We break down the happenings on Day Four of fall camp, as the QB race tightens, injuries chip away…
DAY FOUR: Then There Were Two
BERKELEY -- California head coach Sonny Dykes came off the field at Memorial Stadium on Thursday, while most of the Bears remained behind to get some extra work in, and walked straight to his family, and then to athletic director Sandy Barbour. As he has every day of camp, he thanked her for attending. Barbour smiled back warmly. It was easy to tell that the new way of doing business up in Strawberry Canyon agreed with her.
Dykes then waited as the cameras got rolling, glancing back at the co-branded Cal/Toyota interview background.
"Never miss a chance to advertise," he smiled. "One of these days, I'll be wearing a Toyota shirt. I'll have a grill and smile at the end, and it'll say Toyota."
Marketing aside, Thursday saw two frontrunners emerge for the starting quarterback gig, with redshirt junior Austin Hinder relegated to precious few third-team reps and the two younger signal callers – freshman Jared Goff and redshirt freshman Zach Kline making their pitches for the job.
"I saw some good things," Dykes said. "To me, they're both anticipating throws better. I think that's what happens: The more reps they get, the more they start to see things develop quickly, anticipate throws. It's always the first half of camp, you're always a little frustrated because the ball's always out just half a second too late, a tenth of a second too late. It's faster now, and more accurate. You're starting to see some of the receivers and quarterbacks get on the same page. It's positive. I think those guys worked incredibly hard over the summer, and it shows. We're ahead of where we've been in the past at this stage, and it's a credit to their work ethic and the amount of time they invested."
The fourth day of fall camp – and the first in which the Bears pulled on shoulder pads – started out with a bang, as Kline hit a deep corner fade route to leaping sophomore receiver Chris Harper in the back of the end zone for a 40-plus-yard touchdown over Stefan McClure. Not to be outdone, Goff - who took the majority of first-team reps - hit Harper during the first period seven-on-seven work in the middle third of practice on the exact same route, with the exact same result.
While Goff did get the majority of first-team reps, Kline took most of his reps with the second team, with Hinder only getting between four and six reps during his full-team and seven-on-seven drives. While a starter has yet to emerge, it would seem that the elder statesman has dropped behind the two youngsters.
"It was just kind of what we did today," Dykes said. "We'll evaluate it tomorrow and come out with a plan tomorrow. We'll see. The thing is, we're going through this and evaluating them and trying to make the best decision – and the quickest decision – we possibly can."
Kline showed off his legs for the first time in camp, shaking loose up the middle on a broken play for a significant gain.
While the defense came up with five picks on Wednesday, they came up empty on Thursday, though Adrian Lee nearly came down with one in the first set of 11-on-11s. For the first time as a collegian, Goff made an objectively poor decision, rolling right under pressure and underthrowing Jackson Bouza. Lee got both hands on the ball, but was unable to come down with the interception. Lee also had another breakup on the very next play, which saw a diving Lucas King nearly come up with the pick.
"We dropped one that they probably should have had, which was good, after turning it over so much," said Dykes.
Thursday wasn't completely free of turnovers, with Brendan Bigelow going nose-to-nose with Isaac Lapite after catching a pass from Kline on a dump off to the right, with the ball popping loose.
"We had a fumble today, and that was the first one we've had of camp," Dykes said. "The defense did a good job getting the ball out, but we've got to hold on to the ball better."
There was a second fumble on the day, though not from a running back. With the second-team offense going against the second-team defense, Hinder coughed up the pigskin after taking a sack by defensive end Antione Davis and Harrison Wilfley.
Bigelow saw a lightened load on Thursday, with Daniel Lasco getting most of the carries, followed by Jeffrey Coprich and Darren Ervin, with a sprinkling of Khalfani Muhammad.
"I think we just wanted to back him off a little bit," Dykes said of Bigelow. "He's had some good practices and [we] wanted to limit the wear and tear on him a little bit, and we'll do that from time to time. Those guys, we'll have certain guys that have heavy loads certain days, and other guys that we bring along a little more slowly. A lot of it is going to depend on how they feel and what their health's like. But, Bigelow looks great. We just want to be smart about it."
Ervin broke off a nice run during team 11-on-11s, taking an inside handoff from Kline around the right corner for a touchdown from about 12 yards out, beating the athletic Michael Barton to the edge.
Barton bounced back shortly thereafter, stoning Lasco at the line out of the bone formation from the four-yard line.
Muhammad got most of his touches off of screens, drag routes and swing passes. That's how Arizona supplemented its running game when Dykes was at Arizona, and it fits Muhammad to a T.
Muhammad really showed a lot more confidence catching the ball out of the backfield, which seems to be primarily how the Bears will use him this year.
Muhammad did come close to a fumble when Barton delivered a nice pop to the freshman tailback off of a screen, stopping the speedy Muhammad for no gain.
After his near-interception, Goff rolled left and fired a pass to Jonah Hodges, who went helmet-to-helmet with cornerback Kameron Jackson. After both sidelines and the fans in the stands spent a tense moment holding their collective breath, Hodges popped up unharmed, but Dykes expressed concern that, because of the Pac-12's new targeting rule, a play like that could very well cost the Bears one of their top players in an already-thin defensive back field.
"There will be some teaching moments off of some of those," Dykes said. ‘With the targeting rule right now, we're going to reinforce that over and over and over with our players and teach off of that film. There was probably a hit today that could have been called a targeting penalty, so we'll pull it out, show it to our team and explain to them why and what happened and address it. Those are opportunities for us to teach, so we'll take them. Based on what I saw, it looked like it would probably be a targeting [penalty]."
At inside receiver, first-team Bone player Jacob Wark had his best day of camp, as far as catching the ball, both out of the traditional H-receiver spot and out of the Bone formation.
Inside receiver Spencer Hagan continues to do more and more each day as he knocks the rust off from his time on the shelf due to a severe knee injury suffered against Ohio State, and his speedy recovery (less than a year since surgery) compared to cornerback Stefan McClure -- who spent 20 months off the field – is due in large part to the amenities afforded the program by the Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance.
"Our training staff does a tremendous job, the doctors have done a great job of rehabbing and bringing players back along, diagnosing injuries, so I think, as a result, guys get back fast," Dykes said. "They get back healthy, and hopefully, they can get injuries behind them.
"I don't think we expected much out of Hagan, and he's been able to battle through it. He's not probably 100 percent. He's been so limited and he's trying to get caught up. He's probably a little behind."
Inside receiver Kenny Portera has impressed through the first four days, and turned in several more eye-opening reps on Thursday in one-on-ones with defensive backs. In high school, Portera tallied 4,951 all-purpose yards and 54 touchdowns over three varsity seasons, breaking Pat Tillman's school record for TDs and setting division and school records with 129 career receptions.
"Kenny's a kid we thought had an opportunity to be a good player," Dykes said. "That's why he's here. He was a very productive high school player, a good receiver, good quickness and lateral movement, so we're glad he's here. He's a kid who we think can help us."
Outside receiver Maurice Harris returned to practice on Thursday after a limited Wednesday session due to a finger injury, and early on focused on trying to make one-handed grabs with his good hand. Later in the day, he got more comfortable using both of his hands, but the staff isn't taking any chances.
"He's going to be kind of limited," Dykes said. "The wear and tear on his hand, you don't want to wear him down too much with that hand and beat him up too much, because he's got some pain in it. But, it was good to see him back, and he'll be good."
-- El Cerrito (Calif.) cornerback recruit Adarius Pickett made his second visit to fall camp practice this week, and spent much of the day watching a sweat-soaked Randy Stewart coach up the defensive backs.
-- While Bryce Treggs turned in one of his typically-impressive performances at the X-receiver position – catching an inside screen in early 11-on-11s and then vaulting over safety Avery Sebastian for a big gain – another Treggs prowled the sideline, watching practice: Former Cal and Seattle Seahawk receiver Brian Treggs, who was on had as part of the Pac-12 Network's production of The Grind.
-- The Bears will spend Friday in shells and the two weekend practices in pads, before scrimmaging on Monday.
"We want it to be as difficult tomorrow as it was today, and for that to continue," Dykes said. "Typically, the first day in pads, the guys move around pretty well and it's pretty physical, which it was today. We've just got to keep that going. We've got to keep our foot on the accelerator."
Though pads will be added over the weekend, Dykes said that the degree of contact will ideally remain the same during live periods.
"It'll be more like today. We won't take anybody to the ground," Dykes said. "Our practices are pretty physical. We're practicing in shorts out here. The idea of practicing in shorts is to encourage guys to stay up and to teach them how to practice. But, it's still going to be physical. We want it to be physical and we want to teach our players to stay up."
Dykes said that during Monday's scrimmage, only "some" of the quarterbacks will be live, which will likely include Kyle Boehm, who is becoming very adept at making things happen out of the wildcat formation, rushing for one touchdown on Thursday out of that set, bowling through three tackles – including a nice lick by Trevellous Cheek -- to score from five yards out. Early in practice, Boehm hit Harper on the sideline after rolling right. While Boehm did have some overthrows out of the wildcat, he certainly seems comfortable in his newfound role.
-- Jackson, Muhammad, Joel Willis, Treggs, Muhammad and Lasco each returned kicks, though Muhammad fumbled one of his first returns at the three-yard line.
-- Sophomore punter Cole Leininger booted a pair of majestic 50-yard punts late in practice, and just continues to get better each day. His first punt easily surpassed the five-second hang time mark.
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