A lion of the defense, a leader in the locker room and a rock amidst three years of change, Avery…
DAY 14: Game Prep Begins in Earnest
BERKELEY -- Last season, California tailback Brendan Bigelow rushed 44 times for 431 yards and caught seven passes for 92 yards. This season, as the primary back in what head coach Sonny Dykes said will be a "committee" of three, he'll see plenty more action, to say the least.
On Monday, as the Bears used the 14th practice of fall camp to get a head start on preparing for the Aug. 31 opener against Northwestern, Bigelow was used in a variety of ways, not only running the ball, but taking more passes than we've seen him take all camp, out of the backfield, as well as from the slot.
Dykes had earlier cited Bigelow's receiving skills as needing a bit of work, and on Monday, force-feeding the dynamic junior more passes was the order of the day.
"He's gotten a lot better as a receiver in the last two weeks," Dykes said. "He was a little rough around the edges a week ago, and now, he's better. [He's] still got to improve as a receiver, so we're putting him in some situations to get him some work so he can continue to improve."
Bigelow looked much more comfortable catching the ball on Monday, but in his first rep in seven-on-seven work, he dropped an easy pass from freshman starting quarterback Jared Goff over the middle.
Later in skeleton drills, Bigelow caught the second pass of Goff's drive for 10 before being stopped by linebacker Khairi Fortt, and then proved a reliable safety outlet for Goff in 11-on-11 work, hauling in a ball on a 10-yard crossing route with the defense showing blitz.
Bigelow has benefitted from the simplicity of the Bear Raid offense, which is necessitated by the speed at which it is run.
"I just think that some guys, you can load them up a little bit more than others, and some players like to play on instinct, and others are a little bit more cerebral," Dykes said. "We want our players to play fast, and that's why we air on the side of probably being too simple instead of being too complicated."
Much of the passing work on the day was focused on shorter timing routes, with the emphasis on getting the ball to playmakers in space, allowing them to turn and gain yards after catch.
With game prep for the Wildcats beginning in earnest, the first-team offense has solidified, with the same starting offensive line -- Steven Moore at right tackle, Matt Cochran at right guard, Chris Adcock at center, Jordan Rigsbee at left guard and Freddie Tagaloa at left tackle – now having played together for more than one week.
"That's going to be our group, unless we have to move some guys around for different reasons. I don't anticipate that," Dykes said.
The receiving group lost one member, as Joel Willis traded in his white offense jersey for a blue one on Monday, to help alleviate some of the strain of having lost starting free safety Avery Sebastian.
"We're going to try him some on defense. We're a little thin on the back end, and he wanted to try and help the team, so we're going to play him a little on defense," Dykes said. "That's something that we've talked to him about, from time to time, and I think he's decided now that's what he'd like to do. We're going to work him at corner, and I think it'll be a good move for him, see if we can get him on the field some and develop him. He's a good athlete. I want to see him on the field someplace and develop him."
With reps now limited as the offense gels, some decisions have been made on which of the freshmen will redshirt. Inside receiver Ray Hudson donned the No. 40 white jersey for the scout team offense, simulating Northwestern "superback" Dan Vitale. Freshman receiver Jack Austin -- who has been one of the pleasant surprises of camp – was moved to the scout team, as well.
"We're going to try and redshirt him, if we can," Dykes said. "We'll see how it plays out."
Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis -- who will not be eligible to play this year – ran with the second-team offense. Davis was a star in one-on-ones, adjusting to a ball from Zach Kline mid-flight with a de facto double move, and hauling in a 40-yard bomb over Cedric Dozier for a touchdown
Later in full 11-on-11s, Davis leaped high into the air to snag a six-yard pass from Goff for a first down at the 24-yard line.
Both Chris Harper and Richard Rodgers spent a bit of time in the backfield, as they have throughout camp, to give the offense a bit of a different look. Rodgers caught one ball out of the super bone formation for a juggling 10-yard back-shoulder fade from Goff, out-reaching good defense by Cameron Walker.
Harper showed good vision and focus in 11-on-11s against the scout defense, catching a 17-yard TD pass from Goff that went right between the outstretched arms of Ray Davison.
Later in seven-on-seven, the Biletnikoff Award Watch List member became one of the few receivers to beat cornerback Stefan McClure, catching a 45-yard TD from Goff on a streak route.
Goff continues to improve his precision and already good touch, and displayed his continuing comfort in the pocket. In 11-on-11s, Goff stepped up under pressure on a corner blitz with McClure chomping at his heels and gained seven yards on a run up the middle. After overthrowing 6-foot-3 Darius Powe two plays later, Goff adjusted and found the big sophomore over the middle for a gain of six, finishing the drive off with a 12-yard completion to James Girsom, a pitch right to Daniel Lasco to get to the three-yard line against Jalen Jefferson and then a handoff to Lasco behind road-grader Lucas Gingold for a three-yard touchdown run out of the bone.
Grisom continued his strong camp, bouncing back after a sub-par Sunday, and with Maurice Harris still a bit limited with a fractured finger, stepped up as the No. 2 X receiver behind Bryce Treggs. Treggs, for his part, was his usually-stellar self, taking a short tunnel screen from Kline for a 20-yard touchdown.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Kenny Lawler kept piling up the big catches on Monday, and proved an equal-opportunity playmaker, not only catching bombs from Kline – as he did in Saturday's scrimmage – but from Goff, as well.
After seeing the first pass thrown his way in 11-on-11s batted away by safety Jason Gibson, Lawler came back at the end of Kline's drive in place of Treggs to pull down a 25-yard TD catch over the top of Dozier.
Later, Lawler took an inside screen from Goff to the right side for a good-sized gain. Later in the day, during seven-on-seven work, Lawler snatched a 12-yard pass from Goff for a first down at the sticks on the right sideline.
Lawler did his best work of the day against Dozier, exemplified by a 13-yard leaping grab on a zinger to the back of the end zone from Goff, pulling the ball in over Dozier's head.
After bouncing between the inside and outside early in camp, Lawler has found a home at the Z-receiver position.
"He can bounce around, but we don't really like to move guys around a whole lot," Dykes said. "We like to leave them someplace and try to let them get good at what they do. The good thing is we've got enough inside guys where we can afford to do that and stay healthy. We'll see. He's starting to show up more and more, and that's a positive. He's a guy who, at times, in the spring, was as good as anybody out here. It seemed like he disappeared early in camp, and now he's kind of starting to emerge a little bit more."
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