‘Thud’ is more than a sound: Notes from 1st week of Cal’s fall camp

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The Bears capped off their first week of fall camp with an unofficial scrimmage complete with referees, coaches on the sideline and a singular goal in mind: getting better. Cal ran a total of 87 plays, mixing in a fair amount of run and pass, and the defense showed it was not afraid to get after the ball.

“We usually don’t go that many plays that early,” said head coach Justin Wilcox. “But we have a veteran team, and we felt that they were prepared.”

The scrimmage took place all over the field but importantly worked on different scenarios rather than the full length of the field. Unlike a traditional spring game, the Bears focused on working near the end zone, red zone offense and defense. Even in a somewhat different environment from “real football,” the defense showed that it was still playing up to the Bears’ standard, and the offense showed signs of improvement as well. 

Wilcox provided more context for the scrimmage as well. 

“We went ‘thud’ tempo; we weren’t live to the ground,” Wilcox said. “One of the hardest things to do in the game of football is tackle a guy, so thud can create a little bit of a false sense of security for the defense.” 

Additionally, players who were learning or trying to make progress got more reps than usual in Saturday’s scrimmage. 

“For the younger guys, it’s just force-feed, force-feed, force-feed, and they’re gonna make mistakes,” Wilcox said. “And as long as they can learn from those mistakes and not make repetitive ones, then we’re gonna see the progress.”

Wilcox also said that established players may not need as many reps to refine what they’re working on. Because of this, all sorts of positional battles played out on the gridiron. 

One particularly interesting one was the backup quarterback battle. Zach Johnson took the majority of the reps, unofficially completing 10 of 15 passes for 64 yards, while four-star freshman Kai Millner went eight out of 14 for 34 yards. Both young quarterbacks showed the ability to go “touchdown to checkdown” in their reads and are beginning to “know what to do when it’s not there,” according to offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

The two elder quarterbacks — Chase Garbers and Robby Rowell — saw more limited action. Garbers went just five out of 11 for 23 yards while Rowell came in and was the gunslinger — completing two of the longest balls of the day, including a crazy ball in the endzone to receiver Grant Daley. Rowell also completed a deep ball over the middle to Chris Rogers, who had a couple of nice grabs throughout the day.

Overall, the Bears look great for just being on day eight of fall camp, and fans of the blue and gold should be excited for what they can do starting Sept. 4 when Nevada comes to Strawberry Canyon.

Here are some more notable points from the first week of camp:

  • Offensive Lineman Ben Coleman has been the talk of camp, earning a lot of reps and a shoutout from Wilcox after Saturday. Look for him to fight for a starting spot or a utility backup role.
  • Kekoa Crawford and Jeremiah Hunter did not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage. Crawford has been having one of his best summers since joining the team but did not dress, while Hunter did,  he had a noticeable limp and was limited in general activities.
  • A name to look out for this season is Justin Richard Baker—the speedy sophomore lined up at both the F (slot receiver) and the Z on Saturday and caught balls off motions and ran good routes downfield. Baker also made his first banner interview debut on Saturday and was a little bit surprised at how excited people were about his role.
  • Cameron Goode has looked as dangerous as  always. The senior outside backer has been playing both in space and rushing the passer.
  • The defense feeling confident as a unit, and some chirping back and forth was audible even from the stands.
  • Damien Moore and Marcel Dancy continue to impress at the running back position—both of them broke off several nice runs that could have gone even longer if the team wasn’t playing at “thud tempo.”

Jesse Stewart covers football. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @jessedstew.