"It felt pretty good getting out there for the first time with everyone," Stovall said. "I felt like I was smooth, and normal."
"We were a little sharper than I thought we'd be for the first time out," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "It was a good start. I talked to the players afterwards, and said, 'If we build on that, this is going to be a good football team.' It's a hell of a way to start."
The early-enrollee and former U.S. Army All-American and four-star athlete was a force out of the slot, and outside. he made two catches in traffic during seven-on-seven work, showed quick feet and remarkable speed.
"Kind of what we expected -- he's a dynamic guy, can run -- to me, he had a lot better understanding of how to run routes and create space than I thought he would, at this point, for the first time," Dykes said. "I was really pleased with what I saw. I thought he caught the ball well, and I think he's going to be a good football player."
"We've been getting in the weight room a lot, so that was my biggest thing -- getting in the weight room -- and then, transitioning from running back to slot receiver, I really have to work on my routes," Stovall said. "I'm still working on them, trying to improve and get better each day. That was the main thing, I think, was the route-running, because running backs, we're not doing too many routes."
Stovall is truly explosive. Obviously, without helmets and pads, it's tough to really see much in terms of anything predictive, but he's got a burst about him that's very exciting. He'll definitely be someone opposing teams have to game plan for, because he's got so much suddenness, and gets on defenders so quickly. It might even take the quarterbacks some time to get used to him, because he gets out of his breaks so quickly.
"I've been trying to gain a little weight, but get faster at the same time," said Stovall, who stands 5-foot-8.5, 190 pounds. So, who's taller: Stovall or Khalfani Muhammad, who's listed at 5-foot-9?
"He thinks he is, but I think I am," Stovall said. "I think I've got him."
Working with five different quarterbacks (we'll talk about them in a bit) is certainly something novel for Stovall. Asked if it enters his mind, he says, "yeah, and no."
Balls do spin different ways, from different quarterbacks, he says.
"One guy tilts it up a little too much, another guy down alittle too much, they all have their style of throwing," Stovall said. "You just have to get used to all of them, because, at the end of the day, we're not sure who's going to be the starter. Just catch the ball. Wherever the ball is placed, you've got to catch it."
Take it Veasy
JuCo transfer Jordan Veasy worked both outside and on the inside, at times, during early drills.
Whenever Veasy dropped -- or came close to dropping -- a pass, he showed great frustration and disappointment in himself, no matter how out-of-reach the pass was.
"I don't want to be consistent with bad habits," Veasy said. "I expect to catch every ball. When I don't, it upsets me."
He showed very good speed for a guy his size. In fact, Veasy was probably the most impressive physical specimen of practice, and the most versatile. Coming in to Cal, he was compared variously to Darius Powe and Stephen Anderson.
"I think Jordan Veasy is someone who's big enough [to play tight end]," Dykes said in his pre-spring briefing. "We're going to see where he plays. He's probably going to start outside, and then we'll kind of go from there. We've always found, through the years, that it's easier to start someone outside and then move them inside, just because there's such an element of having to get off press coverage on the outside. You typically train guys outside, and then you can move them inside later on. He's certainly a body type that's big enough."
Before he got to Berkeley, Veasy watched a lot of film on the players he was coming in to replace.
"Mostly with me, it was either-or, with me; I watched Kenny [Lawler] a lot, because I knew that was what I was going to be doing," said Veasy. "It was either inside or outside, but when I got here, and they told me I'd be focusing on inside during the spring, I looked at Stephen Anderson and Darius Powe, watched their one-on-ones, stuff like that to see how they beat people. Same deal we're doing now. I wanted to watch them -- if they're beating [the defensive backs], that's the same way I want to beat them."
Yes, Veasy is not above a bit of cheating to win one-on-ones against his own defensive backs.
"Yeah," he admits. "You could say that."
Veasy made several one-handed catches, and he was a favorite target of all the quarterbacks, who each got time with the first- and second-team offensive lines. Veasy also laid a nice block to spring Bug Rivera at the end of practice.
Veasy has not been on the field in several months, since the end of his junior college season, but he came out like a house on fire.
"It was fun," Veasy said. "I had a talk with my friends last night, and told them I was a little bit nervous, so I just wanted to appreciate all of it, how much it took me to get here, and being here now, I just want to appreciate every moment of it. It went by pretty quickly, after we got going, but I wanted to soak it all in. It was a pretty good day."
Though he did drop a few early balls, Jordan Duncan was impressive, as well, with a high-and-tight ball carriage, and some nice over-the-middle work. He caught one of the two touchdowns in one-on-one work on the day, and got better as practice went on, making a leaping over-the-defender grab on the sideline. Just going on today, that's a guy who may get some early plaing time.
"There were ups and downs," Dykes said. "It's what you'd expect. We'll get in, look at the tape and try to see how they did, if they improved. I thought they all did some good things, and I thought they all made some mistakes, as well. I thought it was a good starting point. Obviously, we've got to get a lot better."
Dykes said of the quarterback competition that the decision will be made, hopefully, when it becomes "painfully obvious to everybody who it ought to be, at some point."
"If that's after today's practice, which I would highly doubt," Dykes continued, "or midway through spring ball or midway through fall camp, we'll see how it plays out."
As for those quarterbacks, Chase Forrest took the first-team offense reps, for what it's worth, and looked by far the most polished, with a lot of zip on his sideline throws. Forrest has easily the quickest release, and was the most consistent between short and long balls. Forrest was at his best hitting Greyson Bankhead on a crossing route off of a zone read, and hitting quick sideline passes. His screen game was also strong, and his timing, given the fact that he spent all of last year as the primary backup, was crisp.
Bankhead took the field for the first time, and the greyshirt year looks to have agreed with him. He's much thicker and stronger, and he hasn't lost any speed from high school. If anything, he's faster. Bankhead made a comeback dive to grab a pass from Bowers in seven-on-seven work. His footwork was very clean.
"It was big," Dykes said of Bankhead's year off. "I think the greyshirt deal for him made a lot of sense in a lot of ways. I think he's gained probably 15 pounds, and more than anything else, just confidence. I thought he really played fast today, and made some plays."
Watching the quick-throw drill with new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. Spavital's practices move a bit quicker than we're used to, in season, as he's moving a lot of QBs through, rapid-fire. At the end of practice, a new addition to the program is what are essentially box-out drills in the end zone, as receivers and defensive backs go up for fades or back-half of Hail Mary passes.
Luke Rubenzer, back in his old No. 8, worked second, and looked the second-most polished, but still a bit rusty. Ross Bowers got third-team reps in pre-practice work. Bowers looked to be much bigger and stronger than even a few months ago. Maybe it's the No. 3 that's doing it, but he certainly looks to have bulked up. Fourth up was freshman Max Gilliam. Gilliam got quite a few reps working with the offense against a shadow defense early in practice, and did a lot of zone read handoffs.
During one-on-ones and some team work, Gilliam looked to be far ahead of schedule, but his motion still does need a bit of work. He holds the ball very high, which should allow him to release the ball quickly, but he does drop the ball before throwing. It's not something I've seen him do before, so it might be something that just needs to get fixed.
Rubenzer threw some very good deep balls -- his arm has certainly gotten much stronger -- but his short passes take too long to get out, which is even more noticeable when Stovall was running routes.
Zach Kline doesn't seem to have the same pop his arm used to, but he did have decent velocity. I saw a lot more touch than I remember, but it's still not great. His throwing motion also looks very different from what it was last time around, with a different arm slot, but his pump fake was impressive. He was the only quarterback wearing a glove on his throwing hand. He still throws one of the prettier short balls I've seen, and he looks a lot more comfortable throwing on the run than I remember.
Kline did look a bit flustered once he got a pass rush in his face, in the person of Russell Becker, Trevor Howard and Kennedy Emesibe, but then found Bug Rivera on a quick out on the sidelines, hitting him on the outside hip during full team 11-on-11, his best ball of the day. He also hit a dump-off pass underneath to Patrick Laird.
Kline did throw the only two interceptions in one-on-ones -- one on a post and one on a fade -- first going to De'Zhon Grace.
Darius Allensworth, Antoine Albert and Evan Rambo all had breakups, and during one-on-one work on Maxwell Family Field, Rambo got quite a bit of praise from safeties coach Greg Burns on his press coverage work.
Allensworth went down in seven-on-seven late in practice, and had to be helped off the field, with his helmet and left shoe off. Dykes immediate attnded to him and it looked to be a lower-leg injury.
There were a few instances during the perfect drill with receives where several of the quarterbacks took snaps as if from under center. Speaking of center, Addison Ooms worked with the first team at center, while Dominic Granado, last year's starter, took the second-team reps.
Semisi Uluave worked in at right guard with th first and second teams, and Dwayne Wallace did, as well. At least in the early goings, it looks like the two of them will be the main contenders to replace Jordan Rigsbee.
Carlos Strickland looks to be very much bigger than last year, not so much bulkier, but thicker and more filled out.
Patrick Worstell made a leaping catch in seven-on-seven work, and then made a back-shoudler grab on a 35-yard pass from Rubenzer in full team work over Grace. He's looked very strong and much more at home since he returned to wide receiver.
Defensively, the pace of practice with linebackers seemd much quicker, with veteran hand Art Kaufman at the tiller. Aisea Tongilava took over Jalen Jefferson's No. 7, and was playing, alongside Derron Brown, as the second-team linebackers in seven-on-seven work. Devante Downs practiced in individual work, but did conditioning during 7on7 work. Tongilava showed good hip flip during 7on7.
There was a lot of defensive rotation, but the first-team mainstays appear to be Hardy Nickerson and Ray Davison, Cameron Walker or Rambo at nickel, with the third option being Caleb Coleman. Damariay Drew nailed down the free (field) safety spot all day, and Malik Psalms got first-team reps at corner, as did Albert, after Allensworth went down. DePriest Turner also worked at the nickel.
As expected, the Bears played mostly out of nickel, with Rambo getting some time at the slot defensive back position, and some at the boundary safety position.
On the sidelines fo Monday's practice was former receiver and NFL Combine participant Kenny Lawler. He and the rest of the Cal graduates will participate in the Pro Timing Day on March 18. Former cornerback Darius White was also in attendance.
Austin Aaron was in red on offense.
Billy McCrary III participated on offense, in No. 11, and he looks very fast. He worked primarily with the running backs and inside receivers.
"We moved him to running back," Dykes said. "We're going to play him both at H and F. We're going to start him at F and see how it goes, give us some depth there. He did some good things today. I was pleased with what I saw."
Freshman running back Derrick Clark was on the field early, but then left.
"He's doing a little bit of conditioning," Dykes said. "He came in with a little bit of a knee injury, that we're just working through. You're not going to see a ton of him early. We'll probably get him through spring ball, work on some conditioning, get his movement back where it needs to be, and then cut him loose in the second half of spring ball."