Eric Stevens was crumpled against the turf, on the wrong side of a Chris McCain interception. The fullback had been the intended target, a great defensive play and awkward leg plant leaving him incapacitated for the time being.
Stevens was just one casualty in the Cal football team’s first fall camp practice in full pads, and he’ll have X-rays on what he felt was an unstable knee. Finally playing a bit of full-contact football Wednesday after a few lighter sessions, the Bears started suffering the effects of their long layoff.
One play earlier, tight end Anthony Miller grabbed a fumble out of the air and took off for extra yards; he ended up getting the wind knocked out of him and resting the next few downs.
“We gotta come out and have a better day tomorrow,” said coach Jeff Tedford, who wasn’t satisfied with the speed of the practice. “Right now, it looks like we’re a little banged up, a little stiff, a little sore.”
But back to McCain.
The outside linebacker that Tedford has dubbed “Gadget” continued his early domination of fall camp, his long limbs seemingly stretching along the entire line. On the play where Stevens went down, the fullback had looked open — until McCain somehow cut in and snatched away the ball. Later on in a red zone drill, McCain leaped out to bat down a pass that had barely left the quarterback’s hand.
The North Carolina native could still stand to add on an extra 10 pounds or so — he carries only 230 pounds a lanky 6-foot-6 frame — his athleticism and instincts both already look special.
“He’s a very good player,” said Tedford, who added that the freshman’s play hasn’t surprised him. “Long, rangy, good leverage.”
Top of the Hill
Josh Hill has started 14 games over two season, but the junior defensive back was left in the cold last spring. After tying for the team lead in pass breakups, the Houston native found himself in academic turmoil — that meant no involvement with the team until he fixed up the report card.
He says the time away from the rest of the Bears has helped him view the game through a better perspective, and that he has returned a better and more mature player.
“When I was at home, not getting scholarship checks, I really didn’t know how I was gonna get money,” Hill said. “It was a reality check that you really do need school. If I wanna do this, I gotta get my school down first.”
The result was him being left out of a starting spot on the post-spring two-deep, a role that he’s eager to earn back. Thus far, he’s impressed the staff, with new secondary coach Ashley Ambrose calling him a “utility guy” who can play every position in the backfield.
“I missed the whole spring, missed everything,” Hill said. “Every time I come out here, it’s like a chip on my shoulder.”
He played like he was making up for lost time Wednesday, taking full advantage of extra reps as likely starter Steve Williams was sidelined with an injured hand. During one red zone drill, Hill broke up a pass intended for Keenan Allen that Zach Maynard zipped through the middle.
“You have some that are off-the-charts athletic,” Ambrose said. “(Hill) might not be the top guy that’s the most athletic … He just has that knack for being around the ball.”
—Williams had a cut stitched up between his thumb and his index finger. The sophomore cornerback sat out team drills, but participated in parts of practice.
—Isi Sofele left practice early with some nasty red knots on his cramping calves. The starting tailback strapped packs of ice on the sidelines while Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson and Dasarte Yarnway took extra reps.
—Offensive lineman Alejandro Crosthwaite left practice with a stinger. He was hit when freshman Viliami Moala jumped offsides, and was helped off the turf clutching his shoulder.
—Freshman linebacker Jason Gibson spent practice in a red jersey and boot; he was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain. Sophomore wideout Jackson Bouza has a broken finger that will require surgery.
—Left tackle Mitchell Schwartz is still filling the stationary bike left empty by Shane Vereen, who pedaled away most of last fall camp. Schwartz won’t be rushed back as he rests his hamstring, but Tedford hopes that it will be sooner than later.
“He’s experienced and he’s good, but he’s not that good to just not practice,” Tedford said. “He needs to practice.”