BERKELEY -- The California football team may have planned to back off a bit on Saturday after a physical first practice in pads, but someone forgot to tell the freshman running backs, particularly Tre Watson.
The former Corona (Calif.) Centennial standout followed up classmate Vic Enwere’s eye-popping performance on Friday with a virtuoso day of his own on Saturday, ripping off four straight 10+ yard runs for first downs on the first four plays of the final 11-on-11 drive led by freshman quarterback Luke Rubenzer for a total of 45 yards.
“They kept saying, ‘It’s working,’ and they want to get me ready for game-time situations, and be rolling, and have that energy and that stamina, so they kept feeding me,” Watson said. “They want to get the run going this year, to have it working, so that’s what they’re trying to do right now: Get it going in practice so it will roll over to the games.”
Watson even did his best impression of Enwere on his second run, spinning and whirling through traffic before dragging several defenders along with him for the final few yards to the sticks.
“I like the way our offensive line is playing,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “I think they’re coming off the ball and playing physical, getting some push, and you can see the weight room and the stuff that those guys have done are paying off. We’re just stronger up front, can hold up better and we have a lot more depth.”
Enwere himself had another strong day, starting off with a third-down run on a handoff from Chase Forrest that resulted in just about half of the defense having to pull him down. In the set of 11-on-11 plays that ended practice, Enwere started a drive off by trucking right into defensive tackle Tony Mekari, who’s quietly had a very good camp, and was, for the first time, slowed up by a single tackler, though it did take about three more defenders to finally bring him to a halt.
“It builds my confidence, a little bit, because I realize that no hit – if you go into it full-speed – it won’t kill you, it won’t hurt you; I’m still alive, at this point, and I’m still pushing,” Enwere smiled. “In that, I’m getting a respect for the other side of it, because I’ve trucked some guys out here, and I’m realizing that you are going to have some stalemates, but the biggest thing is learning to get up after it and go again, because, while one play can define a game, if you let that one play affect your whole game, you can lose from it, so you’ve got to bounce back up and get ready to go the next play.”
Enwere got back to being the aggressor on the next play, mowing down Griffin Piatt -- who had another pair of physical breakups in one-on-ones earlier in the day – to get another two yards after initial contact, taking a check-down pass from Rubenzer.
“I believe that, when I’m in pads, that’s where I make my living,” said Enwere. “Being a big back, shiftiness doesn’t do much for us. You use it here and there, but really, going north and south is my best bet, as a running back.”
Later, Enwere fell victim to two of the day’s biggest defensive standouts -- Noah Westerfield and Devante Downs. Westerfield came in to wrap up the legs, and MIKE linebacker Downs – who ran with the first team – came in to make some noise with a big, echoing hit.
“We want to run the football,” said Dykes. “We want to be a physical, downhill, running football team. That’s what we want to do. That’s why we went out and found a 225-pound running back (Enwere), is because we want somebody who can run it downhill. There’s also a finesse element too, to reading blocks and that kind of thing. We want to be able to come off the ball and move people and run downhill.”
Dykes’s compared Enwere to a running back he had at Louisiana Tech: Kenneth Dixon. Dykes said that Enwere is right about where Dixon was at this point in 2012.
“He’s shown some flashes. He’s just got to be consistent. That’s always the difficult thing for young guys, is just being consistent,” Dykes said. “Part of that is understanding who he is, and those guys have a lot of success as high school players, and everything happens faster here. He’s got to understand he’s a downhill guy. He’s got to run downhill, he’s got to attack defenses, he’s got to run through tackles. He’s shown an ability to do that, at times. He hasn’t shown an ability to do that consistently, yet. But, I’m liking what I’m seeing out of him.”
Westerfield had his most visible day so far in camp, and was able to apply a lot of pressure coming off of the outside, flushing Rubenzer out of the pocket twice during his final drive, and drawing a hold from left tackle Brian Farley (playing in place of Steven Moore, who’s being given “a couple days off” due to soreness, Dykes said) earlier in practice, as he bowled Farley over with a bulrush. Farley, the rep before, had stymied Westerfield during one-on-ones.
Westerfield has been getting some run with the first and second teams of late, pressuring the right side, as well, against Dominic Granado. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound freshman defensive end, though, wasn’t alone in receiving plaudits from his head coach.
“Arthur Wainwright again shows up a lot,” Dykes said. “Quentin Tartabull shows up a lot. I’m starting to see some young guys do some good things. Noah Westerfield did some nice things today. The guy who’s shown up, really, the last two days, is Aisea Tongilava. He had a nice interception today, and is running around, making some plays, and Devante Downs, so all young guys. It’s encouraging.”
Tongilava, in fact, became the first defender to intercept sophomore staring quarterback Jared Goff -- in any phase of practice so far in camp – when he picked off a Goff pass in seven-on-seven work on Saturday.
Goff came back and completed each of his next three passes, though, during seven-on-seven, and completed all of his passes during the third-down 11-on-11 period that followed.
Tartabull showed up well on the back end, notably ending a superb 20+ yard catch and run by Matt Rockett in 11-on-11 work. Rockett may not be the biggest receiver on the roster, but he’s a tough tackle, and has shown sneaky-good ball skills.
Tartabull later stopped Rubenzer on his final drive, stepping up to close a gap that opened when Downs was manhandled on the block.
Wainwright was in the center of a scuffle on Saturday, as he took a leveling open-field block by running back Jeffrey Coprich -- a block which sprung Goff for a 15+ yard gain – a bit personally. The two jawed at one another, as both sidelines moved to the middle of the field, but it was cleared after a few moments. There were two peacemakers, though, who tried – rather unsuccessfully – to unite the white and blue jerseys: Linebacker Edward Tandy and offensive lineman Jordan Rigsbee (who saw time as the first-team right guard on Saturday).
As though in slow motion, running into one another’s arms in a wheat field, the two embraced in a pre-planned display of unity as the team came together at midfield for the fisticuffs.
“A few practices ago, we got into some scuffles, so me and him got together, and were like, ‘If that happens again, just meet in the middle of the field and act like we’re going to go at it, but just hug it off, and let everyone know it’s all good,’” Tandy explained. “So, we got in the middle of the field and hugged each other up.”
The problem, though, was location, location, location, as the pair were about 20 yards away from the main fight cloud.
“I don’t think anyone saw us, because they were focused on what was going on over there,” Tandy said. “We still met in the middle and were all like, ‘Bring it in!’ and started hugging each other. I don’t think many people saw it. It was just something that me and him wanted to do.”
Mission: Not accomplished.
‘A’ for effort, though.
Goff’s interception wasn’t the only pick on the day, as Rubenzer also fell victim, thanks to a circus leaping grab by cornerback Cedric Dozier. Like Goff, though, Rubenzer bounced back. After the four runs by Watson and an incomplete pass, Rubenzer was able to avoid pressure from Westerfield and scramble for a first down. He then found Rockett for a short grab to get the offense into the red zone.
“I think that we’re just a lot different, mentality-wise,” Dykes said. “We’re just a tougher football team right now, than we have been. We’ll see if we can maintain that, right now, but guys are playing tougher in everything. Our drills are more competitive and they’re more physical. Certainly, when we get into team situations, it’s much more physical, so that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to move in that area, both on offense and defense.”
Seeing both Goff and Rubenzer bounce back from setbacks was also a positive sign.
“It’s the first time Jared’s thrown one, so he’s been pretty good in camp, so far,” Dykes said. “I think they both bounced back. The good thing is, they’ll learn from them, and it’s a lot better to throw them now than it is on Aug. 30.”
Forrest did not have a good day to start, back of center, missing his first two passing attempts and then taking a sack by Marcus Manley and Michael Barton.
In his next drive, though, he found his Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei teammate Rockett for the big 20+ yard catch, got the tempo up but then saw his line break down in front of him as David Davis came in for the sack. Forrest still was able to bounce back, completing his next pass and then turning a low snap from Chris Adcock -- his first bad snap of camp – into a gain on the ground with his legs.
Senior Austin Hinder has not taken any team reps thus far in 11-on-11s, as Dykes and his staff have wanted to see what the two freshmen – Forrest and Dozier – can do in the battle for the backup quarterback spot.
“We’ll see. He’s going to get some reps,” Dykes said .”We’re going to keep him. He’s a great kid. He’s one of the most valuable guys in our program, just because of his attitude and work ethic, and what he brings to this program. He’s incredibly valuable. He’s going to get some more reps, and see what he can do. We’re still opening it up a little bit. We just want to see what the young guys can do, and where they are, and then we’ll make some decisions.”
Dykes said he will formulate a depth chart at some point late next week.
“We’re playing around with one. We’ll probably have a bit more of one in the middle to late part of the week, in terms of starting to narrow it down,” he said. “We’ve got to start to prepare and get 70 together for a travel squad, and making sure those guys are on special teams and contributing and we’re repping the correct guys, so that’s a management thing that we’re always talking about and looking at. We go through that stuff, really, daily. A lot of it changes.”
BERKELEY -- Luke Rubenzer nearly perfect passing, freshman running backs make their mark and…