Marloshawn Franklin and Quentin Tartabull lead a resurgent effort by the Cal secondary

BERKELEY -- Quentin Tartabull, Marloshawn Franklin and De'Zhon Grace were breakup machines for the defense on Saturday, while Malik Psalms and Ray Davison came up with interceptions in 11-on-11 work.

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BERKELEY -- The California defensive backs have slowly been gaining on the Bears' crew of young wide receivers, and on Saturday -- Cal's second day in pads -- they finally seemed to take the upper hand.

Linebacker Ray Davison turned in a 42-yard pick six against starting quarterback Davis Webb, and safety Malik Psalms also turned in an interception. In one-on-ones, cornerback Marloshawn Franklin added an interception, as did nickel back Cameron Walker and cornerback Darius Allensworth, who now has four in the first six days of camp. Franklin also added two breakups in one-on-ones, including a would-be touchdown to Brandon Singleton. Freshman corner Camryn Bynum stayed step-for-step with speedy Vic Wharton for a breakup at the goal line, though in full 11-on-11, Wharton caught three balls for 37 yards.

"Right now, we're doing OK," said safeties coach Greg Burns. "I'm juggling guys around. The cool part is, it's an open competition, so everyone thinks they've got a shot."

One surprise has been nickel back Quentin Tartabull. In seven-on-seven work, Tartabull broke up a missive intended for Bug Rivera. In full 11-on-11, he turned around Drew Kobayashi for another breakup. He also jammed up Matt Laris during one-on-ones. It was the second straight strong day for Tartabull, who missed all of 2014 and was sidelined much of 2015 with a torn ACL.

"This is the most opportunity he's gotten to work," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "He's healthy. He's been injury-plagued a little bit, so he's had an opportunity to develop a little bit, and he's starting to show up."

Tartabull has taken the opportunity provided by Trey Turner's absence (he was sidelined for the third straight day on Saturday) and has shown up consistently, flying to the ball and using his long arms to get into passing lanes.

"It's my time to step up, in my eyes," Tartabull said. "We've got a great foundation as a nickel set-up. I've been working for this moment for the past two years."

A three-star recruit, and the No. 7 safety in the state of California coming out of Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany, Tartabull came into Cal with a partial tear of his medial collateral ligament, which he played with during his senior season. In fall camp, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament and his patellar tendon. "Chris Harper was returning a punt, and I had a DB behind me, I planted off the left, he kept pushing me, and it tore," Tartabull remembered.

At the start of fall camp, the nickel group lost Caleb Coleman (concussions; injury retirement) and his 15 career games, while the safeties have lost Griffin Piatt (injury retirement), Damariay Drew (ACL) and Stefan McClure (graduated, signed with Indianapolis Colts). There are some big holes to fill in the secondary, and Tartabull wants to fill one of them.

"People will see this year that, us, as a unit, we're brothers," Tartabull said. "We're brothers, man, for real. In film, we're checking each other, all positive feedback. It's just getting better and better every day, and we see it."

On Saturday, Tartabull showed no fear on kickoff coverage, and he's shown no fear in leaping after balls and coming downhill to hit.

"I'm not thinking about it," Tartabull said. "I've been playing football since I was seven. I've always loved to hit.

The rehab is over, and he wants to make up for lost time.

"Right now, Tartabull seems like he's doing a pretty good job," Burns said. "He's working his butt off. The expectations are that we want to be able to be a multiple defense, able to go regular, nickel, dime, and we have a lot of DB bodies. We're trying to utilize all their athleticism, and he's showing that he's capable. He's definitely a versatile body type, and being able to go inside and take the pounding, because it's closer to the line, so he's got to deal with the linemen, and at the same time, he has the athleticism to cover the slot." That multiple defense was on display on Saturday, as the Bears went 60 live plays in 11-on-11 work. Franklin broke up a would-be 18-yard touchdown pass on a fade from Ross Bowers to Demetris Robertson, forcing a 36-yard field goal by Matt AndersonJosh Drayden pushed an airborne Robertson out of bounds on a late drive, and knocked the ball out of his hands, for good measure.

"It was good to see those guys making plays today," said Dykes. "We've got some young guys that are really talented. It's just a matter of getting them to grow up a little bit. It was good to see Malik make an interception, and Luke (Luke Rubenzer) has made a lot of plays the last couple days as a safety. He knows where the ball is, and knows how to play the ball when it's in the air. All those guys have done some good things. We've got depth. It was a good opportunity for some of those younger guys to get work. That's the thing: When you look at our receivers and our DBs, they're a very similar group. There's some talent. There's some guys that have played some football, but there's also a lot of youth, but they're mature guys. They work hard. They do what we ask them to do. They're showing up."

David Garner stripped Drew Kobayashi, who was also tied up two drives later by Antoine Albert for a breakup. Psalms picked up his interception off the back of Jordan Duncan. The pocket collapsed three times thanks to coverage down field, forcing a sack on Chase Forrest in one instance. De'Zhon Grace had three breakups in one-on-ones, and a breakup in 11-on-11 in the end zone on a pass from Forrest to Bug Rivera.

Over the preceding two days, the wide receivers and defensive backs have had some of the most competitive one-on-one battles of the last four years, and on Saturday, the defense came hard.

"We've started to clamp up," Tartabull said. "Honestly, that's studying. Our determination has only gone up and up. It's getting to that point where we're getting what we deserve. We're working hard."

That said, Burns keeps the successes in perspective.

"I can't shy away from the fact that we lost six legitimate receivers, but at the same time, the guys we're going against are comparable in their own right, from an athletic standpoint. But, the guys that we have, they're starting to become seasoned vets -- the Cam Walkers, the Darius Allenworths, [Evan] Rambo type of guys, the Khari Vanderbilts, and Tartabull and Trey Turner. Those guys have been in the system, they've got a good idea of what to do and how to do it. It's just them growing up." Beyond the defensive backs, the defensive line also flashed at times. James Looney had a crucial third-down stop on a scrambling Davis Webb, and Russell Becker tallied a sack and a tackle for loss. Redshirt freshman defensive end Trevor Howard ended the 11-on-11 portion of practice with a sack of Bowers coming off the left edge.

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“We’re running more looks, defensively, than we ran at any time last season, and we’re six practices in," said head coach Sonny Dykes.

Linebackers Jordan Kunaszyk and Devante Downs were each in on multiple tackles, with Downs plugging up Tre Watson on the inside and holding the slippery Stovall for a gain of two in 11-on-11 work. Kunaszyk hammered Khalfani Muhammad to hold him to a gain of two during 11-on-11, as well.

“I was really impressed with our linebackers," Dykes said. "I think we’ve improved pretty dramatically at linebacker. That was encouraging. Devante Downs and Jordan Kunaszyk are playing incredibly well inside, and playing very physical. They’re both big, long, athletic guys, so I’m really excited for those guys, the physical nature they bring, the athletic ability and the length they’ve got. Both of those guys are running around and making plays. You know where they are, because they’re knocking the heck out of people. It’s good to see that. I’m really pleased. It was a good day.”

Kunaszyk is “definitely” in the mix to play, even at this early stag.

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“He’s picking it up still," Dykes said. "It’s a good thing we don’t have to play today. He’s not ready to play quite yet, but when we get into game situations, he’s making a lot of plays. He’s popping people when he gets a chance. He’s what you want from a linebacker – 6-3-plus, 240-something pounds and he can run. He’s athletic. I think we really upgraded our athleticism.”

VIDEO TAGS: David Garner (42b), Josh Drayden (20b), Marloshawn Franklin (18b), Quentin Tartabull (28b), Darius Allensworth (2b), De'Zhon Grace (34b), Traveon Beck (22b), Camryn Bynum (24b), Malik Psalms (23b), Ashtyn Davis (27b), Cameron Walker (3b), Antoine Albert (14b), Jacob Anderson (32b)

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