“The head turn is everything,” Cal football wide receivers coach Rob Likens instructed receiver De’Zhon Grace after running a quick curl route. “You need to sell it.”
3:30 p.m. marked the start of the second day of the Bears’ fall training camp, but Grace and Likens, standing on the goal line, were putting in a little bit of extra work before the clock officially called in the start of practice. Grace, a transfer from Willamette, is a short but shifty receiver, a tad unrefined technique-wise but with plenty of speed to make up for it. Sheer talent, however, isn’t going to be enough to earn playing time in this particular receiving corps — judging by the talent on display Tuesday, there will be plenty of players fighting for small slivers of playing time.
It’s known the receiving corps is by far Cal’s deepest position group. Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper are known commodities at this point, but the Bears have been recruiting their asses off at wideout for at least a good three years now. And the fruits of those labors were evident Tuesday; in fact, it seemed the pass catching talent went three depth charts deep.
Obviously, it’s easy to come to unreasonably optimistic conclusions on the second day of camp. For the most part, you’re watching guys run around with literally no one in front of them. On the times you’re seeing the receiver actually go up against someone on defense, it’s usually in single coverage with no pads. In this context, it’s easy to see everyone as unstoppably athletic. The thing about college football, though, is that everyone is unstoppably athletic.
Even considering those caveats, there’s evidently enviable depth behind superstars Harper and Treggs. Trevor Davis, a transfer from Hawaii, has already been written about extensively here and in other places, so I won’t spend too much time writing about him. But the size, the speed, the cuts all resemble a NFL-quality player. Not to say he’s as good as Keenan Allen, but it’s the same feeling I got when I watched the former Cal superstar. He just looks a cut above everyone in the smoothness of his motion.
It’s something you notice when you’re watching the best receivers just run through basic drills. Their cuts are just a little bit sharper, the way they bring the ball into their bodies just a bit smoother. They’re tiny degrees of difference, but they become evident while watching rep after rep.
And a few players — either scarce contributors last year or complete newcomers — proved themselves to be close to that Harper, Treggs and Davis level Tuesday. We knew Jack Austin, an upcoming redshirt freshman, had size, but he beat seemingly every cornerback thrown at him in 1-on-1s. He dropped a couple of passes, but hardly anyone was getting as consistently open.
Maurice Harris flashed potential last year, making the SportsCenter Top 10 plays at least once, but could never seem to put it together on a game-to-game basis. The strength and hands displayed in practice are showing that he’s going to be a valuable contributor if he does find that consistency.
Kenny Lawler and Stephen Anderson are likely to play more than Austin or Harris, and that’s justified. But the depth Likens has seen in camp — as they like to say — that’s a good problem to have.