BERKELEY -- Monday was a day for freshmen -- redshirt and otherwise -- for the California football team, which had a "spirited" first day of full-pads practice, according to head coach Sonny Dykes. Freshman Ross Bowers was exceptional among the quarterbacks, showing off a stronger arm than he did as a redshirt this past season, and superb accuracy, particularly down field. In the his play of receiver-defensive back one-on-ones, he tossed a positively Goff-ian back shoulder fade over Trey Turner.
"Well, I am a sophomore now," Bowers smiled. "I've felt very confident. I have a pretty good grasp of the new offense, and a good relationship with the new coach [Jake Spavital]."
Bowers showed no fear stepping up into the rush behind the first-team offensive line, taking fourth reps on the day in 11-on-11s, and his footwork was much, much smoother.
"I'm always going to get opportunities, but it's very limited with the guys we have, so I have to make them count," said Bowers, who's competing with four other quarterbacks for the starting job.
Bowers looked to have the best day among the quarterbacks, behind Forrest, who continues to look strong, consistent and mobile, with hot feet and a smooth, quick release. Bowers said the reason for his surge is not only getting some weight back that he lost due to an illness, but also working in Spavital's offense, which is very similar to the one he ran in high school.
"It's the same offense, and more importantly, the same mechanics," Bowers said. "All the footwork and stuff that requires you to be on-time and accurate, I'm used to all that. With coach [Tony] Franklin, the hot feet is great, but it was hard to learn, and then I got the hang of it, and I have to change it right back."
Redshirt sophomore Chase Forrest, it would appear, has found a happy medium, and Dykes said he had one of the best days of practice he's had this spring.
"I thought Chase did some good things today, I thought Bowers did some good things today, Luke [Rubenzer] ran around pretty good and made a couple of plays," Dykes said of the quarterback contenders. "I thought, certainly, just from first glance, it looked to me like Chase had one of his better days, and I thought Ross had a good day, as well."
Stovall's quick-snap catch and his fast hands are a cut above, and were evident mostly on seven-on-seven work. Stovall is very strong with the ball, and doesn't often take his eye off of it, looking the ball all the way into his hands, particularly on a tough catch behind him from Bowers during seven-on work. Other than that, Bowers was pitch-perfect for much of the day.
Stovall continued his strong spring, but his fellow freshman receivers also had big days. Carlos Strickland is a completely different player than he was even at the end of the season. The redshirt freshman-to-be was strong, physical and even acrobatic during one-on-one drills, and made several leaping grabs up into defensive backs, and secured the ball well on the catch.
Strickland had a diving third-down catch of Luke Rubenzer during 11-on-11 work, which was followed by a big run to the outside by the quarterback-turned-safety-turned-quarterback.
Strickland's ball skills have improved vastly, and having a year of coaching -- real coaching, as opposed to just being the biggest, strongest guy on the field -- has him looking like a real threat not just in the red zone, but down the field and up the seam, as well.
One spectator who was particularly pleased with the performances of Strickland and Stovall was former receiver Bryce Treggs, who was in attendance in advance of his pro day on Friday, along with several other former Bears.
In attendance were former tight end Stephen Anderson, former running back Brendan Bigelow, former defensive backs Kameron Jackson and Thomas Decoud, former fullback Lucus Gingold and former offensive lineman Matt Williams. DeCoud -- an NFL free agent -- counseled redshirt freshman Jaylinn Hawkins, as well as Rambo, on the sidelines.
Redshirt freshman Billy McCrary III, who's moved to running back after redshirting at safety last season, was one of the most impressive running backs on the day, particularly during the Oklahoma drill against three defensive linemen.
Also having a strong day -- by several accounts, his best practice yet -- was redshirt freshman defensive tackle Luc Bequette. He was easily the top performer in the Oklahoma drill, used his strength and played with great leverage and pad level. He doesn't give up on tackles.
"I thought Luc Bequette has played as impressively as he's played," Dykes said.
While not a part of the freshman theme, sophomore Evan Rambo played strong safety, but looked every bit the part of an outside linebacker.
"He looks good, and he's got the frame to put on even more, so he can be a big dude, before it's all said and done with," Dykes said. "He's playing pretty well right now. He's the kind of guy that you want, where you recruit a good athlete with a good frame, and let them be a football player and see where their growth takes them. There's nothing wrong with a 215-pound safety who can run around and make plays."
He's gained 15 pounds since last year, and it's very evident, even on his long frame. If, as the coaches think, he'll wind up at linebacker, he's already got the frame to do it, and do it well, and he's going to get into passing lanes.
Rambo nearly picked a screen pass from Bowers during 11-on-11 work, jumping a route and instead settling for a breakup.
"We've had Khalfani at different intervals, but this is the first time we've him full-practice," Dykes said.
The Front Lines
The first-team offensive line looks to still be centered by Addison Ooms, flanked by Patrick Mekari on the left and JuCo transfer Dwayne Wallace on the right, with Steven Moore at right tackle, and Aaron Cochran at left.
Dominic Granado ran with the second team at center, flanked by Semisi Uluave (who also rotated in with the first team) at right guard, J.D. Hinnant and Chris Palmer at left guard, Vince Johnson at left tackle and Kamryn Bennett at right tackle with the second team.
"I thought both [offensive and defensive lines] had their moments; I thought the offensive line, collectively, looked better, and our No. 2s are the best that we've ever had," Dykes said. "We've just got more depth and guys that can play and guys that are pushing the guys in front of them. So, when you have that, that's good, and then you've got guys on the third line that are pretty good players, as well. We haven't had depth like that in the past.
Freshman Ryan Gibson worked with the third team at left guard, and helped plow the way for a 70-yard touchdown run by McCrary late in 11-on-11s.
"We got a lot of work done," Dykes said. "It was a long day. I thought we wore down, a little bit, at times, but overall, I thing we're getting better. I really think every day our guys are getting better and improving.
"Physically, I can remember a couple years ago, we had contact day, and it was like a M*A*S*H unit, afterwards," Dykes elaborated. "Guys were beat u, physically, worn down. The good thing is, today, we got a good 40 plays live-tackle, in a three-hour practice, and guys came off the field in pretty good condition, physically. We've come a long way. Guys are in better shape. They're bigger, stronger, still not where we need to be at, but we'll get there, and that's a real testament to our strength and conditioning staff. We just look different, physically. We're longer, guys are bigger, so I think that'll work well for us."
Dykes said that there is "nothing yet" to say of separation between the quarterbacks. Wednesday's scrimmage could change that.
"Wednesday, we'll know a bit more," he said. "We're going to roll it out on Wednesday and play, and play some live situations, and do some stuff, scheme-wise, that's a little bit different, put our whole stuff in," Dykes said. "We'll have officials, have a regular practice, but roll the ball out and we'll probably get 100 plays in on Wednesday, and get a bunch of work. Hopefully, we'll walk off the field Wednesday and have a little bit better idea about where we are at quarterback."
Rubenzer has certainly elevated his arm strength since the last time we saw him regularly at quarterback, but his long wind-up remains a concern. He worked with the third team in 11-on-11 drives. He uncorked a 30-yard pass to Chad Hansen on the final play of 11-on-11s.
Freshman Max Gilliam shows a strong arm, and a quick release, at times, but at others, he carries the ball high and then comes down and around with a side-arm motion. When he's just throwing by himself, in individual drills, that hitch goes away. In this reporter's opinion, it could be a mental hump he has to get over.
On his second set of seven-on-seven, Forrest rifled a pass that would make his predecessor Jared Goff proud, hitting Bug Rivera on a 40-yard liner for a touchdown.
Zach Kline showed off much more arm strength than he did a week ago, but his accuracy comes and goes. If you need a guy to throw the ball 40 yards down field on a dime, Kline's your man. If you want someone to throw a ball through a wall, he's your man. But, his touch still needs work. On one pass during 11-on-11, Kline had Stovall open over the middle, but fired a fastball right past him. Put some more touch on that, and he turns upfield and gets some big yards. He's still that pitcher who has a 95-mph fastball, but no off speed pitches.
Kline did look much more comfortable than he did a week ago, from progressions to throws to rhythm. Kline worked with the second team in 11-on-11, and even had a 13-yard scramble run on his first play, and later, a six-yard scamper.
Drew looks as physical as ever in full pads, dealing a hard hit to Brandon Singleton, who caught a 40-yard touchdown in 11-on-11s and showed explosive separation.
Patrick Laird had a 65-yard touchdown run, jump cutting inside and to the left before bouncing out and running away from the defense.
Rivera was the beneficiary of a tipped pass by Cameron Walker.
Khari Vanderbilt came free off the edge against Bennett on the right side for a touch sack of Gilliam during 11-on-11.
Forrest hit a 35-yard rainbow touch ball to Hansen for a big gain in 11s, and then was able to salvage a bad snap by Gibson, who worked in with the third team at center.
Kennedy Emesibe registered a touch sack late in 11s on Forrest, against the right side of the line.
"I think after spring break," Dykes pegged Allensworth's return to the field. "We'll see how he responds to treatment over the break. I'd look for him to come back that Wednesday and start getting some work. It's important that he practices. He set a really good foundation last year, and played pretty well for us, but reps are always important, and I hate for him to miss too many, but the good thing is, somebody's getting some extras, so that always helps develop some of your younger players."null