Cal football has a history of bringing receivers in motion across the field. Think DeSean Jackson, Keenan Allen and, in recent years, Chad Hansen and Kanawai Noa — traditional wideouts with big play potential when the rock is in their possession.
While Thursday’s fall camp practice mirrored a Monday morning workout more than a full-out scrimmage, bringing players in motion offered an extra spark to the team’s offensive progression. Compared to last week’s installation periods, it was evident to several coaches that cuts were made with a little extra conviction than just days prior.
“Our technique in our motions and in our shifts (has improved),” said offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin. “We were really kind of lethargic doing it; we weren’t stressing the defense. And today, all of a sudden, we were hitting those motions with good spacing, full speed and getting to the proper areas. So that was a night-and-day difference.”
The bar set by playmakers of the program’s past is quite high to say the least, but Cal’s budding group of receivers has made the most of its opportunities thus far at camp. Slot receiver Nikko Remigio and transfer Kekoa Crawford did not practice on Thursday, allowing the likes of Trevon Clark, Ricky Walker III and Makai Polk to show out in limited seven-on-seven action.
Receivers coach Burl Toler III, a former Cal star himself, likes to keep his evaluations simple but direct. One week in, he likes what he’s seeing.
“Nobody’s waiting — everybody’s jumping and taking advantage of every opportunity right now,” Toler said. “The thing about camp is that everything’s evaluated. We’re taking notes on who’s first to the meetings, whose catch chart, blocking … everything’s being evaluated right now.”
Unlike last fall, the offensive progression through six days is significantly ahead of schedule. Baldwin noted that the framework of about “85 to 90 percent” of the offense, five installations, has already been grounded and practiced to a solid extent. Last year at this time, about three installations had been implemented, according to Baldwin.
The fast pace of camp this time around has not fazed the young and unproven offense one bit. Cal coaches are eager that this change will spark an offense eager to erase the memory of last season’s inconsistency.
“Other people would argue to not move on until you’ve mastered something,” Baldwin said. “So there is a give-and-take with that and a lot of different theories with how to do it, but we’ve attacked it this way, and I think it all depends on the players allowing you to do that. We believe they can handle it, and they’re showing that.”
Quarterbacks Chase Garbers and Devon Modster showed promise in the run-pass option game on Thursday, finding their outlet when necessary and keeping the ball to themselves on several plays. Tailback Christpoher Brown Jr. continues to earn his reps with the first group, while Marcel Dancy offers a change-of-pace look.
DeShawn Collins, Alex Netherda and DeCarlos Brooks round out running backs coach Nick Edwards’ room, a group that has niches lined up for just about every player already. While Netherda doesn’t figure to be a feature back in his final season of eligibility, his impact is tremendous in countless other ways.
As the lone tailback with more than two years of fall camp experience at Cal, Netherda is a de facto “lead by example” guy — one of the hardest-working players behind the scenes and also an instrumental voice on and off the field. His early returns from the running backs group are promising.
“Everybody’s got a really good understanding of the offense and how it works and what our role is in it,” Netherda said. “We know that camp’s not the most fun, but when we’re in the meeting room, we know it’s time to lock in and hone our craft, and it’s great. It doesn’t feel like everyone’s lagging behind or we have to pull anyone by their collar.”
As Netherda’s experience and good humor keep the tailbacks rooted, right guard Valentino Daltoso is busy spearheading the offensive line’s bonding experience throughout camp. Although Michael Saffell is the offensive line’s camp dress code manager (Hawaiian shirts and Crocs in 2018, overalls in 2019), Daltoso has been around the block a few times when it comes to welcoming new faces.
“Sometimes after meetings we’ll all go out and eat food and stuff, but also, it’s little things like in the lunch room … going and sitting down with some freshmen who are kind of clumped together,” Daltoso said. “Including people and bringing everybody together — we’re working on setting an example for the other guys.”
Looking ahead, full pads are set to make their 2019 debut on Friday. While live drills may remain limited until next week, expect both sides of the ball to accelerate their progression.
“Putting on pads will just be another element to see as we get closer to games,” Toler said. “(It’s seeing) what they can be like from a more physical standpoint.”