This isn’t the Philadelphia 76ers — Cal football head coach Justin Wilcox makes sure to stray from photos of “inspirational” quotes and mottos in his workplace — but there is a process unfolding in Berkeley, and there may be reason to trust it.
On day three of Cal football’s fall camp, the Bears sported pads for the first time, with action on the field getting chippy and physical. From one-on-one work to team drills, coach Gerald Alexander’s defensive backs, along with Peter Sirmon’s linebackers, proved that they remain gritty elements of Cal’s game.
“We weren’t always clean, offense wasn’t always clean — but the effort, the emotion, the physicality was evident,” said defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. “Probably as physical of a period that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
With the Bears’ defensive scheme marinating in its second season under Wilcox’s 3-4, Cal is looking to build upon strides made last year and to solidify its secondary as a genuine threat to Pac-12 offenses.
Cal has solid depth at the safety position, including seasoned players in redshirt juniors Jaylinn Hawkins and Ashtyn Davis, along with some fresh faces such as freshman Steve Mcintosh. Mcintosh arguably had the nicest hit of the day during the Team Huddle 2 drill, and the rookie got his whole defensive sideline fired up and rowdy.
“(Coach Alexander) preaches that everything starts with us,” Davis said. “How we perform, how we come out with our energy, and it just kind of bleeds through the whole team.”
At cornerback, fans should get used to seeing sophomore Elijah Hicks and redshirt sophomore Camryn Bynum monitoring opposing deep threats. Cal retained all but two corners who saw playing time in 2017, which is made evident when watching the group’s energy and relationships on the field.
“Culture” has been a recurring word surrounding the Bears’ program for some months now, and the defensive backs have established a culture of their own.
“We’re all competing for a certain job — corners, safeties, nobody is satisfied,” Hicks said. “But we do have that type of vibe, that’s … like, ‘OK, I know we’re competing, but look, this can help you, this can make you better.’ ”
With redshirt senior inside linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk overseeing the middle of the field, the Bears have a veteran leading tackler who almost seamlessly replaces the role of now-Minnesota Viking Devante Downs. Other names to watch for are redshirt junior Gerran Brown and freshman Evan Tattersall.
“When it comes down to business, we like to get to it,” said redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Cameron Goode. “We’re all very hard workers, and we keep everybody in check.”
Throughout the spring, Wilcox praised Goode for being a dynamic and athletic player, along with being the team’s best natural pass rusher. Goode and fellow outside linebacker senior Alex Funches provide strength and quickness to the defensive front — a duo that is eager to “get to it” come Sept. 1.
Three fall camp days down, 11 to go, with action resuming tomorrow.
Christie Aguilar is the sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].