Music blasted, people sweat, whistles blared and position groups were littered across different parts of the field — day one of the Cal football team’s training camp certainly overstimulated the senses. With so much going on, we’ll break down day one of fall camp into its main takeaways and points of interest.
There is a clear frontrunner for starting quarterback
The day began with the defensive backs dominating the one-on-one drills. Overthrown balls were a new sight for what has been an explosive offense since head coach Sonny Dykes took over. Even as things improved for the passing game, one thing was clear:
Jared Goff is not walking through that door.
But with a stable of quarterbacks aching for playing time, the Bears aren’t exactly going to be throwing a punchless offense out there when the season kicks off in Australia on Aug. 26. Less than four weeks before that season opener, the competition for the new signal-caller is still not over, but graduate transfer Davis Webb got his first chance to establish himself as the frontrunner.
He showed off an impressive arm that can make any pass asked of it. Webb’s accuracy definitely could use some work, but his deep ball was just about perfect — he hit freshman Melquise Stovall on throws of 44 and 35 yards during the scrimmage portion of practice.
“With Davis Webb being here, I think that’s upped everyone’s game in the quarterback room,” said Cal offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. “Over the summertime, you can tell that (the quarterbacks) picked up a lot on their individual work, and they also did a lot of studying in the film room.”
Webb struggled with his shorter passes, however, including a particularly soft throw to the flat that got picked off by redshirt freshman cornerback Ashtyn Davis.
The other quarterbacks in the mix for the starting job, redshirt freshman Ross Bowers and redshirt sophomore Chase Forrest, had mixed performances. Bowers’ day was largely unremarkable, but Forrest really struggled.
Forrest overthrew a few of his receivers, throwing balls too high and out of bounds on more than one occasion. He managed to place a few balls perfectly, but he was not his polished and steady self from spring ball. Though some of this can likely be attributed to the long layoff since spring ball, this probably wasn’t the type of audition Forrest wanted to put out there on day one of camp.
The star freshmen are already impressive
Stovall has been electric since he joined the Bears in the spring. He’s impossible to tackle and his shiftiness applies to route running as well, where he seems to always get open. He gives Cal a perimeter threat and puts defenders at constant risk of being put on a highlight reel every time he is on the field — something he already demonstrated Monday.
“I felt fast, getting in and out of my breaks very quick,” Stovall said. “Overall it was a great day.”
While Stovall had already demonstrated his talent, Monday was freshman receiver Demetris Robertson’s first chance to show he was worth the five-star hype, and he immediately impressed. His athleticism clearly translates to the next level, as Robertson — who says he runs a 4.25-second 40-yard dash — was the fastest guy on the field.
He still needs to hone his craft and improve his mechanics, but Robertson — like Stovall — has the tools to be a star down the road.
The receiving corps is deep but will miss the players that left
The Cal receivers mostly struggled to create separation as practice began, with the corners doing some pretty impressive press work. Stovall was the notable exception, getting a cornerback to the ground with a cut while route-running and beating another one for a deep score.
Despite Stovall’s strong performance, the Bears were clearly missing the standouts from last year’s receiving corps. The team’s top six receivers from 2015 are all gone this year, taking what was the Bears’ most experienced unit into one that now has to rely on youth.
Redshirt junior Chad Hansen is Cal’s top returning receiver, after recording 249 yards last season. With so many young guys set to play significant roles next season, Hansen has become the unit’s leader.
“Chad’s been great. He leads by example and is starting to be a little more vocal out there,” Spavital said. “I think this could be a special year for him.”
Hansen figures to be the No. 1 option, no matter who the quarterback is, and he connected with Webb on a beautiful deep ball in one-on-one drills.
Behind Hansen, things are a bit murkier, with eight or nine receivers legitimately in the mix for reps during the season. This creates a deep unit, but one without as many players ready to be stars as last year’s, where any and all of the top contributors could explode on a given day.
The defensive backfield could surprise some people
A core tenet of Cal’s defensive struggles in recent years has been shoddy play by the defensive backs. Things started to change last season, when safety Damariay Drew played like a superstar, consistently making tackles as the last line of defense.
Drew, however, is still out nursing a significant knee injury and is set to possibly miss the whole regular season. Fellow safety Griffin Piatt retired after a slate of his own knee injuries, and Cal lost an additional pair of key defensive back contributors in Stefan McClure and Darius White.
Despite all these losses, the Bears’ corners and safeties looked impressive Monday. Redshirt senior Khari Vanderbilt and Davis both secured interceptions, while sophomore Trey Turner picked off two passes.
These guys are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Cal’s depth in the defensive backfield, with Cameron Walker, Darius Allensworth and Evan Rambo among the others who will be relied upon.
“One of the main things we’ve wanted to do this year is get a lot of athletes on the field,” Allensworth said. “Getting them running around so we can make plays.”
Cal will be wanting for clear stars, leaving them vulnerable to some of the more talented receiving corps they’ll come up against, but they have plenty of players who can contribute and keep everyone fresh.