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Cal Football

After First Week No Surprises But Some Good Impressions

August 10, 2018

The Bears staged their seventh practice of fall camp Friday morning, and the only conclusion Justin Wilcox is willing to draw is that the team is in better shape than it was a week ago. He said that teaching and putting in the offense and defense took the bulk of the time. Personnel decisions will come later.

“We are in the first stages of installation,” he said after Friday’s workout. “There is so much mixing and matching right now, with who’s going with who. Now it’s a matter of getting them the right amount of opportunities to get on tape and be coached. We have first big personnel meeting. Sunday. We’re not ready to release the depth chart yet.”

Even given the informality of most of the early work, some elements have come into focus.

Depth at running back, an issue in the spring, should not be a problem. Starter Patrick Laird was held out of contact drills with a minor injury until Friday, and in his absence the other RBs were given opportunities. They seemed to take full advantage.

Derrick Clark, Alex Netherda and Biaggio Ali Walsh, all of whom were around last year, have profited from their experience. “I’m excited about it,” offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin said of the position. “They are just a year older. I know we lost a couple of seniors off last year’s team. But the starter (Laird) is back, he’s year older got.  Netherda’s back, he’s a camp older. Biaggio is a year older. DC (Clark) is a year older Two freshmen backs (Johnny Adams and Chris Brown) show the mental and physical tools to play right away. (JC transfer) Marcel Dancy has looked good.”

Adams with his speed and Brown with his power will be an especially good addition. The new redshirt rule (four games) will give the staff a chance to test them in games before a decision needs to be made on whether to burn a season of eligibility.

The wide receiver spot also opened the door of opportunity to backups because of notable absences. Vic Wharton III, last year’s leading receiver, missed the spring and much of the fall camp dealing with personal issues. He was on the field Friday but did not go in the team drills. Kanawai Noa has also been limited because of an injury. When the departures of Demetrius Robertson, Melquise Stovall and Taariq Johnson are factored in, that makes for a lot of empty space.

The one who seems to be taking the most advantage is junior Jordan Duncan. Baldwin marveled a the leap in improvement.

“Huge,” said Baldwin. “One of the biggest on offense, if not the biggest. You see it with his body, with his frame. He’s added more speed and quickness.”

Brandon Singleton, Jeremiah Hawkins, grad transfer Mo Ways and freshman Nikko Remigio all have had their moments when given the chance. Remigio can be particularly elusive and might be hard to keep off the field, even when Wharton and Noa are up to full speed.

The way everyone talks about the improvement in Ross Bowers, it becomes more apparent that he will the starting quarterback again.

“Ross, he’s done a much better job,” Wilcox said. “He’s growing as a player and a person. I’m excited for him. He still can get a lot better. You like to see that. He definitely grown a lot in the last year.”

Baldwin has been impressed with the performance in the red-zone drills. The success rate is not 100 per cent, but he sees other factors that he regards as equally important. “Everyone (every team) does them. It’s not like we’re different,” he said of the sessions that usually are toward the end of practice when the ice tubs in the north tunnel start to look inviting. “It’s what your focus like when you are doing them. Is it better than your opponent. You want to feel you’re in the red zone against (first opponent) North Carolina right now, not, ‘Is practice over in 15 minutes?’ If it feels like that, you are just kind of running in place. But instead you are truly focusing you are in the moment…. They really took the mindset on both sides of the ball, They cared about getting in the end zone or getting a stop.”

Speaking of getting stops the defensive unit seems to be functioning fairly smoothly for this early in the football year. The only negatives might be the occasional receivers getting open on botched coverage assignments. Other than that the unit looks pretty good.

“I think the first week has gone really well,” said veteran inside linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk. “I think we are picking it up very fast. We’ve got a lot of new faces in there doing a really great job. I’m really excited for the group. And I’m really excited where we’re headed.

“We’ve got great leaders in the coaches and great leaders on the field.”

Individually, defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said after the spring that outside linebacker Cameron Goode was the most consistent performer on defense and added that he has picked up where he left off in April.

 “He has got a really wide tool box. He can rush, he can cover and he really has a great understanding of the defense,” DeRuyter said. “So he’s able to disguise and move around. I am really excited about what he is going to provide for our defense. He does a great job of leading those younger guys.”

Kunaszyk gave Goode one of the ultimate football compliments. “Cam Goode is a baller,” Kunaszykk said. “He’s very fast, he’s very instinctive and we’re very fortunate to have him.”

DeRuyter also had good words for the rest of his outside backers, including Deon White, Joseph Ogunbanjo and, of course, Alex Funches.

The young cornerbacks, Elijah Hicks and Camryn Bynum also had good first weeks. “Those two guys are really competing right now,” he said. “They have a lot of experience and they’re sophomores.”

While he does not want to leave them isolated on receivers on a full-time basis, he said DeRuyter said he feels confident enough to do it fairly often.

“When those two guys (the corners) can cover one-on-one, it frees up the other nine guys,” DeRuyter said. That gives him the ability to be creative with his pass rush and his run defense, giving the opposing quarterback some confusing looks.

The kickers don’t get much time in the stadium, doing the bulk of their work on nearby Maxwell Field. But when it gets to “center court” the placekicking has seemed a tad inconsistent. Wilcox said the competition among Gabe Siemieniec, Chris Landgrebe. JC transfer Greg Thomas  and freshman Dario Longhetto is ongoing.

Steven Coutts is unquestionably the punter and showed off his leg with a boomer that traveled well over 50 yards from scrimmage Friday.

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