Joyous cheers erupted at the end of Cal’s Saturday morning workout. A later afternoon practice in shells was cancelled, giving the players — with Sunday already off — a free rest of the weekend.
“Great work, great work today,” Jeff Tedford said of the session, which concluded the team’s first full week of camp. “Very physical, energetic … They came out charged, ready to go.”
Yet, while most players were clearing out, the tailbacks stayed behind for an extra few minutes in running game coordinator Ron Gould’s dog house.
The reason? To practice extra ball security drills. According to Gould, fumbling was a problem for many of the backs on Saturday; in one sequence, junior transfer C.J. Anderson broke out a big run down the left sideline, only to cough up the ball on the very next play.
“Well, today we were awful,” Gould said. “The guys had been doing a great job, we were progressing, making improvements every single day, but today we took a back seat … We got to concentrate.”
Tedford did mention that junior running back Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson has started to make a strong push for the team’s back-up spot behind Isi Sofele. Out of shape during spring practice, DeBoskie-Johnson — who backed up Shane Vereen in 2009 following Jahvid Best’s season-ending injury — has shown up to fall camp trimmed down.
Tedford highlighted a recent goal line play where DeBoskie-Johnson was one-on-one against senior linebacker Mychal Kendricks and “ran right through him” after putting the pads down.
Talking about his tailback’s rising stock, Gould commended DeBoskie-Johnson’s “vastly improved” pass protection.
“That’s one of the things I told him he needed to do if was going to play for me,” Gould said. “He’s done a fairly good job at picking up those blitzers, understanding the protections — he’s a very smart guy.”
With Cal’s most experienced backs taking control of the top two spots, the No. 3 position — still up for grabs — should be a battle. Freshman Brendan Bigelow, junior college transfers C.J. Anderson and Mike Manuel and redshirt sophomore Dasarte Yarnway will be vying for the spot.
Defensive youngsters impress
The Cal defense may have lost three players to the NFL, but it’s new talent could help put up even better numbers in the new Pac-12.
The squad’s front seven boasts incredible depth, and freshman Chris McCain is one player who has turned heads throughout the first week of fall camp.
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound linebacker from Greensboro, N.C. is built like a basketball forward, with a wingspan that makes him a threat to disrupt or intercept passes. Combine that with his speed, and you get someone who will see time on the outside sooner than later.
“I call him ‘Gadget,’”Tedford said. “His arms, you try to throw it in the flat or do something, he’ll be right there. You think you have it — zheew — there goes that arm and he knocks it down.”
Some new faces will also show up in the defensive backfield. Safety Avery Walls and cornerback Stefan McClure, both four-star recruits, have already been getting first- and second-team reps, and both will provide depth in the secondary as freshmen.
Tedford already expects the highly-touted Walls, who turned down offers from Oregon and Michigan, to be one of the Bears’ best special teams players this fall.
Also in the mix are Kameron Jackson and Joel Willis, completing a freshman quartet that new secondary coach Ashley Ambrose thinks is the best he’s ever seen.
“These guys, they can become game-changers,” Ambrose said. “All four.”
— Starting fullback Eric Stevens will be out for the entire 2011 season after tearing the ACL in his right knee during Wednesday’s full pads practice session.
The junior was injured when he planted his leg awkwardly during a team drill. He had initially not felt any soreness after the injury, only saying that the knee felt unstable. A later MRI delivered the unfortunate news, and left him sidelined with crutches for the team’s second practice in full pads on Thursday.
Senior Will Kapp now takes over as the No. 1 fullback, with John Tyndall and Nico Dumont behind him.
— Left tackle Mitchell Schwartz was fully back in action on Saturday after being limited for the first week by a nagging hamstring. Meanwhile, linebacker Jason Gibson has returned from his ankle sprain.
— This week, the team will do some dress rehearsals for its playing experience in San Francisco. The Bears will have practice at AT&T Park on Tuesday and the first of two August sessions at Evans Diamond the following day. Their very last fall practice is set for Candlestick Park, the site of the team’s 2011’s opener against Fresno State.