Cal football battles weather, defense shows promise in spring practice No. 9

2017-08-01-justin-wilcox_169a4490_calathletics
Cal Athletics/Courtesy

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Inconsistency in Berkeley’s weather is inconvenient to many folks, but inconsistency in its football team has been disheartening to thousands of fans. Monday was full of patchy wet weather, but the sky cleared up just as Cal took the field for its ninth spring practice.

Each day of spring ball serves as a small step toward assuring that in 2018, the Bears’ play doesn’t make them feel as bad as forgetting an umbrella and having to walk in the rain.

“I feel like you could see it in our play; everyone across the board is a lot more comfortable,” said redshirt junior outside linebacker Malik Psalms.

Redshirt junior Ross Bowers owned the first round of fastball drills, but he’s lucky that his teammates aren’t looking to mow him down — or at least they aren’t allowed to mow him down. On the drive, Bowers would have been sacked by redshirt senior safety Quentin Tartabull and senior outside linebacker Alex Funches.

The defenders’ work in the weight room in the offseason could be a driving force behind their fresh ferocity.

“The weight room is a big emphasis for us, you know, just to show how much work that we’ve put into each other,” Psalms said. “But at the end of the day, it’s football… I could lift a thousand pounds on a bench and squat, but if I’m over here getting bullied… it don’t mean nothing.”

The aggressiveness on the defensive side was well-received, and it is a good sign for Cal’s defense that it made significant improvements last season in head coach Justin Wilcox’s first year at the helm.

Next up in fastball was redshirt senior Chase Forrest. The highlight of his drive was a handoff to redshirt sophomore running back Derrick Clark, who took off on a mean run and dodged his teammates on defense with ease.

While that drive was not as good of a sign for Cal’s defense in the grander scheme of things, it was a good sign for a recently depleted list of running backs.

Within the talk of tailbacks and the running game in general, senior fullback/tight end Malik McMorris is a player who comes to mind. Even surrounded by the hulks that make up Cal’s offensive line, he is easy to recognize  on the field.

McMorris dropped about 20 pounds in the offseason, and he now stands at around 5’11” and 292 pounds. The veteran’s primary job is to protect the run and, every once in a while, leak out on a passing route.

McMorris had some shining moments in 2017, and the Bears will look to further utilize their big man, especially during goal-line or short-yardage situations. This time around, however, the players he is protecting look rather different in Clark, redshirt freshman Biaggio Ali Walsh and redshirt junior running back Alex Netherda.

“Those are good guys, smart guys that understand the game of football. And having coach (Burt) Toler with them, you know — he’s brought something to that room with a lot of energy, and those guys are really going, so it’ll be fine,” said McMorris.

The Bears’ defense was juiced during the first rotation of skelly, during which redshirt junior safety Ashtyn Davis picked off Bowers and cornerback redshirt sophomore cornerback Bryce Turner picked off Forrest.

Throughout the drill, Netherda — the largest back on staff — showcased his power with a few 15+-yard runs. Overall, the quarterbacks logged some decent passes, and redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon McIlwain made it known that he can put up serious numbers by extending plays with his feet.

All in all, practice No. 9 is in the books, and the Bears are just that much closer to the start of the 2018 season.

“It was just, you know, be able to focus — keep the focus throughout, you know, a longer practice like that; we’ve got to improve as a team,” Wilcox said.

Christie Aguilar is an assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].

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