BERKELEY -- After defensive end Chris McCain and MIKE linebacker Nick Forbes saw increased time in full-contact on Wednesday, with McCain running with the first-team defensive line and Forbes with the second-team defense, California head coach Sonny Dykes said that he's more optimistic the two could play against No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday.
"I'm more optimistic than I was earlier in the week," Dykes said. "They're both behind. Forbes is seven, eight weeks behind, just because of where he's been this fall and where he was in the spring, and McCain is kind of the same way. We're going to try and get them back up to speed as fast as we can, but they're behind right now."
The defensive backfield got a bit of a boost on Wednesday, as safety Damariay Drew made his way back into action, though he spent the second half of practice (contact drills) running wind sprints.
"He'll be full-go tomorrow at practice," Dykes said. "It'll be good to get him back."
In other defensive backfield news, Michael Lowe returned to practice without the tape he's had on his ankle over the first two days of prep for the Buckeyes.
"Lowe was actually moving around better today than I thought he would," Dykes said. "I would anticipate him playing. We'll see what he can do tomorrow. He's significantly better today than he was yesterday."
Jason Gibson and Alex Logan remained the starting safety duo, at least until Lowe can get back to full healthy.
"I think he's getting more comfortable, and he's starting to show up more and more and more," Dykes said of Gibson, who made three straight stops on quarterback zone-read runs against the scout team. "Obviously, we've got some depth issues there, so we need everyone to continue getting better and better."
Gibson was a bit of a mixed bag against the scout team offense. The good: Gibson stayed disciplined and patient, trusting his eyes on the zone read and not biting on the run on play-action. The bad: He didn't always force the run to the inside, where he had support, but instead forced it outside, and was admonished several times by defensive backs coach Randy Stewart. Gibson then corrected the issue.
Redshirt freshman Michael Barton -- who made a big impact in the first two weeks, tallying a team-leading 16 tackles – will be on the shelf for Saturday after spraining his knee.
In Barton's absence, Johnny Ragin III has gotten second-team reps, and may very well play on defense Saturday.
"There's a possibility, yeah. He's just got to keep working," Dykes said. "What's happened with him is that he showed up a bunch early, and since then, he's been going through a little bit of what freshmen go through, where physically, you start to wear down a little bit, and he's going through that process right now, and leaning what it takes, physically and mentally, with school starting and all of that. He's going through that process, but he can run, he's athletic, he's big, he likes to play football – he's got a passion for the game – and we anticipate him being a good player. The more comfortable he gets in the defense, the more reps he can get."
Defensive tackle Jacobi Hunter got very good push on the interior during work against the scout team offense. Deandre Coleman also flashed several times, showing good pursuit of the scout team quarterback right into a Kyle Kragen sack.
Wide receiver Bryce Treggs -- who's already equaled the number of catches he had as a freshman with his team-high 21 grabs, and who's already eclipsed his receiving yardage from last season with his team-leading 266 – has made a full recovery from a dislocated pinky finger suffered earlier in the week, and didn't miss a beat on Wednesday.
"That's pretty exciting that I'm being as productive as I am," Treggs said. "I'm feeling a lot better. It's just a pinky. I really don't need it, so it's not too much of an issue. It's more uncomfortable."
Treggs revealed that, not only did the pinky dislocate, but it "popped out of the skin," so Treggs had to get stitches.
"I'm ready for the game," Treggs said. "I felt fine catching the ball today, and Jared [Goff] wasn't throwing the ball any softer to me than he does to any of the other receivers, so I'll be ready for the game."
The other one-handed man in the receiving corps -- Maurice Harris -- snared a 12-yard touchdown from Zach Kline against the second-team defense, jumping up in double coverage between Isaac Lapite and Lucas King.
Receivers Kenny Lawler and Chris Harper started the day in red, but Lawler later got into seven-on-seven work against the scout team defense, nearly one-handing a 45-yard bomb from Goff after beating his defender soundly.
"He was non-contact today, but he's fine. He'll be cleared tomorrow, just part of the head injury protocol," Dykes said. "Same thing [with Harper]. Both of those guys will be fine. I don't anticipate us having any issues with either of them this week."
Later in scout team work, Kline, from his own three, hit Harper streaking down the sideline at midfield.
The offense worked heavily in the red zone on Wednesday, and had some hiccups early on, with Goff seeing three would-be sacks on the first three passing attempts (he completed each pass for a touchdown), and later a bad snap.
One of those sacks came from Kragen, who beat left tackle Freddie Tagaloa, and another came from the right side, which still was a bit up-and-down.