first-team defensive line was no surprise: DeVante Wilson and Kyle Kragen on the ends, with Mustafa Jalil and James Looney in the middle.
The second group behind that saw Tony Mekari and Marcus Manley in the middle, flanked by Todd Barr and Jonathan Johnson. A notable absence: David Davis. While Davis was at practice, he was held out of the walkthrough segment because of a sprained calf. Dykes said he should be back “soon.”
The linebackers are a bit tougher to pin down, because Nathan Broussard was held out of team, but I’d wager he’s in the middle when Cal kicks off the season.
Michael Barton saw a lot of action on the outside with both the first and second teams, and Jalen Jefferson is a fixture both in the three-backer alignment, and in nickel, usually pairing with Hardy Nickerson.
The second-team linebacking corps consisted of Ray Davison in the middle, flanked by Barton and Devante Downs, though Downs has played some MIKE backer during fall camp. Garret Chachere has said that he wants his linebackers to be interchangeable, so to get the best unit on the field, and that looks like it’s holding true.
Aisea Tongilava -- who made a spectacular play on Tre Watson’s 85-yard run on Tuesday – was the third MIKE backer in, but saw time with the second team, as well, as did Hamilton Anoa’i.
On offense, the wide receiver group remains easily the deepest on the team.
The top four wide outs at this point look to be Kenny Lawler, Bryce Treggs, Trevor Davis and Stephen Anderson, who Dykes said will from time to time put his hand in the dirt as a true tight end.
Freshman outside receivers Brandon Singleton and Kanawai Noa got reps with the second-team offense right off the bat. Jack Austin and Maurice Harris, though, look to be the true two’s. It’s a very good bet, though, based on Dykes’s comments from Tuesday, that the pair of young receivers will get time when real balls start flying.
Noa made a snappy turnaround grab on a pass from freshman quarterback Ross Bowers on the far sideline during team work.
On the inside, the second group looks to be Ray Hudson and Darius Powe, followed by Matthew Rockett and Patrick Laird/Bug Rivera.
Over on special teams – which the Bears practiced in great depth on Wednesday – the Cal coaches put kicker Matt Anderson under the microscope, and he took a large chunk of the kickoff duties, as well as all the placekicking reps.
“We rested Noah [Beito] a little bit,” Dykes said. “We’ve kicked him a bunch, so we wanted to rest him a little bit, and we wanted to see what Matt could do. Matt answered the call real well. He was 4-for-4 on field goals, and had two 44-yarders to end practice, so I was really pleased with what he did.”
Trevor Davis and Khalfani Muhammad returned kickoffs, while Lawler saw time at punt returner.
Cal will hold a scrimmage of some sort on Saturday, Dykes said.
“It remains to be seen how much,” Dykes said. “A lot of it will depend on how we feel and what we feel like we need to get done. We’ll have a little bit more intensive scrimmage on Monday, as well.”