If the goal of football practices is to prepare a team for every eventuality, the weather certainly helped Cal out yesterday.
The Bears' ninth and second open workout of the spring Saturday at Memorial Stadium began under cloudy skies, but before the two hour session concluded they had been subjected to light rain, heavy rain and hail only to conclude under sunny skies. Several seasons in a day's work.
During the height of the downpour defensive lineman Noah Westerfield was crafting a snow angel near midfield. They soon melted away.
"It reminded me of my time at Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs," said defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. "We are in shorts, then it starts raining and snowing and then it's back to 50 degrees again. This was kind of like that."
DeRuyter is in charge of improving a defense that was among the country's worst last year. He has made the much discussed change in the base alignment near the line of scrimmage from a 3-4 to a 4-3. But he also has had to tweak the secondary, where the Bears went through a rash of injuries a year ago. So far DeRuyter likes what he sees.
"I am really pleased overall," he said. "A lot of new terminology, different coverages. The guys have really picked it up. Marloshawn Franklin has looked really good, Derron Brown has made a bunch of big time plays. Traveon Beck has dome some really neat things as nickel, he's shown some explosive ability."
The man directly in charge of the unit agrees. "I think we're getting better," said new secondary coach Gerald Alexander. "The first thing we wanted to do is to make sure we broke our techniques fundamentally down. Regardless of which scheme we're playing we've got to be able to move and function efficiently. Because we know, especially in the passing game, the quarterbacks we're going to be playing, there is a small margin for error. So we've got make sure our techniques specifically are very detailed in what we do."
While seemingly far removed from the action up front, the DBs are affected by what goes on in the line of scrimmage and in the opponent's offensive backfield. And they seem to feel that the 3-4 scheme will allow them to operate more efficiently.
"I think it has an impact on the whole defense," said Franklin, the senior corner who was the only member of the secondary to start all 12 games a year ago. "It allows us to be more aggressive, play at a faster pace. I like the transition to this year's defense. They put more pressure on the quarterback which gives us more opportunities to attack the ball."
"There is a lot more pressure," said Beck in agreement. "The balls come out quicker. It helps us to create turnovers."
"We show a lot of different schemes before the snap," said safety Derron Brown. "We get to fly around more. I like it a lot."
"The linebackers are staying in the slots, so it gives us more time in the coverage," said safety Jaylinn Hawkins. "It's little things like that."
Alexander said that Franklin, who transferred in a year ago from Mesa Community College in Arizona, profited considerably from his extensive playing time last year.
"You can definitely see his experience," Alexander said. "All these guys are learning different things, whether it's the scheme, or the technique. All of these guys possess the skills to do the things that we ask them to do. It's just different with some of the techniques with some of the details we are doing as defensive backs. So Marloshawn being one of those guys who possess that skill, fast guy, very competitive."
The players and coaches spoke repeatedly about how important it is for the players in the secondary to be in synch. "On the same page," is the cliche of the moment. Cohesion might not have been all it should have been a year ago.
Dylan Klumpf's Snow Angels. Photo Al Sermeno isiphotos.com
"This year's defense plays with a lot more passion, we are more of a unit," Beck said.
And it's easier to be on the same page if you are in the same room. Many staffs, including last year's, separate safeties and cornerbacks during individual position meetings. Alexander brings them all together.
"With us being in the same room now, guys are able to see the big picture, see other people's responsibilities," Alexander said. "Corners know what they can do based on what the safety's job is. For us it's beneficial for everyone to be in the same room."
One of the standout performers Saturday was outside linebacker Alex Funches, who transferred in from Trinity Valley Community College in Denton, Tex. He seems to be a perfect fit for DeRuyter's scheme.
"I am really pleased the previous staff recruited him and he was here when we got here," DeRuyter said. "He has a chance to be an impact player. (He is) very athletic in space and has very good pass rushing skills. A bright young man who's picked up the packages really well, He is the kind of guy that had we recruited him from the start we would have targeted him because he fits the system."
Chase Forrest and Ross Bowers did the bulk of the quarterbacking Saturday, hinting that the competition for the position might have come down to the two of them.
They each had their moments. Forrest hit Vic Wharton III on a 52yard pass early in the 11-on-11 drills. Bowers connected with tight end Raymond Hudson on a 35-yarder over the middle. Bowers also scrambled for a touchdown from nine yards out.