There may not be the thousands who converge upon California Memorial Stadium on Saturdays during the fall months, but Cal football did have a crowd on hand to soak in day two of the team’s fall training camp.
The beginning of the weekend and an event for season ticket holders combined with beautiful weather brought a couple dozen spectators to the field Saturday morning. While it’s difficult to take away a lot from two padless days of practice, just getting players onto the field together has already gone a long way.
Head coach Justin Wilcox accentuated the importance of shedding rust throughout the first few days of camp, focusing on assignments and alignments to get his players back up to speed.
“You can work through a lot of the fundamentals throughout summer, but not all of them,” Wilcox said. “There’s a conditioning element to playing football that you just can’t replicate. So (shedding rust) encompasses all of those things.”
For the second day in a row, defensive backs sported sweatshirts and sweatpants underneath their practice tops, a strategy intended to get them used to uncomfortable conditions during game environments.
Unlike most position groups, the secondary has the benefit of returning all four starters and top rotation players from last season, a huge plus for a group whose goal is to be the nation’s top unit. The chemistry within that group has allowed position coach Gerald Alexander and company to implement new disguises and build off of the communication platform that was grounded last year.
“We’re just playing as brothers at this point,” said redshirt senior strong safety Jaylinn Hawkins. “Communication is there. Everyone knows where to be, and we can try different things. We’ve been through battles together, so it just draws us closer together.”
While the secondary remains intact, a new addition to the linebackers core is beginning to reap benefits for Hawkins and fellow starting safety Ashtyn Davis.
At 6’6”, junior college transfer Kuony Deng looks more like a basketball wing player than a developing inside linebacker, but his length and athleticism alongside Evan Weaver have disrupted passing lanes early and often.
“He helps a lot,” Hawkins said of Deng. “Having him play in the middle allows there to be more flight time on the ball, so that gives us more opportunities for picks. He’s a great player, and that’s going to help out our defense. He’s been disrupting passes every day.”
As Deng continues to adjust to his new surroundings, Cal’s unproven receiving core has been facing the most scrutiny of any position group on the depth chart. Senior Jordan Duncan, who was frequently targeted by Chase Garbers during the late morning’s no-tackle passing drills, is the lone wideout with more than a year of starting experience with the program.
The only other starting receiver from late last season returning to the Bears is sophomore Nikko Remigio, whose role and importance in the offensive scheme are expected to grow twofold. While Remigio was targeted just twice by Garbers during Saturday’s ghost drills, the slot receiver noted that their chemistry has taken strides forward this offseason.
“That was one of the biggest things that we did want to work on during the offseason, and I think we did an excellent job of getting it done,” Remigio said. “Obviously, there’s still work to be done for the receivers and quarterbacks as a whole, so I think this fall camp we’ll put the time in to get it done.”
Remigio won’t have to carry the pressure of reigniting Cal’s offense alone, as transfers Trevon Clark and Kekoa Crawford have already made their presence known in limited action thus far. Both brought in to ameliorate the team’s lack of explosive plays, Clark has taken early reps outside the hashes, while Crawford has been seen running routes out of the slot.
Garbers and former UCLA product Devon Modster continue to split reps with the first team, and although Garbers has the upper hand in familiarity with both coaches and players, each quarterback has shown progress since fans saw them both last spring.
While first, second and scout teams are far from being determined, the team did nail down one bit of business in the “pecking order” department. Wilcox kicked off his post-practice notes by announcing that Weaver, cornerback Camryn Bynum and offensive lineman Jake Curhan were voted upon as the program’s seasonlong captains.
“It’s just an honor to represent the team as a captain and knowing that my teammates need me as a leader and see me as a captain,” Bynum said. “I’m just honored to be viewed by my teammates as that.”