BERKELEY -- There’s no denying it: California was a bad defensive football team last year.
One bright spot, though, was the defense’s ability to intercept opposing offenses. That trend continued today in fall camp, as the defensive backs picked off five passes in offense-defense drills.
While that’s bad news for the offense, head coach Sonny Dykes couldn’t help but feel good about the overall direction the defense is heading in leading up to kickoff on Aug. 31.
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“Today we saw some guys make some plays on the ball,” Dykes said. “Ikem [Okwudiafor] made a good play on the interception later in the scrimmage. I continue to be impressed with Kameron Jackson. [Stefan] McClure, same thing. Those guys, their strength is the way that they compete and the way that they work. They’ve both been really productive, and we feel really good about those guys. We’ve just got to keep it coming”.
And that isn’t even taking into account the defensive MVP of the day: Jalen Jefferson. The linebacker intercepted the opening pass by Zach Kline, and nearly had a second interception, and his speed and nose for the football aren’t going unnoticed by his coach.
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“Jalen Jefferson, I thought, really stood out today,” Dykes said. “He is just playing so fast right now. He sees things and is really comfortable and does a great job anticipating.”
It’s not hard to get excited about how the starting defensive backfield matches up with opposing Pac-12 offenses. But Wednesday’s practice made it equally clear just how critical it is that those starters on defense stay healthy.
Freshman corners like Trevellous Cheek and Darius Allensworth simply couldn’t keep up with Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper. Cedric Dozier and Adrian Lee had their moments, but each was beaten badly (Dozier by Treggs, Lee by Kenny Lawler).
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Now, it didn’t help that senior free safety Alex Logan was injured (small foot fracture) and relegated to stretching on the sideline. Dykes said he should be getting back on the field within the next week, but the coaching staff will monitor his load early on.
Same goes for Defensive end Brennan Scarlett.
“He’s going to continue to do a lot of stuff non-contact,” Dykes said. “It’s still his hand. We don’t want to cast him and allow him to reinjure it. We’re going to let him heal up, and when that’s going to happen, I don’t know quite yet, but again, I would anticipate pretty quickly. “
Scarlett is a key part of the defensive line this upcoming year, but if the line’s performance today is a sign of things to come, the depth at each position is just scary. Chris McCain and Todd Barr continued to show lightning speed and solid technique in getting to the quarterback in 11-on-11’s. Ted Agu was getting complimented for his work in defensive drills.
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It was Harrison Wilfley, though, who really stole the show. The 6-foot-5, 280-pound senior has never been the biggest interior lineman on the field, but he looked strong today in O-line vs. D-line drills. He knocked redshirt junior guard Geoffrey Gibson back at the point of attack, and then simply used speed to get to the dummy bag. Dykes has been very impressed with the former tight end, and said after practice that he wished he had him for another year.
“He’s gained weight, he’s stronger, he’s more durable, he still moves incredibly well. I think he has a very bright future,” Dykes said. “He’s a guy who we think we’re going to get a lot out of this year, a ton out of. His best football is probably going to happen in the middle of the season. He’s going to continue to get better and better and better.”
Starting middle linebacker Nick Forbes was once again limited in practice due to back issues, and that allowed Hardy Nickerson and Lucas King to get some time with the first-team offense. Both looked impressive in reacting quickly to where the ball-carrier was going.
Defensive tackle Viliami Moala was at practice, but did not participate fully.