Booming defense, rumbling run game: Takeaways from Cal football’s 2018 Spring Game

Lianne Frick/Staff

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Sophomore cornerback Elijah Hicks and junior cornerback Josh Drayden were geared up in sweats as opposed to pads on Saturday, but their constant dance moves and encouragement from the defensive sideline summed up the day’s festivities. The defense was having fun and playing hard (and getting a good photo-op in here and there) while owning the spotlight during the 2018 Spring Game.

“We want our guys to feel like we’re competing to be the best defense in the Pac-12,” said defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter.

All in all, the Bears laid a solid foundation for themselves and wrapped up their 15-practice spring training. Here are some major takeaways from the game:

Tim DeRuyter and Co. are paving the way for Cal football

DeRuyter — the Bears’ defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach — has taken Cal from the Pac-12’s worst defense to a group containing a strong, inspired core that is fun to watch on and off the field.

“I’ll say this — they was playing like some dogs,” said sophomore wide receiver Jeremiah Hawkins about his defensive teammates.

Starting with the outside linebackers, redshirt sophomore Cameron Goode is a 6’3’’, 220-pound force to be reckoned with. If he hadn’t been trying not to bulldoze his own quarterback, Goode would have had a few sacks on his stat line for the day, leading a defensive group that contained the offense all morning and afternoon. Goode also forced a fumble during live drills after he stripped the ball from redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon McIlwain.

Redshirt senior defensive end Rusty Becker showed some athleticism for being a big guy, getting to the passer several times while receiving praise from his coaches and teammates alike.

The defensive backs also saw gritty performances from safeties redshirt junior Jaylinn Hawkins and redshirt senior Quentin Tartabull, who came up with several mean tackles and quality stops. At cornerback, freshman Chigozie Anusiem and redshirt sophomore Camryn Bynum recorded a handful of pass breakups on the day.

“One of the advantages we have, being here, is I think we’ve got a tremendous offense, tremendous offensive coaches,” said DeRuyter. “They give us so many things that we have to prepare for … so we get a chance to practice against high level, and that’s what pushes you to be better.”

Keep an eye out for Derrick Clark

Clark — a redshirt sophomore and a strong candidate for the No. 2 spot at running back, behind last year’s starter redshirt senior Patrick Laird — had a multitude of impressive runs on the day, showcasing not only his speed but his capability to move laterally. He sprinted out of the gates on the first snap of the fourth and played it live drill, taunting the defenders with his side-to-side movement. Another characteristic of Clark’s skill set is his spin move to break tackles and extend plays.

From fast breaks to longer runs, Clark is a versatile back who also displayed that he has the hands to match his feet, showcasing on several catch-and-run opportunities.

Redshirt freshman Biaggio Ali Walsh also had a solid touchdown run on the day, making it clear that the backs will be fighting for a top spot on the depth chart come September.

Jeremiah Hawkins, tight ends could be a key part of the offense

With presumptive starters including redshirt sophomore Demetris Robertson, redshirt senior Vic Wharton III and redshirt junior Kanawai Noa sitting out the Spring Game, the spotlight shined on some of the lesser-known names on this year’s squad.

It’s safe to say that Jeremiah Hawkins took advantage of the opportunity, exhibiting fast hands and quicker feet while hauling in several passes from a variety of different quarterbacks. Hawkins saw time as a flex receiver and even in motion on a designed fly sweep.

“I know guys are coming back from injury, and at the end of the day, they’re going to come back and try to fight for first-position spots, so you know I’ve got to make it hard for them,” Hawkins said.

Another key name that resurfaced on the afternoon was redshirt senior tight end Ray Hudson, who received another year of eligibility after sitting out last season because of injury. With McIlwain under center, Hudson received back-to-back targets, good for a combined nearly 40 yards down the middle of the field during live drills.

“Everyone’s learning off everybody, and yeah, it’s starting to show as a tight end group because we weren’t existing — now we’re starting to become a big part of the offense,” Hudson said.

Hudson’s presence both on and off the field will undoubtedly make an impact on a re-emerging group of tight ends.

Update on the quarterback competition

Redshirt junior Ross Bowers and redshirt senior Chase Forrest got the official nods as the two starting quarterbacks for the Spring Game. While the two who battled for the starting spots last season donned gold jerseys, McIlwain and redshirt freshman Chase Garbers received near-equal snaps on the day and were donning white jerseys to match the rest of the offensive players.

“They’re all three really, really good quarterbacks who are really good people as well. So it’s just — it’s made the competition fun,” Bowers said. “You know it’s really brought the best out of me. … Because now I’ve got to be on top of my game, you know, I got guys biting at my heels.”

Bowers didn’t complete too many standout passes and was highly targeted by the defense. But his hard work that ultimately led him to earning the starting job last season was reflected on a late touchdown fade pass to junior Jordan Duncan, good for 16 yards that had remnants of the 2017 season.

Garbers and Forrest showcased their pocket awareness and got off a handful of short passes throughout practice.

McIlwain, on the other hand, had flashes of potential throughout practice but was ultimately inconsistent with his play. His ability to run and take the ball himself was well-matched by the defense.

Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink To That)” blared in the background as the Bears got things started, but perhaps the song should have wrapped up the day. Starting the season off on a strong note while laying a great foundation for fall camp — the Bears will cheer to that.

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