BERKELEY, Calif. – Head coach Jeff Tedford praised freshman Chris Harper on Monday for demonstrating the kind of progress California needs from its other new wide receivers.
“We can’t put a stop on everything because we’re playing to a freshman,” Tedford said. “They got to play to the older guys.”
Take away junior All-America candidate Keenan Allen, the Golden Bears have the least experienced group of receivers in the Pac-12, necessitating that at least one from the group of Harper, Bryce Treggs, Darius Powe, Kenny Lawler, and Cedric Dozier make an instant impact this season.
They were in the mix immediately, seeing work with the third-team offense on the first day of fall camp. That will continue for the foreseeable future, Tedford said. However, at some point – likely after the first scrimmage – those reps will be pared down to focus on the starters and backups.
“The receivers are always going to stay in the rotation because they need to,” Tedford said. “We can’t keep practicing 14 receivers all the time and get quality reps.”
Tedford is willing to tolerate a learning curve, so long as it results in continued improvement.
“They are going to make mistakes, they just got to keep learning,” he said. “We’re not going to hold the team back because they may not know something. We’re doing to keep pressing the issues, make them learn it.”
Pads On, D-Line Numbers Off
Practicing in shoulder pads for the first time this fall, Cal came up surprisingly thin on the defensive line, a position that has been regarded as a major strength.
Redshirt junior Keni Kaufusi missed Monday’s session, one of several absences as players finish up summer school. But with Austin Clark set to miss a month because of a broken foot, numbers there are now an issue.
“We got to get the D-line back healthy,” Tedford said.
Redshirt sophomore Gabe King is receiving a crash course at nose guard after moving inside to compensate for Clark’s injury, but it is too early to project where he fits in, Tedford said.
“(King) took a lot of reps today, but it is hard to tell really right now until we get in full gear,” Tedford said. “He’s definitely heavy enough. He just has to work himself into shape.”
The biggest takeaway after three workouts, according to Tedford? “No major injuries yet.”
Cal will practice in full pads starting Wednesday, hoping to keep that streak intact.
Fletcher Making An Impression
When Signing Day came, Orange (Calif.) Lutheran cornerback Willie Fletcher held all of two scholarships, from Northern Colorado and Southwest Oklahoma. Before it was over, he had been offered by Cal, and would sign with the Bears two days later.
It could end up being just the break Fletcher needed and the absolute steal a coach dreams of finding, as Tedford praised the 6-foot-1, 185-pound freshman defensive back once again Monday.
“I’ve been really pleased,” Tedford said, “He is a very, very good cover corner. He is doing a great job out there.”
With his size and long arms, as Tedford noted, Fletcher could be a viable option to defend the bigger receivers that have so commonplace throughout the Pac-12 down the road.
Cochran Seeing Reps
With former starting center Dominic Galas sidelined, Cal is looking for other options to create depth there. One possible solution could be freshman Matt Cochran from Atwater (Calif.) Buhacy Colony, who was immediately installed as the third-team center as practice began.
Tedford said Cochran struggled with the quarterback-center exchange Sunday, putting too many balls on the ground. Still, the talent is there.
“He has picked it up well enough and showing that he is physical and talented enough to maybe be a three as of right now,” Tedford said.
Others working at center behind projected starter Brian Schwenke are redshirt sophomore Chris Adcock and redshirt freshman Jordan Rigsbee.
Timetable for Fortt
Junior linebacker Khairi Fortt (knee) could be cleared to begin practicing fully in two weeks.
“You just have to play it by ear and see how he responds,” Tedford said. “I think structurally he is fine. It’s just a matter of rehabbing where he has all his strength back.”
The Penn State transfer will dress for practice and participate in non-contact drills that allow him to learn Cal’s 3-4 defense in the meantime.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.