BERKELEY -- On the day that quarterback Allan Bridgford officially announced he was leaving the California football program, with the intention of playing at another institution after he graduates over the summer, all eyes were on the top three contenders left for the starting gig -- Zach Kline, Jared Goff and Austin Hinder -- as the Bears held their eighth spring practice, marking the halfway mark of spring ball.
“It’s nice. Every day, you just have to come out and be consistent, because the consistent quarterback’s going to get the starting job,” Hinder said on the day that Cal released its first depth chart under head coach Sonny Dykes, with the three quarterbacks listed alphabetically, each in bold type. “It’s just getting out of the habits of trying to make the big play and just take your check down if they give it to you, and that quarterback’s going to get the starting job.”
With Bridgford gone, that leaves the most senior member of the quarterbacking corps as redshirt junior Hinder, the grandson of Cal Athletic Hall-of-Famer and former NFL coach Jim Hanifan.
“He likes it,” Hinder said of his grandfather’s reaction to the new offense. “He just always tells me to go out there and compete, and just have fun, do your best, regardless of the offense. Just learn the system and be the hardest worker and be the best.”
The mobile Hinder feels that the Tony Franklin offense fits him better than did the old system under former head coach Jeff Tedford, because it allows him to use his legs to gain yards.
“I’m a lot more comfortable in this system,” Hinder said. “It’s all about speed and tempo, instead of really trying to pick apart the defensive scheme. You’re just trying to get the ball in your athletes’ hands, and let them make plays.”
One of those athletes is redshirt freshman Joel Willis, who went down late in practice with what appeared to be a foot injury. Willis has been very impressive throughout the spring, with the changes he’s made to his body and with his hands as a wide receiver. On Monday, though, Willis saw a new role -- that of running back. Willis took pitches out of the backfield and effectively turned the corner and looked to be getting into the swing of things, before he went down during full-team work.
“We’ve gotten beaten up a bit at running back,” Dykes said. “Darren Ervin was kind of sore with his hamstring today, so he didn’t do much, so we moved Joel over to play some running back today just to get some depth, and he was doing some good things at that spot. He’s kind of been an all-purpose guy for us, though, and he can do a lot of different things. Hopefully that foot injury is nothing significant.”
Hinder worked well early in practice, but when he led full 11-on-11 sessions at the end, he struggled, at one point throwing three straight incompletions and then being sacked by Dan Camporeale.
“I have a mental note of all the plays I really shouldn’t have done, the plays that are going to hurt me getting a starting job,” Hinder said. “Those are the plays that I need to go back and think, ‘Alright, what was I thinking here, why did I do this, what could I have done to be more successful in this situation?’”
Goff took the first set of first-team reps on Monday following a strong showing in the scrimmage on Saturday, and Dykes maintains that the field is still wide open.
“It’s day-to-day,” Dykes said. “Guys will come out and do good things one day and struggle a bit the next, but that position has been better than I anticipated, especially when you’re trying to rep five guys, and we tried to cut it down to three guys, you’d still like to be able to get it down to two and then even one, but right now, they’re all doing good things, and they’re all giving us a reason to believe that they can be the guy, and so until that changes, they’ll continue to get reps like they are.
Goff finished the first team drive of the day with a five-yard TD pass to Maurice Harris, who also added an 18-yard scoring grab on bullet from an under-pressure Hinder on the next drive.
“I think we’ll continue to change it up,” Dykes said of the QB rotation. “He got the lion’s share of the reps and we probably felt like he had the best scrimmage Saturday, so we came out today and put him in there and gave him the first set of reps. That’s really not going to be any indication really of anything.”
While Dykes said that most of the time, there’s not much reason to think a true freshman can compete for the starting QB job, Goff has shown enough that he’s still among the top three contenders.
“He’s giving us reason to think he could be,” Dykes said. “When I found out he was graduating early to come here, I thought, ‘Well, poor kid could have gone to the Prom and had fun his senior year and all that,’ and now, I’m kind of glad he made that decision, so we’ll see how it plays out. There’s a lot of bridges that have to be crossed and a lot of things that have to happen before we name a starting quarterback, and between now and the end of August. We’ll see.”
The third man in the race -- Kline -- showed a bit of mobility on Monday, something he’s not exactly known for.
Twice, Kline was able to elude charging defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil for gains of 10-plus yards with his legs.
“He’s a big guy, and I’m not so big,” Kline smiled. “You want to get out of the way, that’s for sure. That’s one of the scarier moments of your life, that’s for sure. He’s fast. He doesn’t look fast, but when he gets moving, he’s got some speed.”
Jalil has been one of the stars of the first half of camp, following up his strong scrimmage with another big day of pressure on the interior.
“I thought the D-line was active today,” Dykes said. “They did a little bit more line movement today. The defense has really been vanilla up to this point, by design. Andy [Buh] believes the same thing Tony [Franklin] does, offensively, that it’s a fundamental game and it’s a technique game, and being able to align correctly and play base defense is what good defenses do. Today, they became a little bit more active in some of the things that they were doing. I think that defensive line is going to be a strength of ours. It seems to me that it’s becoming a position that has the chance to be really good, especially when you get some of the guys back. When we get Brennan Scarlett back, we get Chris McCain back and all of the sudden, that’s a pretty deep position.”
On the Shelf
Todd Barr was not in pads and spent the practice conditioning, while Jason Gibson was in pads, but also spent the day doing conditioning.
Defensive end Lucas King was in a yellow jersey, while Viliami Moala and Puka Lopa spent their third straight practice out of the yellow no-contact jersey.
Safety Jordan Morgan was dressed, but did not participate in contact portions of practice.
David Wilkerson was on the sidelines, not in pads, and not conditioning.
Griffin Piatt -- a walk-on wide receiver who debuted as the No. 2 X receiver behind Bryce Treggs on the initial depth chart -- suffered a knee injury, but Dykes was unsure of the degree.
No. 1 Will linebacker Khairi Fortt practiced in full, but had his hamstring grab him a bit late and left the field on the injury cart, along with several other dinged up Bears hitching a ride.
“It was weird. It just seemed like guys were just going down today,” Dykes said.
Looking at the Tape
Following Saturday’s scrimmage, several things became apparent to Dykes about his team. Firstly, he cited the play of the wide receivers, specifically Piatt, Bryce McGovern and Bryce Treggs.
Dykes was also complimentary of Fortt, who, he said, “continues to impress.”
Dykes remarked on the physicality of Avery Sebastian, who was exhorted by defensive backs coach Randy Stewart during positional work that he needed to loosen up his backpedal to “be that pass guy.”
“I was really happy with the way [Matt] Cochran played at center,” Dykes said. “I think he’s got a good chance to be a good player.”
Cochran -- listed as the No. 1 center on the first depth chart -- flashed on one play in particular during team periods on Monday, with Goff at quarterback. The freshman faked a handoff to Jonah Hodges, and rolled right. Cochran pulled Jalil and gave Goff a good two extra seconds of unmolested time during which Goff found Stephen Anderson for the completion.
With Cochran taking over the starting center job for the moment, Mark Brazinski may be given a look at other spots on the line, though he’s “a little heavy,” and “probably needs to get in a little better shape,” because the tempo of the offense has been wearing on him.
One of the big surprises on the depth chart following the scrimmage was Maximo Espitia being listed as the No. 1 H receiver. Espitia -- who played as a true freshman last season -- has taken advantage of his opportunity with Jacob Wark missing some practices for baseball and both Richard Rodgers and Spencer Hagan being limited due to injury.
“I thought Maximo Espitia did a good job in the scrimmage,” Dykes said.
Faces in the Crowd
2013 wide receiver signee Caleb Coleman was in the house on Monday, as were former Bears Josh Hill, Steve Williams, Anthony Miller and Eric Stevens. Further up in the stands, though, was the big name: Joe Montana.
“We could have used him today,” Dykes deadpanned. “I wish I’d have known that. I might have got his autograph.”
Dykes said that he had met Montana previously when his son Nick -- who had previously left Washington -- was thinking about walking on at Louisiana Tech, and visited Ruston, La., during the summer. The younger Montana then later elected to sign with Tulane.
Kline, however, was a bit more starstruck.
“Good thing I didn't do really bad,” Kline said, eyebrows arched.