BERKELEY -- What do Northwestern's roster changes mean for Cal's defense? How big of an impact will…
NOTEBOOK: Goff Matures, Who Travels and VIDEO
BERKELEY -- California sophomore quarterback Jared Goff hasn’t looked at the weather forecast for the season opener against Northwestern on Saturday, but judging by his struggles with precipitation last year, the 79-degree, 80-percent chance of rain forecast could be troubling.
In last year’s game at Oregon, Goff had to be replaced with just over two minutes left in the first quarter because of ball security issues.
On Tuesday, Goff and the Bears practiced with wet balls in pre-practice, but he made no predictions as to whether or not he’ll go back to wearing gloves.
“I’m not sure yet. I don’t think about it,” Goff said. “These next couple days of practice, I’ll work on it, and I worked on it a little bit today. We’ll see. It depends.”
Head coach Sonny Dykes said that Cal won’t spend “a lot of time obsessing about it.”
“It’s the weather,” Dykes said. “Heck, I’ve been at practice plenty of times where it’s a 100-percent chance of rain, and there’s not a cloud in the sky. In my next life, I’m going to be a weatherman.”
Goff readily admits that, in last season’s opener, despite throwing for 450 yards and completing 39 of 64 passes, he didn’t “well enough to win,” in part, thanks to three picks, including two returned for touchdowns. Since then, running back Daniel Lasco said, the newly-christened team captain has changed.
“His first game, he was very timid,” Lasco said. “He had a lot on his plate, just nervous, and was afraid to make mistakes. That was the biggest thing I saw in him. He was afraid to make minor mistakes. Going through the offseason, spring ball and our summer conditionings, when we go out and throw routes and things like that, he has matured greatly from last year. He’s aged. I can’t even put it in words, the difference from the Jared Goff of 2013 and right now. He’s taken those leadership roles, and I agree completely with our team decision to make him a captain, whereas last year, his voice wasn’t as powerful as it is now.”
With the team electing captains several days ago, it’s evident that the rest of the Bears have seen the same change as Lasco.
“It was definitely a big honor, and meant a lot to me to have respect from my teammates, and have them vote for me to be a captain,” Goff said. “It definitely means a lot to me, and I don’t take it lightly that I have that honor. The other guys that were chosen, as well, were great, and I agreed with everyone that was chosen, and it was a really cool thing.”
Perhaps owing to a training camp speech from former Cal defensive back Herm Edwards, the tenor of the comments so far this week have been more inward-focused than looking across the field at the Wildcats.
Goff said that there has been no special preparation to combat Collin Ellis, who had both of Northwestern’s pick-sixes.
“We feel like we’ve had some growing pains. We’ve had some tragedy occur. We’ve had some things you certainly can’t prepare for in any way, but the thing I’m proud of is our players have been resilient through all of it, and, I think, determined,” Dykes said.
The second-year skipper roundly praised the Wildcat’s team mentality, and their ability to be better as a whole than the players are individually. Northwestern is fundamentally sound, and doesn’t make many mistakes. How can the Bears force mistakes?
“You can’t rely on them doing that. You’ve got to not make them yourself,” Dykes said. “We can’t control how much experience they have, how hard they play, or whether or not they’re in the right spots, because they’re going to be. They’ve proven that they can do that consistently. What we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to match ‘em. We've got to play just as hard, or harder, than they do. We’ve got to play more physical than they do. We’ve got to take care of the football. We’ve got to limit our penalties. We have to play well, collectively, as well, and the onus is on us. We need to just worry about ourselves, and go play at a high level, and see if that’s good enough.”
Junior wide receiver Chris Harper was certainly good enough against the Wildcats last year, catching 11 balls for 148 yards. While Harper’s been in a dogfight during fall camp with now-eligible Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis for the X-receiver spot, he’s turned things up a notch over the past five days.
“He’s done a great job. He’s obviously been fighting with Trevor for that receiver position, but he hasn’t done anything differently,” Goff said. “He’s been getting better every day, and doesn’t complain. He continues to work on his craft and continues to get open. Today, he had a nice catch from me and made some plays out there. I’m excited to see what he can do this year. He’s a really good player, and makes great plays out in space.”
The play to which Goff referred was a perfectly-placed 35-yard touch ball that fell out of the sky and into Harper’s outstretched hands over tight coverage by Cedric Dozier, who was a breakup machine in one-on-ones, and recorded a breakup in seven-on-seven work.
Goff also delivered a 35-yard laser over Maurice Harris's back shoulder with the perfect lead distance. Earlier in practice, he recovered from a low snap, and, under pressure, found Lasco for a first down.
Harper is listed as a co-starter with Davis on the season’s first depth chart, which also features a total of 11 true freshmen, though not all of them will make the trip out to Evanston, Ill.
“Not everybody listed will travel, but the vast majority of them will,” Dykes said. “There maybe one or two that aren’t on the depth chart that will. I think we’ll put out the travel squad Thursday morning, so we’ll have a better sense of what happens this week in practice, with a couple of guys. Maybe a couple of guys that are listed third on the offensive line, may or may not travel, but everybody else, I think, will.”
True freshman walk-on Addison Ooms is listed as the co-center on the second team (with Matt Cochran, who’s also seen time as the second-team right guard), and both freshman quarterbacks -- Luke Rubenzer and Chase Forrest -- are listed on the quarterback depth chart. A trio of freshman running backs are also on the depth chart -- Tre Watson, Vic Enwere and walk-on Patrick Laird -- and one true freshman wide receiver -- Matthew Rockett -- is listed as the No. 2 H receiver behind Bryce Treggs.
Aaron Cochran was listed as the No. 3 left tackle behind Steven Moore and Brian Farley, but judging by the fact that he played almost exclusively with the scout team on Tuesday, it’s probably unlikely that he’ll travel.
Redshirt junior Avery Sebastian is listed as the third free safety, behind Stefan McClure and Griffin Piatt, and still looked slow on Tuesday as he deals with what Dykes called a quadriceps pull.
“We’re planning on Avery going,” Dykes said. “He was able to do a little bit more today. Assuming that he checks out tomorrow -- it could get sore, that type of thing -- but that’s the assumption right now, is that he would go with us.”
Junior college transfer corner Darius White was not listed on the depth chart, but practiced in full pads on Tuesday, and got some second-team reps.
“He’ll go on the trip,” Dykes said. “We’ll see. I don’t really know how much he’s going to play. That’s going to depend really on what happens the rest of the week. We’re easing him back into contact, so we’ll see how he does.”
Though Puka Lopa has been practicing at the right defensive end spot, he’s listed behind Brennan Scarlett at the rush end position, ahead of freshman Noah Westerfield, who’s taken the bulk of second-team snaps at that spot.
Harrison Wilfley is listed as the second defensive end on the other side, behind Todd Barr.
“Todd Barr has had a really good camp,” Dykes said. “Todd has been incredibly consistent, and he’s made a ton of improvement from the spring, as well. Puka is Puka. He plays hard, he runs to the football, he’s been a guy that’s done a lot of good things for us.”
Last year and during the spring, Wilfley played on the inside, but because of the development of some of the new defensive tackles, it’s allowed the Bears to move him back outside to take advantage of his length at what Dykes calls “his more natural position.”
“Him moving back to end is more of a product of our tackle depth [coming] through,” Dykes said. “[Mustafa] Jalil has been back healthy, Austin Clark has been back healthy, Marcus Manley is working out, Trevor Kelly is working out, David Davis is working out, so all of those were guys that we had question marks about, just because they were either coming off of injuries or hadn’t played much.”
Jalil will start on Saturday after not playing a single down last season, but his work load will be monitored.
“I don’t think he’s going to play 80 plays or anything, but I don’t think any of those defensive linemen will,” Dykes said. “We’ll rotate those guys through, try to stay fresh and see what he can do, how he holds up.”
Cal’s special teams period early in practice saw running backs coach Pierre Ingram attempt to field punts, along with Harper and Treggs. After he muffed several balls, he dropped down to do push-ups, just like his charges are required to do.
James Langford got first reps at place kicker and as the primary kickoff leg, followed by Matt Anderson.
Michael Barton -- listed as the first-team MIKE linebacker – also took reps at the SAM on the first team, with Hardy Nickerson in the middle and Jalen Jefferson at the WILL. Devante Downs also saw some first-team MIKE reps, and nearly scored a pick against the scout team, but settled for a leaping breakup.
Ray Davison also saw time with the first team at SAM linebacker. He drifted a bit too far to record a pick on one play against the scout team, but turned one in on the very next play.
Defensive highlights included a scout-team interception by McClure, a swatting breakup by A.J. Greathouse (listed third at cornerback behind Darius Allensworth and Dozier), a touch sack on Rubenzer by Arthur Wainwright and three breakups by corner Cameron Walker, who’s now playing much more confidently at 180 pounds than he did last year at about 160 pounds as a safety.
“Out of respect for him, I’m not going to talk about last year,” Dykes laughed about Walker’s season at safety. “First of all, he did a great job. He really did. We moved him the third week of the season. He was a guy we thought was probably going to redshirt, was playing corner, and then, by week two, we started thinking, ‘Wow, we’ve had some injuries; where do we go from here?’ By week three, he was the full starter at safety, a position he’d never played.
“He was like a lot of our guys, our personnel, defensively, really, was just kind of thrown in there and was having to learn as quickly as he could, and we saw what the result was. It wasn’t good. But, he was incredibly unselfish, never complained. He just tried his best, every week. He’s much more comfortable playing that corner spot. We expect him to be a good player. All that experience he got last year will help him really well. The game will be a bit more simple and clear to him, from gaining that experience and that opportunity to play last season, as tough as it was.”