BERKELEY -- California wound down fall camp on Thursday, holding a short, light, helmets-only practice featuring some unique looks, unorthodox plays and other odds and ends as head coach Sonny Dykes and staff looked to start the process of saving their team’s legs for the first complete week of true prep for the Aug. 31 opener against Northwestern.
“We got a lot of stuff done,” Dykes said. “A lot of stuff we haven’t had the chance to cover yet, we covered today. It was more of a teaching tempo, when you just have helmets only. Our guys, we needed to heal up a bit, and try to get their legs back, to an extent, but it was also a big teaching day for us, and we’ll do something similar tomorrow.”
The Bears will take the field for pre-practice at 7 p.m. on Friday for the first time under the lights this fall, mainly to get them accustomed to nighttime football again, especially with the 7:30 p.m. PT kickoff time against the Wildcats looming.
“We’re going to try and simulate game time, to make sure our guys are comfortable under the lights,” Dykes said. “We’ll go tomorrow at about 7:30 and then 7:30 again on Monday. We’ll go through basically our pregame routine tomorrow, do it again on Monday and just make sure our players are comfortable and that we’ve rehearsed everything we need to rehearse.”
The curtain time for the opener will be the same as last year’s home finale against Oregon, a 59-17 drubbing at the hands of the Ducks. Dykes coached at Arizona back in 2007, and played in Berkeley with a 3 p.m. kickoff time, and when the Wildcats returned to Memorial Stadium in 2009, the two Pac-12 foes kicked off at 4 p.m.
“I’ve never played in this stadium at night, so I don’t think it is [different],” Dykes said. “It’s important to get the guys used to catching balls and stuff at night. I don’t anticipate any difference, but you always want to make sure you dot all your I’s and cross all your T’s.”
True freshman starting quarterback Jared Goff will see his first college snaps in the opener, which – while he said that the team’s goal is no less than a Rose Bowl – is the only thing he’s thinking about.
“First of all, we have to beat Northwestern,” Goff said. “Right now, this coming week, we have to beat Northwestern ... Aug. 31 against Northwestern is the only thing we’re thinking about right now. That’s the only thing I can think about right now.”
Goff – who’s been getting 60-65 percent of the snaps since he was named the starter, according to Dykes’s estimation – may at some point give way to redshirt freshman Zach Kline in the opener.
“It’s hard to say, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did,” Dykes said of Kline seeing action. “I don’t know what circumstances it would take, but that’s something we haven’t really talked about. That’s really a feel. You can come out with a criteria, but that doesn’t really work. You’ve got to get a feel for things and see how the game goes.”
Dykes also released the first post-camp depth chart, with Goff as the No. 1 QB, Kline at No. 2 and Austin Hinder at No. 3. Hinder spent Thursday in a yellow jersey, as opposed to the white No. 2 he’s been using to simulate Kain Colter this week.
On the receiver front, Bryce Treggs will start at the X, followed by Drake Whitehurst and Maurice Harris.
A the Z receiver position, Biletnikoff Award Watch List member Chris Harper is not surprisingly listed as the No. 1, followed by redshirt freshman Kenny Lawler and James Grisom. Grisom had seen time both at the X and Z positions this fall.
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”[Grisom] can kind of bounce both,” Dykes said. “He’s a guy that, depending on what’s going on with Maurice and his hand, and what’s going on with Drake and his finger – the little dings that we’ve had – he could play either spot.”
Whitehurst has had a spate of drops late in camp, which was a bit of a conern.
“He’s had a little finger issue for a couple of weeks, but he’s worked through it,” said Dykes, who laughingly hoped that the finger was the reason for his drops. “I’d like to think so. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
On the inside, the starting H-receiver is redshirt senior Jackson Bouza, followed by sophomore Darius Powe, and Junior Espitia.
At the Y-receiver position, junior Richard Rodgers is the first man up, followed by redshirt sophomore Stephen Anderson and junior Bryce McGovern.
In the second scrimmage of camp, 19 different players caught balls, so the depth chart at both inside and outside receiver is more indicative of who hits the field first, since all players will likely see balls come their way this year.
“They realize that everybody’s got a chance,” Dykes said. “I think it’s good for morale. It’s good for the morale of guys that aren’t necessarily going to be starters, and I think it also pushes the guys that are going to get the majority of the reps, because they want the ball. If they’re not performing at a high level, somebody else is going to take their spot.”
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The starting tailback is listed as junior Brendan Bigelow, followed closely by Daniel Lasco and freshman Khalfani Muhammad, with Darren Ervin listed as the No. 4.
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“The thing we want him to do is just be a consistent player,” Dykes said of Bigelow. “He’s a guy who can make big plays and be explosive, but we don’t want him to just be that. We want him to be an every-down running back and a guy that does his job consistently, and can deliver the big plays, but at the same time, knows when he needs to cram a two-yard gain in there, as well. We want him to be a back who can do everything. We want him to catch the ball coming out of the backfield, do a good job carrying the football, not turn it over and obviously, we’d like for him to deliver some big plays.”
After offseason knee surgery – the third time his knee has been cut on since his junior year of high school – Bigelow is nearing 100 percent.
“I think he’s more and more comfortable,” Dykes said. “I think he understands what we’re doing, schematically, and just seems like he’s making his reads faster and faster every day.
“We think he can be pretty good. We’re going to need to keep him healthy and keep him fresh, because he is a speed back, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by his ability to run physically and run with some power. We want him to do a little bit of everything. The good thing is, we’ve got some guys who can take some heat off of him. Daniel Lasco has been a pleasant surprise in camp, and Khalfani’s doing some good things. Darren Ervin’s doing some good things. It turned into a little bit more of a position of depth for us.”
Bigelow has had “no swelling or soreness,” Dykes said.
Lucas Gingold is listed as the starter for the "Bone" position, with Jacob Wark as the No. 2.
The first-team offensive line consists of – left to right -- Freddie Tagaloa, Jordan Rigsbee, Chris Adcock, Matt Cochran and Steven Moore.
The second-team line – from left to right – is Brian Farley, true freshman Chris Borrayo, redshirt senior Mark Brazinski, redshirt junior Alex Crosthwaite and either Christian Okafor or Bill Tyndall.
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On the defensive side of the ball, still-shelved Brennan Scarlett and redshirt senior Dan Camporeale are listed as co-starters at defensive end, followed by JuCo transfer Kyle Kragen and redshirt sophomore Todd Barr.
“He’s day-to-day,” Dykes said of Scarlett. “I’m hoping he’s going to be ready.”
Scarlett has another doctor’s appointment in the middle of next week to evaluate his twice-operated-on hand.
On the other side – at rush end – junior Chris McCain is not a surprise as the starter, but is followed by resurgent redshirt sophomore Puka Lopa, who’s come on strong through the second week of camp.
On the inside, redshirt senior and NFL prospect Deandre Coleman is the starter at the nose, followed by redshirt junior Gabe King -- who got in extra time working the blocking pad while the rest of the team worked on kickoff and punt coverage.
“He’s just been incredibly consistent,” Dykes said of Coleman. “He’s kind of been the workhorse for us, when you just look at going through spring football and what he did in the spring and what he’s done this fall camp. He’s just there every day. He works hard, he gets better and he’s been really kind of the glue that holds the D-line together.”
Former five-star recruit and current junior Viliami Moala has had a strong last week of camp, surpassing recruiting classmate Mustafa Jalil at the defensive tackle spot, though both are likely to play plenty of snaps.
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“We’re just going to play both of them,” Dykes said. “I think he’s probably a little healthier than Moose is, right now, quite frankly, and so we’ll try to get Moose back 100 percent and then we’ll figure out who’s best in practice and who’s going to be the starter.”
Behind Moala and Jalil are true freshman Jacobi Hunter and senior Harrison Wilfley.
[CAMP COUNTDOWN: Defensive Line]
The linebacking corps – long thought to be a strength of the defense, as far as depth goes – has changed a bit from preseason projections. Redshirt junior Nick Forbes has been dealing with back tightness for about a week, and was doing conditioning on Thursday, running up and down the east side stairs along with defensive end Sione Sina and defensive back Trevellous Cheek.
“We’re just trying to get him some conditioning,” Dykes said of Forbes. “That’s the hard thing, is when a guy’s not practicing, typically, he’s not getting a lot of conditioning, so we’re trying to make sure he’s getting conditioned. I think, from a mental standpoint, he understands what’s going on, and so that’s important for him to be able to make sure he stays in shape.”
While Forbes is listed as a co-starter at the MIKE position, it’s likely that Hardy Nickerson, Jr., will take the field on the first defensive series on Aug. 31.
Khairi Fortt -- who’s bounced back well from a knee bruise – is listed as the starter at the WILL position, backed up by redshirt freshman Michael Barton.
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The SAM linebacker will be Jalen Jefferson, who had a breakout season last year due to injuries. In eight games (seven starts), Jefferson tallied 47 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss (-11 yards), 1.5 sacks, one pass breakup and two quarterback hurries, sharing the team lead in tackles twice and tallying a career-high 10 stops against UCLA.
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The defensive backfield is still a bit of a question mark, with free safety Avery Sebastian uncertain for the opener after suffering a concussion in the first fall scrimmage.
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Sebastian is currently listed as the co-starter with Damariay Drew, who Sebastian says has taken his opportunity and run with it.
“He’s been great,” Sebastian said. “Since Day One, since he came here, he’s been contributing, and this year, he’s going to contribute on defense, as well as special teams. He’s a great player. He’s a key player that we absolutely need. We’ve just got to make sure he stays healthy. He’s a great teammate. He’s my neighbor, and we got along great. He’s been doing a really great job, and he’s really understanding the defense, understanding the calls, and really using the techniques that coach [Randy] Stewart’s been teaching him, ever since spring ball.”
While redshirt junior Michael Lowe has the strong safety spot all but locked down, he’ll be backed by redshirt senior Alex Logan and linebacker-turned-safety Jason Gibson, who has improved markedly since the start of camp, seeing time with the second-team defense at times over the past few days.
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The right and left corner spots are no surprise, with Stefan McClure holding down the fort on the left side and Kameron Jackson on the right.
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Behind McClure, Adrian Lee -- who was back on the field on Thursday after an ankle issue – and Cedric Dozier are the backups. Behind Jackson, Isaac Lapite -- who’s been seeing time as the nickel back – is the No. 2, with converted receiver Joel Willis as the No. 3.
On special teams, both Treggs and Harper took punt return reps on Thursday, with Harper listed as the starter, and Treggs the No. 2. While Muhammad will likely also return kickoffs, Treggs was the only kick returner listed.
As expected, Cole Leininger -- who sent several booming punts above the stadium rim on Thursday – will be the starting punter, backed up by Steffan Mos, who was not in camp.
Redshirt senior Vincenzo DAmato will handle both kickoffs and field goals, backed up by Noah Beito.