Sophomore wide receiver Jeremiah Hawkins said it best — he loves his defense and he loves his team, but he’s eager to go up against new faces. After weeks of training against the defense they’ll be cheering on during game days this fall, Hawkins and the offense are looking forward to competing against anything that doesn’t resemble the team’s white practice jerseys.
“(We’re) just ready to let the training wheels off and just start going,” Hawkins said.
On day 10 of Cal football’s fall camp, the clouds and cold hung around all practice, but the Bears stayed warm on the field with plenty of live drills as they transitioned back to full-pad attire.
One such drill that always makes for a good show is the one-on-one, during which a receiver tests his skills against his teammates in the secondary. It was a fairly even split on Tuesday between Cal’s offensive and defensive weapons, but one thing is for sure — everyone is keeping track of who’s got ownage.
Early on in the drill, Hawkins cooked redshirt junior safety Jaylinn Hawkins with a double move that separated the two by several yards — the family matchup has been a competitive one all camp.
“I want (Jaylinn) to come back harder, and if he doesn’t, he’s going to hear it,” Jeremiah Hawkins said. “I got to let him know because that’s what the opponent’s going to do. … He’s either going to fold when he hears (the opponent) and not perform after, or he’s going to make a play next time.”
Another receiver who tends to excel against his defensive matchup is junior wide receiver Jordan Duncan. The third-year veteran — who stands at 6’1’’, 205 pounds — was praised by receivers coach Nicholas Edwards for his great work on the field from day one up until now.
“People don’t think Jordan Duncan is very fast, but Jordan Duncan does a great job with his technique, getting over the top and beating fast guys that we have on our team,” Edwards said.
Duncan echoed Jeremiah Hawkins’ sentiments when discussing training camp competition between receivers and defensive backs.
“It’s all competition — I’m making them better, they’re making me better at the end of the day,” Duncan said. “You’ve got to have that; that’s what makes the game fun.”
Elsewhere along the receivers line, presumptive starters redshirt senior Vic Wharton III and redshirt junior Kanawai Noa made themselves known throughout the morning, increasing their workload after easing into camp during the first week of practice. Noa’s rise to becoming one of redshirt junior quarterback Ross Bowers’ favorite targets last year is deservedly a top priority for opposing defenses in the early going.
While it’s easy to expect another productive season out of both Wharton and Noa, it remains to be seen what role redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon McIlwain will play in offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin’s scheme — at least initially.
McIlwain’s quickness and ability to extend plays with his feet have challenged Bowers throughout camp, but he also attributes his development to the friendly quarterback battle that has carried over from spring.
“We can feed off of each other a lot, and we’re all getting a lot better,” McIlwain said of the team’s five quarterbacks. “You get to see what a lot of other good players are doing, and we get to learn a lot from each other, and I think it’s great how our team is doing.”
Whether McIlwain starts, is utilized in goal-line situations or plays sparingly, his teammates are electrified by the tools he already possesses.
“He gives us more more versatility; you know, somebody that can throw and run at the same time,” Duncan said about McIlwain. “He can keep the defense on their heels because you don’t know what he can do.”
Ten fall camp days down, with four to go, with action resuming tomorrow.