Each year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game comes around signifying the start of the NFL season, and though it is just an exhibition game, fans can’t help but proclaim, “Football is back!”
For Cal football, the hall of fame equivalent to its season came Saturday — referees made their way onto the field during day eight of fall camp, when the Bears scrimmaged each other live for the first time in camp.
“The practice element is all preparation,” said associate head coach defense and inside linebackers coach Peter Sirmon. “Then you get in the live situations and that’s when we start making a lot more of our evaluations of who is going to be in the rotation and who we have to get ready for the first game.”
From redshirt sophomore running back Derrick Clark racking up solid yards — fighting his way to move the chains even after initial contact — to redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Cameron Goode recording three sacks and keeping pressure on the quarterback, both the offense and defense had shining moments, though both sides still have tightening up to do.
Clark, who exhibited both shiftiness and strength during live situations, credits his performance to head strength and conditioning coach Torre Becton for getting his lower body right.
“One thing I wanted to improve off of from the spring is my lower half, so I feel like I’ve done that and I feel really good,” Clark said.
Along with being a threat in the run game, Clark also has ample faith in his ability to catch passes.
“I did a lot of work in the spring with my hands — I always felt I had good hands,” Clark said. “But you know in this game … you’ve always got to practice and always make sure that you’ve got your weapons ready.”
Another weapon poised to take a step forward this fall is Goode. While he is quiet in nature off of the field — similar to redshirt senior inside linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk — Goode’s performance on the field speaks for itself.
“I don’t do too much talking off the field, but when I’m on the field it’s time to shine,” Goode said.
In nine games played in 2017, Goode totaled just 1.5 sacks, but Cal fans should expect that number to make a significant jump in 2018.
“I’ve been working on my technique trying to get to the quarterback, working on my speed,” Goode said. “I’m just trying to rush up the field and just bend that corner.”
Under center, redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon McIlwain donned a blue jersey — a change from his usual gold practice jersey — giving the green light to the defense to tackle the passer throughout drills.
McIlwain strung together several impressive runs to lead the offense to the red zone, complemented by a few impressive passes through the air.
Redshirt junior quarterback Ross Bowers remained in a yellow jersey — which meant if the defense touched him, they would be reamed out by the coaching staff. Unlike McIlwain, Bowers had a shaky outing, tossing an interception during live situations and at times struggling to locate receivers. Though it was only one practice, Bowers will have little room for error in the coming practices as he seeks to be remain the starter.
On the flip side, Bowers did have his moments — connecting nicely with redshirt senior tight end Ray Hudson and redshirt senior wide receiver Moe Ways early in the day, and throwing a touchdown pass to junior Jordan Duncan.
The receivers gave the secondary plenty of work throughout the day and provided exciting matchups for the fans in the stands enjoying open practice. A particular one-on-one matchup that stood out was Ways battling redshirt sophomore cornerback Camryn Bynum, who is aiming to build off an impressive first year as a starter.
Led by defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander, Bynum and the rest of the secondary kept up their notorious energy on defense. Junior cornerback Josh Drayden had himself a day, coming up with an interception off of Bowers.
“Josh is a guy that can do multiple things — he can play outside and corner, he can play inside and nickel,” Alexander said. “(He’s) very smart, he can play man coverage, can play zone coverage, and so he presents versatility in our secondary and along with other guys.”
Eight fall camp days down, six to go, with action resuming Monday.
Christie Aguilar is the sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].