BERKELEY, Calif. – California head coach Jeff Tedford immediately turned his focus to a true freshman on the first day of fall camp Saturday afternoon at Witter Rugby Field.
“That was the thing I was looking for when I first stepped on the field is to walk right over to him and see what that looked like,” Tedford said.
Only it wasn’t the newcomer anyone might have expected, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco wide receiver Bryce Treggs, the five-star recruit and crown jewel of the Golden Bears’ signing class.
It was punter Cole Leininger, already installed as starter on the pre-season depth chart before stepping on campus. And did he ever live up to expectations.
The Fruit Cove (Fla.) Bartram Trail product routinely boomed punts more than 50 yards with great hang time.
“It’s day one, no rush, no nothing,” said Tedford of Leininger. "There’s not 70,000 fans screaming at him and the clock running down and all the stuff that goes with it, but he is a pretty cool customer.
Treggs was pretty good too, one of five true freshman receivers that will be competing for immediate playing time. With his father in attendance, he made several impressive catches and showed an instant rapport with freshman quarterback Zach Kline as they worked together with the third-team offense.
The two also threw after practice, Tedford giving instructions on ball security to Treggs.
Tedford described Treggs’ first day as “nothing Earth-shattering,” but later added “Bryce did what you expect him to do. He dropped a ball too, so you take the good with the bad.”
With Keenan Allen back for his junior season, Treggs, Kenny Lawler of Pomona (Calif.) Upland and redshirt freshman Maurice Harris – cousin of Allen and quarterback Zach Maynard – took turns lining up across from the All-America candidate.
Darius Powe of Lakewood (Calif.) and Encino (Calif.) Crespi’s Chris Harper were also in the mix early, working behind Allen. Tedford was clearly pleased they could be integrated into the offense so quickly.
“A lot of the young guys really studied hard,” he said. “We were able to incorporate them on day one, which is great.”
Tedford also praised the veterans for helping bring them along during the summer, when coaches are limited in what kind of contact they can have with players, singling out Allen.
“You got to give our players credit because they have done a good job of mentoring these guys,” Tedford said. “We put Keenan in charge of mentoring the young guys and getting them going.
“Now it’s just scratching the surface. A couple formations and that was it, but still I was pleased.”
Maynard also expects big things from the freshmen.
“They’re ready to play, hungry guys, and they want to learn fast,” he said. It took me by surprise, just like today.”
It raised some eyebrows when senior running back C.J. Anderson, not Isi Sofele, took the first reps in practice. Sofele, after all, rushed for 1,322 yards in his first season as a starter, the second-highest total among returning Pac-12 players.
But Tedford said not to read too much into it, that both players would have significant roles this year. Anderson and Sofele could end up “sharing the position (and) being on the field at the same time, all that.
“I think we’re in a very good position there with C.J. and Isi,” Tedford said. “C.J. really proved toward the latter part of the year last year that he is a very good football player. He has had a very good summer from what I’ve heard, even assumed some leadership role.”
Much of the improvement came as Anderson, who transferred in from Laney College, worked his way into shape. In the final four games, he accounted for 197 yards rushing and five total touchdowns.
Listed at 210 pounds, he looked more physical than that in action Saturday, while still displaying greater athleticism.
“He is still a sturdy guy, still got that heavy set, but he is moving a little better though,” Maynard said. “You can tell he is getting a little more agile and more fluid with his movements.”
Fortt Set to Arrive Sunday
Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt will likely participate in his first practice Sunday afternoon, Tedford said.
The junior linebacker must first complete paperwork and undergo a physical, but could compete for immediate playing time if he is fully recovered from off-season knee surgery.
“He’s an excellent linebacker,” Tedford said. “You watch the tape of him at Penn State and he really did a lot of nice things. We’re really excited to have him here.”
With ESPN reporting Saturday that senior wide receiver Justin Brown would transfer to Oklahoma, eight current players and one signed recruit have now left the Nittany Lions since the NCAA handed down sanctions in the Jerry Sandusky case.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.