BERKELEY -- After the first practice of California’s third double day of the fall, offensive coordinator Tony Franklin took his quarterbacks on a walk down to Telegraph Ave., in order to make the rounds with the eccentric play caller.
“I was taking them through my tour,” Franklin told BearTerritory after the Bears’ second practice of the day on Friday. “I was taking them on a tour of my friends that I have on the streets. I have several.”
Last season, the running game was hardly Franklin’s friend, but over the past four days of fall camp, he’s gotten more and more re-acquainted with the ground attack.
“I’m much more confident than last year, because the offensive line is so much stronger,” said Franklin, who had Jordan Rigsbee take nearly all first-team reps at right tackle on Friday, while Steven Moore took nearly all the first-team left tackle reps. “Damon [Harrington] has done an incredible job in the offseason. They’re more physical. Zach [Yenser]’s done a great job getting some pop out of them, and the biggest thing is, there’s more depth. We’re hoping we’ve got eight or nine so we can sub some throughout the ballgame.”
Head coach Sonny Dykes said that while Rigsbee has taken the lion’s share of the reps at right tackle over the past several days, he and junior college transfer Dominic Granado are still locked in a battle for the starting slot.
In fact, four of the biggest runs over the past four days have come to the right side – behind Rigsbee – including a 40-yard run by Patrick Laird on Friday, while the quarterbacks have mainly stayed upright, thanks to Steven Moore coming back at full-strength on the left side.
“With Brian Farley, we feel like we have four really good tackles, and then, some of the young guys, like Aaron Cochran, have been getting better,” Dykes said. “It’s encouraging to see some of the young guys start to grow up, and start to see competition for spots, and that’s one of the things you’re looking for.”
Dykes said that Laird – thanks to his strong camp – will see time this season, a likely result of the loss of running back Jeffrey Coprich, who had surgery on Thursday to repair a broken bone in his foot, and is still in “some pain,” but spoke with Dykes before practice, and is in good spirits.
“He’s someone who had a really good first couple days of camp, and when we watched his tape, we thought we were kind of getting a hidden gem as a walk-on, just a real productive football player, and the thing with him is, he’s really mature,” Dykes said of Laird. “He came into camp in great shape. He’s a strong, physical kid, so he’s going to be able to give us something, we think, at running back, and certainly, at least on special teams.”
Dykes confirmed that the other two injured Bears – linebacker Nathan Broussard and safety Quentin Tartabull -- tore their ACLs and will both be out for the season. *****
All four top running backs -- Daniel Lasco, Khalfani Muhammad, Tre Watson and Vic Enwere (who partnered with Luke Rubenzer in red zone short-yardage work) -- got in on the action today in full-team periods and scout-team periods, as Cal abbreviated the second practice of the day in order to help freshen legs after 15 straight practices without a day off.
Franklin said that he was loathe to call running plays on third down last season because there just wasn’t enough there to merit calling the run. Now, though, the running backs are making a compelling case.
“Lasco and Khalfani have both gotten better at just going [straight] and not doing all that other [side-to-side] stuff, just sticking their toe in the ground and turning up.”
Being able to open up the playbook in the red zone – something Cal couldn’t do last year – makes the Bears, Franklin said, “capable of winning.”
“That’s the thing: When we got really good at Louisiana Tech, it was because we could run the ball when we wanted to, not when somebody gave it to us,” Franklin said. “When we wanted to run the ball, we could do it. For us to be good here, that’s what we have to do.”
Speaking of running the ball, Rubenzer showed off his legs multiple times on Friday, and his mobility has allowed Franklin to let him go live several times over the first two weeks of practice, and a fact that has moved him ahead of Chase Forrest as the No. 2 quarterback behind Jared Goff.
“Luke is unique, in the fact that he’s a playmaker, and the fact that he can run. He’s a good runner,” Franklin said. “He’s better, as a runner, than I thought he was. We’ve had him go live a few times, just to make sure that it transitioned, and he’s really a good runner, and he’s a very accurate passer. He’s jumped ahead of Chase.”
Dykes said that it would be safe to say that Rubenzer is the No. 2 at this point.
“I think, right now, he’s getting the lion’s share of the reps. We don’t see any reason to not go that direction, so we’ll continue to see how that plays out during camp, and see how he continues to grow and progress,” Dykes said.
Franklin would rather Rubenzer get down more often, instead of looking to make a few extra – and potentially dangerous yards – with his legs, but he doesn’t want to stifle the freshman’s playmaking ability.
“It’s a little bit […] it’s so hard, because I’ve coached two guys like that, before, and it’s one of those deals where, sometimes, you just kind of have to shut up, because you take the creativity away, and sometimes, you can over-coach those guys, and he’s better than I thought he was going to be at doing that stuff,” Franklin said. “I’ll be wanting him to get down some, for sure, but he’s got that stuff in him that, sometimes, he’s going to want to go crank it up.”
That isn’t to say that Forrest doesn’t have his plusses.
“Chase is a very, very good pure passer, the pure passing guy that, once he gets hundreds of reps inside the pocket, he’s got rushes coming by him and all that, he’s going to be a real good player.”
Defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil was highly disruptive in work against the scout team offense, and played almost all of the first-team reps.
“It was light today, but his load has gotten more and more every day. He’s handled it well,” Dykes said.
Darius Allensworth and Cameron Walker were the top two corners, with Cedric Dozier coming in when Allensworth was shifted over to nickel.
Avery Sebastian continued to run with the second team, along with Griffin Piatt, as Michael Lowe and Stefan McClure served as first-team safeties.
The first-team defensive line saw Brennan Scarlett and Todd Barr provide the pressure from the end spots, with Jalil and Austin Clark in the middle.
Scouts from the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos were on-hand at practice, watching the safeties and wide receivers.
Ray Hudson and Chris Harper ran with the first-team offense. Jonathan Johnson, Kyle Kragen, David Davis and Antione Davis were with the scout team defense. Freshmen Kennedy Emesibe and Aisea Tongilava were also with the scout team defense.
Jake Kearney played weak side linebacker on the second-team defense.
Devante Downs saw almost all the first-team reps at MIKE linebacker, with Michael Barton taking the weak side and Jalen Jefferson the strong.
While working with the scout teams wasn’t necessarily done with an eye towards Northwestern prep, wide receivers coach Rob Likens did watch the Wildcats defensive backs on film during lunch, and was teaching to their style during warm-ups and one-on-ones.