Defense stands tall on day 13 of Cal football’s fall camp

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It’s official: Redshirt junior safety Ashtyn Davis leads the secondary in interceptions since fall practices began.

At the expense of an up-and-down Cal football offense, defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s arsenal had a day to remember on the penultimate day of fall camp. Davis’ pick off the hands of freshman receiver Nikko Remigio vaulted him into sole possession of the lead in the secondary’s friendly competition to see who can rack up the most turnovers.

The sun was shining on flashback Friday for day 13 of fall camp, with AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” igniting the team during pre-practice stretch and into special teams drills. Right off the bat, an encouraging sign could be found not just in the defense but also in the feet of Cal’s kickers searching for an identity to replace longtime starter Matt Anderson, the program’s all-time leading scorer.

After a prolonged struggle that has raised eyebrows throughout the past couple of weeks, the four placekickers seemed to find a rhythm in the early going of Friday’s session. As a group, redshirt sophomore Gabe Siemieniec, redshirt freshman Chris Landgrebe and freshmen Dario Longhetto and Greg Thomas began the day by connecting on seven of their eight attempts from various distances between 39 and 44 yards.

Later in the day, it was Siemieniec and Landgrebe who were able to lock up a perfect morning of kicking, each nailing attempts from 47 yards to conclude practice.

It was evident that special teams were a critical priority for the Bears, as head coach Justin Wilcox dialed up several drills focused on kickoff returns, field goal defense and blocking techniques in the open field. The latter brought out vitality from coaches that spread like wildfire among the players competing.

To the delight of special teams coordinator Charlie Ragle, one such instance of extra intensity featured junior linebacker Evan Weaver and freshman tailback Christopher Brown Jr., a pair that spent an extra few seconds aggressively blocking each other after the play had ended.

But special teams weren’t the only focus of practice that instigated friendly fire. During individual drills, wide receivers coach Nicholas Edwards and defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander opted to bring their groups together in a duel between the team’s offensive and defensive playmakers.

Each receiver and each member of the secondary paired up to practice getting off the line of scrimmage, with notable pairings featuring Remigio and junior cornerback Josh Drayden, and redshirt senior Moe Ways against redshirt junior Jaylinn Hawkins. With Edwards and Alexander animated and facilitating the competition, there’s little doubt that both sides brought their A-game to the table.

In the end, the defense got the last laugh of the morning with a series of stops during team competition, forcing seven incompletions and a sack in a row against redshirt junior Ross Bowers and redshirt sophomore Brandon McIlwain. The sack of Bowers, which came from senior inside linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk, provoked the entire defensive sideline into a rambunctious roar, while those on the offensive side scratched their heads in defeat.

While Bowers displayed several bursts with his legs and made a handful of smart decisions, his high throw to redshirt junior Kanawai Noa late in practice found its way into the waiting hands of Drayden, who slid in celebration before returning back to his sideline.

Moments later, redshirt freshman Chase Garbers saw his final pass of the morning deflect off Remigio and into Davis’ hands, giving the redshirt junior his fourth pick of camp.

Josh Yuen is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020.