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Cal Football

12 (Plus One) Takeaways from Fall Camp

August 23, 2019
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As the Cal Bears wrap up fall camp and officially transition into season practice schedule with afternoon practice and game prep heading into the August 31 opener with UC Davis, let’s take a look at some high-level storylines and takeaways from fall camp.

  1. Does the defense take another step forward: In three short seasons, Justin Wilcox has taken the Bears’ defense from a conference doormat to one of the nation’s best. In 2016, the Bears gave up about 43 points and 518 yards a game. Last season those numbers plummeted to about 20 and 317. According to S&P+ data, Cal returns 81% of its defensive production from last season — good enough for 14th in the nation. With a strong veteran core and some intriguing newcomers, can the Bears take yet another step forward and become a top-five defense in the nation?
  2. A more evolved defense: Speaking of the three-year progression on the defensive side of the ball, both Defensive Coordinator Tim DeRuyter and numerous defensive players have spoken a lot this fall about how having a veteran group of guys has allowed them to progress faster in implementing plays and packages compared to the previous two years. 

    “It’s kinda building blocks,” DeRuyter said during camp. “And that first year it was very vanilla, last year we were able to make some strides, and now with so many guys coming back, we’re able to put a little more window dressing on it.”

  3. A QB battle turns into a QB question mark: At the beginning of fall camp, the talk of QB play was who would get the starting nod in next Saturday’s home opener against the UC Davis Aggies. Sophomore Chase Garbers and UCLA transfer Devon Modster seemed to both have strong cases. But an eligibility snafu has made Modster’s status to play a question mark — especially early in the season. “We are going to treat it like an injury. If a guy is out for the year we will talk about it. We can’t talk a lot more about that,” Wilcox said recently after a practice about Modster’s situation. “If you are an opposing coach or program that means something. Ultimately my job and our job is to support our players and do what’s best for our team. So we are not going to discuss it further. We are prepared for the scenarios.” Meanwhile, Redshirt freshman Robby Rowell and true freshman Spencer Brasch have apparently moved ahead of JC transfer Jack Newman in the position pecking order. It’s unclear who might emerge as the backup against the Aggies, but both have had their moments during fall camp.

  4. Will Cal’s next nose guard please stand up: Returning nose guards Siulagisipai Fuimano and Aaron Maldonado both don’t seem to be returning anytime soon. Who fills in for them? Luc Bequette seems to be in play. “He’ll (Bequette) be in on some packages and we’ll have other guys on others,” DeRuyter said when asked directly about the senior defensive end. “He’s a big, physical, tough guy and understands what we ask of that position. And the biggest thing is attitude. He’s going to hang in there and take on double-teams and allow other guys to make plays.”

    Redshirt freshman Erick Nisich has also impressed at the position at fall camp and figures to factor into the nose guard rotation, as does defensive end Zeandae Johnson and potentially freshman Brett Johnson. “In our base defense, our nose guard has got to be a guy to take on double teams, be able to slug it out,” DeRuyter said this fall.

  5. Can the offense shore-up miscues and turnovers: Last season, the Bears led the Pac-12 with 31 turnovers — 20 of which were interceptions. After this fall’s first scrimmage, offensive mistakes were the first issue Wilcox addresses in his post-practice interview. By the second scrimmage, the offense looked a bit crisper, but it’s still something to keep an eye on.

    “The things we’ve got to clean up are the poor snaps, procedure penalties, for whatever the reason was. A couple of turnovers,” Wilcox said after the first scrimmage. “Those are the things that...it’s hard to sustain a drive if you have that many penalties, poor snaps or obviously giving the ball up.”

  6. A more explosive offense: One of the things Offensive Coordinator Beau Baldwin and other offensive players spoke about a lot during the three weeks of fall camp was a focus on moving the ball downfield with explosive plays. “We have to find more ways to create explosive plays and limit them on defense,” Wilcox said early on in practice. Whether it be on the ground or in the air, look for a greater emphasis on gaining big yardage chunks.

  7. Receiving by committee: Don’t be surprised to see seven or eight different wideouts get significant snaps this season. Besides Nikko Remigio, no wideout has really established himself as a for-sure started in the coaches’ eyes. Baldwin seems set on using a committee of receivers, especially early in the season. “We’re gonna need them,” he said, noting that it could come down to seven or eight wideouts seeing significant time at the position.

  8. Rise of the tight ends: Speaking of a committee of pass catchers, there could be some offensive sets involving three tight ends. You read that correctly. Three. Garbers said early on in camp the tight ends will be used more often than they were a year ago. “We have formations where we use three tight ends,” he said. Collin Moore has had a nice fall as have McCallen Castles, Gavin Reinwald, and Jake Tonges.

  9. Offensive line improvements: With four juniors and a sophomore currently projected as the five starters on the o-line, can it become a strong asset for the offense? Baldwin said multiple times during camp that physically and mentally, it’s a changed unit that put in a ton of work in the off-season. But during scrimmages, members of the Bears front seven have gotten into the backfield. ”One of the things with that group, we went into spring ball so early, earlier than I’ve ever been, earlier than we’ve been at Cal,” Baldwin said after a fall practice about the group. “That group probably saw the biggest change in body type — at least on the offensive side — from the end of March to where we are today. We’ve got to operate together, but this is the best we’ve looked in terms of body type with that group.”

  10. Secondary in sweats: To help prepare for the road trip to Mississippi, the secondary spent the majority of fall camp practicing in full sweats. “I kinda came up with the idea because I’m like, I just want to be uncomfortable, so when the game comes, it’s easy,” junior cornerback Elijah Hicks said, adding it is also a bit of prep for the Mississippi game on September 21. Game time has yet to be set for the Bears’ trip to Ole Miss, but regardless, it will likely be the Bears hottest and most humid game of the year. Wilcox approved of the idea. “Anything that helps somebody get mentally ready to play, I’m all for,” Wilcox said.

  11. Jake Curhan has a podcast: Junior right tackle Jake Curhan said he felt caught up with school and football during the summer and used the extra time to launch his own podcast — Sooo Stignatious! So far he has published seven episodes and has a perfect five-out-of-five rating with 12 reviews on Apple Podcasts.

  12. Make sure Evan Weaver gets his naps: Senior Evan Weaver has been making sure to get in 25 to 30-minute naps after each fall camp — something that he says helps improve his recovery and keeps him from being cranky. “Man, I’ll tell ya, if I can get 25 to 30 minutes of a solid little z-sesh. That’s like rejuvenation right there,” Weaver told a group of amused reporters after one fall camp. “That’s a whole ‘nother me. Right now I might be in a bad mood. Don’t ask me anything until after the nap.”

  13. ’For the moms’: Is apparently the new phrase among some players on the team. Early on when asked about being named to watchlists, Weaver said: “watchlists are for the moms.” They later on in camp, junior center Michael Saffel said his on-camera joking was also “for the moms.”

Other related articles: Tuesday Scrimmage Report and The QB Competition: Early Camp Review

 
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