*Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap*
“CAL — CAL — SET!”
Quarterback Chase Garbers extends his arms, putting his hands together five times before setting them still. He yells for the snap from his center, but the five-man offensive front doesn’t move.
Across the line of scrimmage, at least one defensive lineman flinches and crosses into the neutral zone. A few hollers and laughs emanate from the sideline.
The ol’ hard count was back and working on day five of Cal football’s fall training camp. While full pads are still stored away and won’t make an appearance until later this week, shoulder pads have made their 2019 debut as the Bears continue to brush aside offseason rust.
“Energy’s been great, as you’d expect,” said head coach Justin Wilcox. “I thought the guys, especially the veterans, got into the swing of things fairly quickly, but now it’s about the details about everything that we’re doing. And then the newcomers and the younger guys, it’s just about how many reps we can get them and how much teaching time we can get them in the classroom and then out on the field.”
Questions about Cal’s unproven receivers have persisted throughout the offseason and much of the first week of fall camp. Beau Baldwin’s offense has yet to place labels on players, but a variety of drills have offered some insight into the skillsets of new and returning playmakers. Nikko Remigio? Consistent. Kekoa Crawford? Flashy. Jordan Duncan? Continues to give all-out effort for balls thrown down the sideline.
Unlike the first few practices, day five was sped up because of the addition of shoulder pads, with periods focused on third-down and red-zone execution, key components of the team’s agenda.
Notably, the graduation of left tackle Patrick Mekari and center Addison Ooms have created openings and fluidity on the offensive line. Michael Saffell, Gentle Williams and Matthew Cindric have been taking the majority of reps snapping the ball, although true freshman Brayden Rohme has gotten a look as well.
Tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo has seamlessly made his transition after spending last year running Cal’s quarterback room. In light of Ian Bunting’s departure at the end of last year, redshirt sophomore Collin Moore and redshirt freshman McCallan Castles have made the most of their targets so far from Garbers and Devon Modster.
The detail-oriented Tuiasosopo is a big reason why tight ends are poised to make a bigger impact this fall.
“Coming from the quarterback position and from for him coaching quarterbacks, he has a base understanding of the offense that’s just second to none,” Moore said. “We really get to see why we’re doing stuff, because we might be getting someone else open or how important one step is.”
Defensively, Tim DeRuyter has been operating without his two primary nose guards, redshirt sophomore Siulagisipai Fuimaono and true sophomore Aaron Maldonado, both of whom have been missing from camp thus far for personal reasons.
Defensive ends Luc Bequette and Lone Toailoa have stepped up in their absence, while true freshman defensive tackle Brett Johnson has made an immediate impact and could play into first-year defensive line coach Andrew Browning’s plans. While Wilcox did not offer a timetable for the return of Fuimaono or Maldonado, he praised both veterans and newcomers in attacking the situation as a “committee.”
“The physical tools, in terms of his size and athleticism — he definitely has a chance (to play this season),” Wilcox said of Johnson. “But there’s more to it than that, so we’re going to spend a ton of time with him during meetings, walk-throughs and practice and see how he grows.”
Other new faces whose play stood out come from Gerald Alexander’s secondary group. Starting positions are all but locked down already, but redshirt freshman Chigozie Anusiem and true freshman Jaylen Martin held their own consistently throughout one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills on Tuesday.
Anusiem, who will challenge Traveon Beck and Josh Drayden for reps in different packages, deflected several passes toward the end of red-zone drills, while Martin completed a spectacular interception during one-on-ones.
With Wednesday representing a day off from the turf, the Bears concluded practice with a makeshift Slip ‘N Slide competition. Having already drafted “teams” for extracurricular fall camp competitions, it was evident that players and coaches alike were all business when things came down to the wire.
Deep down, however, every competition — from the quarterbacks to the tight ends to who can glide 50-plus yards on a wet plastic tarp — is a step toward unity.
“There’s a lot of opportunity, and we all want to go out there and compete and play and bring the best out of each other, but also pick each other up,” Moore said. “We’re not hoping one person gets success over another; we all just want to be connected as a group.”