Cal receivers answer Sonny Dykes's challenge for big day in scrimmage

BERKELEY -- Two days after a dressing down by head coach Sonny Dykes, Cal's receiving corps bounces back during the Bears' situational scrimmage.

BERKELEY -- On Monday, after catching just three of the first 12 balls thrown in one-on-ones, California's wide receiving corps received a well-deserved dressing down from head coach and receivers specialist Sonny Dykes, including a lengthy period of up-downs.

The defense largely took the day on Wednesday, with a sack, a pressure and a pass breakup by Noah Westerfield, sacks by Tony MekariTrevor HowardZeandae JohnsonRussell Ude and Khari Vanderbilt, pass breakups by Malik Psalms, A.J. Greathouse Chibuzo Nwokocha and Antoine Albert, and a near-interception by David Garner, but the young receiving corps certainly showed promise.

Even without the receiver who, Dykes said, has been the most consistent this spring -- Chad Hansen -- and Melquise Stovall (head; he'll be back in a "limited role" on Friday), the young group was the big highlight.

"That's one thing about coach Dykes -- he wants us to get better," said freshman Jordan Duncan. "He doesn't just dog us. He believes in us, and that's one thing -- we've got to believe in ourselves, as a receiving corps. I took a lot of thinking into Tuesday, thinking to myself, 'Man, is this the type of player I want to be? Have those types of days?' Football is an emotional game. It's how you respond, mentally. It's all about a mindset. You have days like that, and you've got to bounce back even harder. That's what we did today."

Senior quarterback Zach Kline hit Duncan over the top of Nwokocha for a rare touch-pass 40-yard touchdown, a 37-yard scoring strike from Max Gilliam to Bug Rivera, a 25-yard slant from Chase Forrest to Brandon Singleton on a second read, an 18-yard roll-out TD pass from Kline to Carlos Strickland at the front pylon, and perhaps the play of the spring by JuCo transfer Jordan Veasy. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder hauled in a fade while leaping over Trey Turner for a contested catch, getting one foot in for a one-yard touchdown during red zone work early in practice.

Strickland had six grabs on the day, including a quick slant for a touchdown on another second-read pass from Forrest, and a 30-yard gainer from Forrest against the blitz (which was called back due to a penalty), which saw Strickland pull a nice double move to escape coverage.

Duncan also turned in an eight-yard first-down grab from Ross Bowers, and a 71-yard grab from Bowers on an up-the-seam route against Derron Brown, who finally brought the speedy early enrollee down at the five-yard line.

"Coach [David] Gru and coach Dykes, that's what they wanted us to do," Duncan said. "We got a bunch of young guys at the wide receiver position. Chad was out today, so Carlos, at that Z spot, we knew we had to step up today. That was the mindset. We've just got to stay consistent. A day like this, you've got to keep building, keep building ... We've got the talent to do it. We've got the playmakers to do it. We've just got to stick together. With one person out, we've got another person to come in and do just the same. We've just got to stay consistent."

Consistency was the name of the game on Wednesday, particularly for the quarterbacks. Kline, for all his arm talent, still has to find touch, and instead of throwing receivers open, tries to throw it to the receiver, instead of throwing to a spot and leading his receivers.

"Yeah, and he's working more on touch," said offensive coordinator Jake Spavital on Monday. "That's where he's got to get better at, and he knows that. We spend a lot of time working on the little things, working on his touch. He's very confident in his arm talent, and you can see that, especially when he knows where his first read is. He's very confident at fitting it in there." “The good thing is, I’ve been places where you sit and you look and you go, ‘Do we have anybody who can do it?’ We do. We do," Dykes said of his five-headed quarterback competition. "We’ve got some young guys, we do, and we’ve got some young guys who don’t have a lot of experience. I think they’re capable of doing it, and I think they will come on and do it. It’s just a matter of getting that consistency and that confidence, and getting enough reps to get that.”

Dykes also commented on Patrick Worstell, who is No. 1 on the spring depth chart at the X position, after spending a year at safety. Worstell, though, was not a part of the receivers' big day, conditioning along the sidelines with a group that included Stovall, Vic WhartonRay Hudson (banged up after Monday's practice), defensive end Cameron Saffle, left guard Chris Borrayo (Chris Palmer served as the first-team left guard in his stead) and receiver Greyson Bankhead

"Just consistency. Just consistency. He’s just been the one guy probably at that X position," Dykes said of what got Worstell the No. 1 nod. "Singleton’s had some moments where he’s been really good, and he’s had some moments where he hasn’t been as good. Vic [Wharton] has just had a hard time getting healthy, looks good at times, and then not as good other times, and has just had a hard time, getting through every practice, and the one guy that’s been out there, for the most part, day-in and day-out, and doing the things the way we want to do it, is Worstell. He’s played in some games, he’s got some experience, and he’s really improved. He’s a lot better than he was, and we’ll assess those wide receivers just like we do the quarterbacks, and move some guys around, accordingly.”

Consistency was also the name of the game on special teams, where, over the past several practices, Dylan Klumph has taken flight with some impressive punts, and Matt Anderson nailed a 33-yard field goal and a 40-yarder, the latter of which ended practice.

“I feel good about our kicking game," Dykes said. "I think Dylan Klumph is going to be an elite type of punter. He’s going to have to grow into it. He’s a little inconsistent right now. But, Matt Anderson did some good things kicking for us, kicking field goals. Franklyn Cervenka has kicked off for us better, so I think our kicking game is going to be pretty solid." There were also several big runs on the day, including some sparkling work from Fabiano Hale that pleased running backs coach Garret Chachere. Hale ripped off a 65-yard run, weaving inside Garner before he was run down at the 10. He followed that up with a tough, up-the-gut five-yard gain.

Also a standout was Billy McCrary III, who hauled in a screen pass and snuck across the sticks for about eight yards during third-down work. McCrary also went up the middle for a 17-yard gain to get across the 50 during a full-field drive.

While Saturday's scrimmage was entirely full-field drives, Wednesday's focused on situational work -- starting drives backed up deep, third down situations and red zone situations. Combined with Saturday's 140 plays, the Bears went about 80 on Wednesday, with no injuries occurring during either day.

“I think the biggest thing is, we’ve got more depth than we’ve ever had," Dykes said. "When you sit down and you look at this, the fact that we’ve been able to scrimmage 220 plays in five days means we’ve got depth, where, in the past, we might go 25-30 plays, and that’d be all we could do. I think, just the sheer number, in volume, of plays that we’ve been able to run, has been very encouraging. We’ve gone 220 plays live, and have had no injuries during those two sessions, which, means our guys are stronger, more durable. We’ve got more depth than we’ve had in the past. There’s a lot of positives. There’s competition for a lot of spots, where incumbents used to feel safe, because there was really nobody there to push ‘em, and now, there’s guys that push guys who have been starters for two or three years. That always helps you be better as a program. In a lot of ways, those boxes have been checked, and we’re a different team, from a depth standpoint.”    

One of the reasons for going live so much is, in part, trying to settle the offensive line, rep five quarterbacks and get a young receiving corps -- which lost six members after last season -- up to speed.

“We lost some players that have played some significant time for us, so we were a little bit inexperienced, and a little bit young, and that’s why we’ve needed to go live as much as we have, just because those guys haven’t played that much football," Dykes said. "We just need them to play football, and let the young players grow up, make some mistakes and get on the field and do it in live snaps."

Though Malik McMorris was a contributor last season, he's been absent from spring ball due to his track and field commitments. He returned to the field on Wednesday.

: “That was good for us to have him back out today, and he needs to work. He does. It’s important for him. He can give us a different dimension, but he’s got to keep improving," Dykes said.

McMorris will be back in practice on Friday, and Monday, Dykes said.

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